Enzyme Magazine #1
Enzymes are not food. But without them, our food would not be assimilated. They are tiny protein compounds that change the structure of what we eat, breaking it down into nutrients, which can finally be absorbed. The human body produces up to 1.300 different enzymes, which catalyse more than 5.000 chemical reactions. Without them, you would not be reading this text. They enable us to see, hear, feel, move, write, digest food and think. Enzymes are companion elements. It is through building alliances that they work. Food alone does not do the job, neither do enzymes. It is their entanglement that makes life-supporting reactions possible. After all, you are not what you eat. You are what you absorb.
The collaborative aspect implied by its name is part of the very foundation of this magazine. Enzyme was created by the alliance of artists Joélson Buggilla and Jorgge Menna Barreto. It was 2016 when we started dreaming about the idea of making a publication, which was originally supposed to be about the work we did at the 32 Biennial of São Paulo in Brazil, called Restauro [Restoration]. It consisted in installing a restaurant in the Biennial Pavilion, which supplied mainly from farms that are practicing regenerative forms of agriculture called food forests, or agroforestry. The work thus deviated from the mere service provision and nutritional function of exhibition cafés to think of the event as an opportunity to create environmental “restauration”. The visitors were then seen as participants of what we called an environmental sculpture. The mental image we cultivated was that of our digestive systems as sculpting tools that have a direct transformative ability of the landscape through the kind of agriculture we support while making our food choices. With every bite we take, we are really shaping the earth. Our menu was thus fully plant-based, paying homage to and supporting the biodiversity of the forest.
The restaurant area of the pavillion of the Biennial of São Paulo does not commonly host art projects. It is usually seen as an outside to the exhibition where its visitors seek for a break and rest from the many times demanding experience of visiting a large art event. It was our decision to respect that interval atmosphere of the restaurant space and so we decided to be economic concerning the use of visual or discursive materials, which distanced our project from other exhibition spaces and even made some people unaware that Restauro was also an art project. Going undercover was strategic to making food the protagonist of the relationship with the public. We called cellular mediation that process of addressing people’s appetite and bodies rather than their intellect. That act of renunciation to a more direct discursivity, which was new to us, was more easily tolerated once we thought that the material we were holding back would find another moment to be shared. What we had in mind then was a book, idealised as a moment when we would finally be able to write about and be read with a quality of interaction we did not have in the busy hours spent in the restaurant.
So once the 32 Biennial of São Paulo was finished we were left with a mission: change gears and tell the story of our project in printed matter. Joélson Buggilla’s experience with making books in collaboration with other artists was vital in thinking about the page as our next site. Jorgge Menna Barreto’s experience with writing and text-based projects was also an important asset to imagine this unfolding. But the more we digested what Restauro had been, the more difficult it became to tell its story. As authors, we were also concerned that our voices could create an official reading of the project and thus spoil the open-endedness to interpretation that we have always valued as artists. So instead of making a book about the work, we understood it would be more interesting to create a publication that would be experienced as an extension of Restauro, almost like an iteration of the project onto the space of the page.
The idea to make a magazine came from another lesson we learned from Restauro. Even though we were tapping into questions related to agriculture and the environment, we were still working very much in the logic of the art exhibition format, obeying to its limited duration, for example, which in this case was 3 months. During the project, we realised how little sense it made to create a restorative system that only lasted a few months. Debating about the ethics of our position as artists dealing with environmental issues, we decided we would start favouring projects and opportunities that support long lasting relationships, and that was when the idea of a periodic came up. Thinking about how we would tell our story, we also understood that a magazine usually has an element of exteriority that appealed to us. The more time passed, a publication that was too centred around Restauro seemed too nostalgic and documental, but a magazine that departed from Restauro to reach out to other projects and thinkers seemed more coherent with the kind collective thinking we would like to help cultivate.
So that leads us to the central article of our first issue, “The Food Forest Speaks: An Afternoon with Wouter Van Eck”, which also explains the photo on our cover. When we visited Wouter in the end of 2019, we suddenly felt we had encountered the missing link that connected our practice in Brazil to our present moment in the Netherlands. We felt like Wouter and Pieter were long time neighbours in a geography that does not know South or North, developed and underdeveloped countries. We spoke English when we met, but, at the same time, we were speaking the language of the forest, of biodiversity, and of our plant friends who are so generous and life giving. Those hours spent together created the right conditions for us to find the thread to make our magazine come true. It also created a sense of friendship that was new to us in the Netherlands. If all we write we address to someone, we can say that when writing this issue of Enzyme we were addressing Wouter and Pieter, whom, as you shall later read about, are so many more than a couple.
