To the Communal Kitchen

Yogyakarta-based artist Elia Nurvista is interested in examining the social implications of food production – how food is being produced, distributed and consumed. This year, she participated in the Jogja Biennale Equator #6 2021. Nurvista together with her Bakudapan study group, Dapur Umum 56 (Public Kitchen), and many other local initiatives talked about food scarcity/security, solidarity among precarious people, redistribution, crisis and so on. The Web Residency supported Elia Nurvisa to share some local knowledge on strategies of living in solidarity in limited conditions.

Elia Nurvista in Conversation — Dez 14, 2021

Akademie Schloss Solitude - To the Communal Kitchen

»Sucker Zucker«, Installation view, 9th Asia Pacific Triennial, QAGOMA Brisbane, Australia, 2018. Photo: ​​Natasha Harth GOMA The 9th Asia and Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT9) Exhibition no. 2018.05 Organisation Queensland Art Gallery Start date 24 November 2018 End date 28 April 2019 installation view

»I found the same ideology between Hunger, Inc and Dapur Umum 56 to talk about solidarity among precarious people, redistribution, crisis and so on, and it’s even more crucial with the ongoing pandemic.«

Anca Rujoiu: What is your understanding of solidarity and how does it translate into your practice?

Elia Nurvista: For me solidarity means an attempt to distribute the resources, which can be financial resources, access resources, and other values based on many different contexts. It is different from charity, which comes from a more privileged person to decide whether others need or help the less-privileged one, but it also comes from the understanding of basic human needs and justice. It can also share their privileged values with others, which they don’t have.

Anca Rujoiu: From investigations on fruits, rice, sugar your work gravitates around the cultural and political histories of food production and circulation. What informs this ongoing interest? Your explorations materialise into a variety of forms from drawings, video, sculptures to community events. What motivates the final configuration of each project? How is this research situated in the context of Yogyakarta where you live and work? 

Elia Nurvista: I am interested in investigating how food is produced, distributed and consumed, and analyze possible disruptions that can occur between the various stages: from the moment food is harvested as raw material (plants, fruit, livestock, etc), to the point where it is prepared as a dish, served on a »table« and potentially thrown away as leftovers, which are usually taken for granted.

Akademie Schloss Solitude - To the Communal Kitchen

Documentation of Open Studio »Exotic Life Drawing,« Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, 2019. Photo: Frederik Becker

On each project, usually the mediums and forms follow the context including the audiences and what I want to deliver through the works. Therefore sometimes I used material based works such as sculpture, images or drawings, video works and installation, also publications which usually comes from the basic needs of exhibition with the structures like galleries, biennales, and so on. But also I want to expand our experiences between me and the audiences to be more fluid and not one direction, through the workshop, cooking class, performative dinner, and more physically encounter based.

Yogyakarta of course gave me a strong connection within the activities of meeting people, spent time talking nonsense, but also at the same time shared the dreams. So these kinds of backgrounds have inspired me not only to create my works, but to create a platform where we can meet and talk. All voices should be heard.

»For me solidarity means an attempt to distribute the resources, which can be financial resources, access resources, and other values based on many different contexts.«

Akademie Schloss Solitude - To the Communal Kitchen

Bakudapan Food Study Group workshop: »Gleaning in Abandoned Land,« 2017. Photo: Eri Rama

Anca Rujoiu: How did the Bakudapan study group start? How do you work together as a group? What does this collaborative process entail?

Elia Nurvista: It started in 2015 between me and a colleague, Khairunnisa. At that time we think it’s urgent to rethink how eating, food and the activities surrounding it can be considered as performative research. We want to learn and unlearn the terms of study and research which hegemony by academia, which involves rigid several protocols. Then we started to form this collective as a food study group.

We invited several colleagues to join and we had come and go members but from early 2020 until now, we were eight, coming from different backgrounds from anthropology, philosophy, photography, and design. Using the length spectrum of food, we conduct research and create art projects that explore and experiment with various approaches and also the methodologies of work. Through this collaboration we want to see a matter or issue from many different perspectives.

Digital Solitude: How did your proposal develop during the digital residency? 

Elia Nurvista: Initially wanted to propose my previous work, Hunger, Inc. That was my ongoing project which addresses the issues on food and its relation to economic, political, and social class within the context of urbanity in Indonesia. 

In the same time I was appointed to be curatorial team in Biennale Jogja Equator #6 : Indonesia with Oceania, in which I invite the Dapur Umum 56 collective to be participating artists. Dapur Umum56 itself was first formed and operated in 2020, as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which affects the economy of many people including art workers. As a response to an emergency, Dapur Umum 56 initiated a fundraising to purchase food and provide ready-to-eat food to the one who needs it for the public. In addition, my collaborator in Hunger, Inc. Fajar Riyanto, also actively worked in Dapur Umum 56.

I found the same ideology between Hunger, Inc and Dapur Umum 56 to talk about solidarity among precarious people, redistribution, crisis and so on, and it’s more crucial with the ongoing pandemic. So in the process I involved them to be part of the main content of this web residency, to share their works, their agency, and their solidarity.

»It’s such a challenge to build on solidarity without physically meeting each other or even speak different languages.«

Anca Rujoiu: What form did the collaboration with the initiative Dapur Umum 56 (Public Kitchen) take in the context of this year’s edition of Jogja Biennial and in what ways did it connect with the biennial’s focus on the Pacific region?

Elia Nurvista: In this Jogja Biennale, Dapur Umum 56 (Public Kitchen) are eager to use art events as a vehicle to continue to experiment with the forms of redistribution suitable for the needs of those accessing the aid. During the exhibition, Dapur Umum 56 will collaborate with several collectives and communities, mostly from the East part of Indonesia, such as the student community from Lembata, Fak-Fak, and Tidore to give a response by cooking and sharing food-related strategies in emergencies. For example they use the tagline: makan disini rasa disana (literally means ‚eating here, taste over there (east)) so it’s about how they adapt some of the ingredients which are not easily found in Jogja. Another example is Mama Fun, a female activist who cooks corn as substitute for rice because the abundant of corn rather than rice in their place. The purpose of focusing in the east part of Indonesia not only because of this edition of the Biennale was working with Oceania, but also we feel there are still many racial and stereotyping discrimination facing by east people in Yogyakarta.

By utilizing the structure and publicity of the Biennale platform, Dapur Umum 56 tries to become a place for sharing for collaborators, donors, as well as beneficiaries of Dapur Umum 56.

Digital Solitude: With the online presentation of the project in the frame of the Web Residency you aimed to archive the research and share what you and the Bakudapan study group have learned about food scarcity/security. What were new aspects and what challenges did you have in translating a local community project into an online (archival) environment?

I think within this online platform there are still possibilities that we lose something, like proximity, understanding gesture, the bodily experiences, therefore it’s such a challenge to build on solidarity without physically meeting each other or even speak different languages. But also at the same time I am open to new experiences of learning and understanding something that is unfamiliar with us and still thinking about solidarity.  

Digital Soliutde: The strategies you share are linked to economic aspects and your project focuses on people and communities with limited income. Do you think that solidarity has a higher value in regions and communities that are financially more vulnerable?

It’s not only about the financially vulnerable, but mostly with the injustice of accessibility for those who are engaged with struggles for the right to self-determination and sovereignty over basic human needs. It can be access to food, health facilitation, or being a documented citizen for some immigration cases, and so on.


The interview was conducted by Anca Rujoiu in collaboration with Denise Helene Sumi (Digital Solitude)


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