As Oki Wonder Lab gleefully camps out in Okinawa, most Hackterians are stuck indoors. An online KitchenLab hosted live from Helsinki offered an entertaining glimpse of localized baking, while other experiments are fermenting and distilling across the global network.
Two of the most mysterious symptoms of the Covid-19 virus infection are loss of the senses of taste and/or smell. As we isolate ourselves physically from others, our social relationship with food and beverage becomes all the more essential to our sense of well-being. This past week, Hackteria members have been rising to the occasion.
In Finland, Andrew Gryf Paterson, best known for his performative and collaborative work with Pixelache Helsinki, initiated an online session of KitchenLab, where he hosted a live workshop to bake Karelian pastries in tandem with Oki Wonder Lab. While the handful of participants in Okinawa occupied the industrial kitchen of a local supermarket, Andrew engaged Hackteria’s global network with a Renga-inspired real-time performance set in his home kitchen studio in Helsinki, from 6am to 12pm on April 2.
The idea was that anyone logged into the video conference from anywhere in the world could then respond with a new session featuring a recipe of their own, using local ingredients already on hand at home, and that someone else could respond in turn. Andrew’s real-time cooking performance was viewed remotely from Hackteria members in Taipei, Tokyo, Berlin, Bremen, Helsinki, Oulu, Zürich and Lucerne, as the Okinawans made their own pies filled with local koza soba noodles and soup, brown powder, green paste…
“The KitchenLab Renga session which I proposed for Oki Wonder Lab was an experiment in how to share individually isolated kitchen practices together with others,” says Andrew. “The paradoxical situation of doing something that cannot be tasted or smelled, but only seen, mimicked and narrated, according to traditional cooking videos and tutorial formats, was something to inspire and start our playful session together. Borrowing inspiration from Renga practice, we can use the spontaneity, improvisation, connective togetherness, to have some fun, but also hopefully address some of the issues of the moment.”
From curious voyeurism, to discussing the social aspect of food and local traditions, to adding an experimental pinch of salt, this shared experience across geographical and cultural borders, time zones, tastes, ingredients and equipment also marked a playful pause in this age of isolation, unlimited bandwidth and real-time downtimes.
The Scottish chef also pointed out that his individual culinary interpretation of the traditional Finnish pastry (Karjalan piirakka) is inevitably influenced by his own life experience as an immigrant, a “transcultural migrant internationalist”: “It’s a part of multiculturalism, recognizing tradition but using it in a progressive way. The right-wing conservative perspective is that there is a tradition that you need to follow if you want to feel like you belong. I believe that belonging is something that you are recreating all the time, through the performance and the recreation of the process of belonging and the engagement with the locality, the traditions, with what you have at the moment, with what is interesting at the moment, with whoever shares the same interest—as we are together in this call, this is becoming and belonging. That has to be done all the time, because it’s a progressive act to belong.”
Tuning in from Taiwan, media artist and Hackteria fellow Shih Wei-Chieh (Abao), especially appreciated this open, diverse, borderless initiative: “Personally, I don’t like the concept of forming your identity mostly by nationality,” he says. “Andrew expresses the idea that culture and tradition are formed in a relative way by altering participants’ viewing angle with a simple cooking party.”
Meanwhile on the ground in Okinawa, the Oki Wonder Lab campers are camping with Campo, printing zines, making t-shirts, hunting for coconut crabs, grilling, distilling and chilling out in the wilderness of Onna, on the west coast of the main island.
As for the global network, the conversation has shifted to the Hackteria online forum, where remote participants share experiments and experiences in DIY fermentation.
Henry Tan, co-founder of Tentacles Gallery in Bangkok, may be stranded between Thailand and Okinawa, currently locked down in a hotel room in Tokyo, but he is determined to connect through on-site fermentation. So Oki Wonder Lab is sending him a care package of starters, including Japanese koji (for miso or sake), Finnish kilju (Super Hiiva turbo yeast), rennet-lab-chymosin (for cheese) and Indonesian Ragi Tempeh.
And the Renga is relaunched: back in Helsinki, Andrew plans to brew up some Birch Sap and water kefir, while in New York, Sheri Shih Hui shares a homemade tutorial on making Indonesian tempeh with a variety of locally sourced beans, which prompted Lifepatch guru Andreas Siagian to toss into the mix the loaded cultural contexts of the Indonesian liquor Batavia Arrack or the locally brewed millet wine of the indigenous Amis tribe of Taiwan…
While we can always read, see and hear each other across borders from our respective islands, the senses of touch, taste and smell are much harder to share. Hence, HackteriaLab’s ongoing invitation to create and recreate experimental processes.
“The transience of the Japanese concept of wabi sabi, whereby we try to accept imperfection, and in the case of Hackteria, embrace messes, hacks, failures and joy in experimentation,” Andrew reminds us, “can be borrowed, adopted, lived, and hopefully, radically, passed on and across generations.”
Cherise Fong is chronicler-in-residence of the Feral Labs Network supported by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union.