Thinking about the page, the table and the earth in terms of surfaces is what helped us bind our interests together for this issue. It also helped us think of these instances in terms of continuations, extensions and contiguity that make up an ecosystem. Of course those surfaces have wrinkles that do not belong to our flat ideals of cohesion and integrity, but we are well aware of their importance to help us disrupt our idealism, which is always too bidimensional. To remind us of those other dimensions we welcomed the weeds in our pages. What better teachers to remind us that life is responding to complexities which we as humans cannot always grasp? Weeds that grow spontaneously around Maastricht were mapped and scanned by us to compose what we have been calling a “Mauvais Alphabet”, which is actually the name of a project we started in 2019 in a residency at Utopiana, Geneva. Its title was inspired in how weeds are called in French: “mauvaises herbes”. Writing with those weed-letters make up the “texts” that are scattered in the liminal spaces between one article and the other, weeds’ favourite spots. Important to say that these weed-letters are not equivalent to our alphabet, so there is no hidden message to be read in our experimental writing, we must warn. Related to weeds unwillingness to be domesticated or their fondness for disobedience, our printing option for this issue, Risograph, was also chosen for its flirt with unpredictability. Even though we are new to this process, we find it interesting that this particular printing method reserves surprises and unplanned results. We are immensely grateful to Jo Frenken and Alice from Jan Van Eyck’s Print Lab for their amazing support and enthusiasm.
Language under suspicion
Writing in English also created space for some lack of control. Both of us have Portuguese as our native language, which also cannot be seen a an idiom that historically belongs to the Brazilian territory. Forged in a faraway culture and territory, Portuguese many times does a poor job in describing the Brazilian landscape, where we were born and grew up. An example of that is the word floresta, which means forest in English. That is the word we use to refer to these complex ecosystems that are home to the largest biodiversity on earth. The etymology in Portuguese and many other European languages reveal “foris”, which means “out there”, “away”, expressing divorcement from these environments. The language and signs we use to represent the forest in Brazil thus support its understanding as mere resource, as it cultivates a sense of detachment only possible in cultures that lie on the distance. We cannot say then that our relationship to our mother language — which feels more like our step-mother — is one of complete identification, as colonial trauma is still active in the way we see and portray our reality. So writing in English while living in the Netherlands creates even more room for detachment and looseness in the relationship that language establishes to the perceived world. Hopefully, the lack of an efficient use of words might open gaps – even better if they are cracks – where more weeds may thrive.
On the other hand, our non-native accent when speaking and writing in English may be a way to spice up a language that has become “universal”, whatever that might mean. Our assumptions that this language is many times a common ground in the international scene makes us forget that English too is part of a specific globalising project, culture and history. As it blankets over the world, and sometimes helps erase local specificities, it reminds us of the concept of the “monoculture of the mind” as described by Dr. Vandana Shiva, another important guest in our first issue. We were fortunate enough to meet Dr. Vandana Shiva in December 2019 at the Jan van Eyck, where she spoke about her trajectory, her concerns and still offered hope in the difficult times we are living on this planet. In fact, it is in the “arts of living” that Dr. Shiva places hope, reminding us of our responsibility to carve and sculpt our daily lives, our positions on the planet, our role in supporting and opening room for life in all its biodiversity.
It was with the intention of practicing the arts of living that we, Joélson Buggilla and Jorgge Menna Barreto, applied to be residents at the Jan van Eyck Academie, much inspired by the texts published on the institution’s website where they described a way of working that saw its café and kitchen as part of a larger ecosystem. Not having had an artist’s studio for years, and interested in whatever happens out into the world rather than inside these white-cube mimicking structures, kitchens have been seen by us as privileged grounds to address many of the issues we have been concerned in our practices. Understanding food as the main mediator in the relationship society-environment, we consider the kitchen a rich place to engage with the living and discuss ecosystems, environment, multispecies entanglements, ethics, economy, ecology and sustainability. During our one-year residency at Jan van Eyck Academie in the Netherlands we were directly involved in the kitchen for a period of around two months, where we worked with Claudia Bos, Sasja Uisser and Karin Rijpkema to make lunch, ocasional desserts and one catering event, called Environmental Sculpture, documented on pages X. Claudia and Sasja were our dear hosts during that time we worked in the kitchen. They became good friends and it is within that spirit of hospitality and friendship that we invited them to feature in our magazine — now as our guests — with a couple of our favourite recipes from the lovely time spent in their companion.
