Taking Yoghurt To The Next Level

By Lucy Neal, Jan 22 2013 05:36PM

A Playing For Time field trip to walk and talk with Eva Bakkeslett. She’s baking rolls for a picnic and is about to collect me from Haslemere station.

I’ve questions I want to ask about Playing For Time. The connections Eva makes between the philosophies of art and the practical immediacy with which she manifests ideas - through yeast cultures and yoghurt - fascinate me. Her work feels essential and important - as though she were drawing from some ground source energy.

She collects me and we return to her house to collect Clive, her husband, the picnic and Ella, their dog.

My eye is drawn immediately to a wooden trug by the kitchen sink. It reminds me of the carved aboriginal coolamun I have at home - given to me by artists Waiata and Karl Telfer in which fire was lit and carried for the Adelaide ceremonial festival opening 10 years ago. I suspect something as magical as fire has been concocted in it today. It has; the bread rolls are ready and off we go.

I’ve so many questions in my mind I want to blurt them all out but I wait til we’re into our stride on the walk. Clive’s making a film for Transition Norway and is keen to know about my experiences of Transition Tooting. He and Eva lived in Totnes for a while and there are many overlaps in who we know.

From my first meeting with Eva, I was drawn to the way she talks about art and culture, and how make sense in our lives - through our senses. She’s collaborating with a Portuguese woman she met at The Emergence Summit at CAT in September: ‘We are going to take working with yoghurt to a new level’. Wonderful!

Just as we’re getting hungry a bench appears with a view of the three counties we’re pinned between: Hampshire, Sussex and Surrey. We eat warm bread and I’m reminded of the practical ease with which my mother baked every day - the rising dough and the woomphf as loaves came from the tin.

In the open air we talk about art. How imaginary space opens you to new ways of seeing the world, and your sense of what’s possible is utterly changed. ‘Culture means to cultivate’ says Eva ‘preparing the ground to grow something new’. She talks about microorganisms and bacteria - coolly and rationally but with a passion. I could listen all day.

I explain where we’ve got to with the book - about its three sections being grounded in physical ways: hand, artisan, bones, tools and she likes this. I know she has something key to offer.

The connection between cultivation and the everyday is exciting - how you bring the right ingredients together with care at the right time in the right way, returning to something lost - a knowledge of processes happening at our finger tips. We admire Suzi Gablik and Joseph Beuys with their ‘expanded concept’ or ‘re-enchantment’ of art.

Eva weaves together climate change, a disconnection with nature and the centrality of community in new ways for me; sensible ways to wake up to acting each day - as artists. Playing For Time seeks to tap into all this. I feel dizzy with excitement and confusion about how to map this practically so that as many people as possible can ‘join in’. She has written a thesis on Bread as Social Sculpture - ‘culture, poetry, activism and sustenance in a loaf.’ I write a list in my head of her writing as I walk and look forward to reading as though I would a meal.

Inside again, we have tea. I’ve redeemed myself by bringing some good marmalade which we eat on toast by the fire.

Playing For Time can trigger ideas and methods to play with, offering people the ‘end of a piece of string’ for making things themselves, but coming back always to the idea of the collective, the community.

As I leave Eva hands me her film The Magic Table Cloth, which I watch over lunch the next day. It’s exquisite. A Russian grandmother, Nelly, in the Northern (polluted) industrial town of Nikel in Northern Russia is baking Pirogues with her grandson Gleb. Filmed intimately (by Clive) the focus is a small table in a tiny kitchen as cold winds blow snow on the window. The child sifts flour, sprinkles sugar and kneads the risen dough. Nothing could be more special and timeless. Nelly philosophises about how she is happy with every minute and how, despite hardships, she would not change anything in her life. The table is like a stage - with entrances and exits and lots happening. Eggs, leeks, flour, a child’s hands. What you are watching is everything: all life’s ingredients are distilled here. As the yeast rises, so the child rises too - making and creating his own life through direct engagement with berries and baking.

Eva’s eye is clear. Without hammering points home, she guides our attention to something true and important. Human relations, love, care, attention, baking, making, feeding, a quality of relationships and something to ‘come home to’ in terms of what we need now: a balancing back to a world overrun by the rational, the transactional, rather than the relational. She speaks a lot about magic: how bacteria collaborate with humans in the process of fermenting. These transformations are her passion. John Fox called this connection between art and everyday life, vernacular art.

I catch the train home from Haslemere and fall asleep. After walking 10 kms, I was tired. I think of Wendell Berry:

to be

quiet in heart and in eye

clear. What we need is here.

I do hope that Playing For Time can be a Magic Table Cloth: the right ingredients brought together from which something as yet unknown, new and magical can appear like bread from flour and fire from breath.


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