We can say that Jan Van Eyck has a kitchen of transition, which includes organic produce, but still relies on the conventional food system. A lot of the produce we were cooking with was being delivered to us by Sligro, a supermarket which treats food as an international commodity, just like most grocery stores. As we are used to inquiring about where our produce is coming from, we were constantly reading the labels of products and were often surprised by how much traveling those foods had done till they reached the kitchen. That was the case with The Touch of China Super Garlic. Reading the label and tracing it back to its origins taught us about the monocultures in the province of Shandong, China, and how their methods of intensive farming were being celebrated by a company named Juye Good Farmer Fruits and Vegetables Corporation, who supplies to Sligro. Some images of our findings on the monocultures of Chinese garlic, which is apparently responsible for the majority of the global production, were organised in a visual essay from pages ___ to ____ and are part of the least celebratory pages of our magazine, which also bring the bitter taste of how deeply depoliticized our food system has become. As we find written in one of the pictures, “Normal White Garlic” has indeed been normalized, and thus become invisible.
However, the kitchen’s relationship to Sligro, even though it may have caused great concern on our side because of all the implications we consider urgent, does not characterize the totality of our experience with the food at the Jan van Eyck. The relationship to farmer Wim Storcken, for example, is much more of an image we would prefer to cherish and keep. Participating in the institution’s projects and doing weekly deliveries on Wednesdays, which coincide with the participants presentations and dinners, Wim has become a dear friend of the residents and staff and supplies organic food to all who are interested. Even though we did not have time to interview him for this issue, he is mentioned in the first article we wrote related to our initial experience in the kitchen, called “Deprivatizing the Digestive System”. For us, that image of a digestive system that is dealt with as a public matter is among the most urgent of this magazine. Food is a lot more complex than we were taught to imagine and personal taste is just a fraction in the systems it is entangled with. Building the critical ground to better understand and accommodate that complexity, so that we can also operate less as victims and more like active participants, is part of what we would like to help accomplish with this issue.
Soup of Biodiversity
The Soup of Biodiversity is a performative presentation in which we prepare a soup with all the ingredients that are regional and seasonal to where we are making it. It works like a “photograph of the landscape” to be viewed with our guts. Soups can be very inclusive dishes, both in terms of the amount of ingredients you can fit in, as well as the amount of people you can feed. The poem on page X resulted from the workshop with writer Mia You on Non-fiction Writing at Witt de With in Rotterdam, organized by Extra Extra Magazine in November 2019. Writing about an art project is always a challenge, especially if you are the author. Creative writing can be a solution, as it brings us closer to the core of the original piece, reverberating its pulse rather than its content. The starting point was to investigate on an idea of nonfictionality that considers the words themselves as the real ingredients for the soup, which now became a poem, or soupoem.
The surface of the page is the one we are on now, using it to see through to the table and earth. To activate it as a constitutive ground and not just a support for our ideas we used different strategies. Writer and JVE participant Persis Bekkering is another important guest. Our motivation to invite her came out of curiosity to understand how a writer relates to the space of the page and if that is a matter she takes into consideration. In our first conversation, Persis mentioned that yes, the page is actually her starting point. When she writes, the size of the text is an a priori. She must first know how many pages or words the text will be and then plan it accordingly. That materiality of the writing act was surprising to our ears, but also fascinating to understand how the concrete aspect of this activity may define the process. Intrigued by that, we decided to provoke Persis to occupy pages through text in loose threads, instead of the usual left to right horizontal. We did give her a fixed number of characters, but the way they are displayed on the page destabilizes their usual allotment. Persis generously said yes to our provocation and we are honoured to have her on our first issue. Another way to activate our pages was through different design strategies, which were mostly thought about by Joélson Buggilla, who used his design experience to experiment with different fonts, sizes and space occupation. His artistic research “Free Zones” also informed the vacant areas of some of our pages, suggesting how constitutive those apparently empty spaces are.
As we come to a closure of this long editorial, we would like to write about an image shared by a very good friend of ours, Alexis Milonopoulos, who taught us about the Greek origin of the word periodic. Along with his fabulation, this word shares the same root of sporadic, and both are related to the scattering of seeds, spórous in Greek. That image came as a gift, and it helps us reconnect to our initial ideas about understanding our magazine as a seed-bomb to support the “biodiversity of the mind”. Images of actual seeds are frequent on our pages, mostly inspired by Joélson Buggilla’s research “Seed Pegagogy”, or “Pedagogia das Sementes” in Portuguese. Many of the seeds you will encounter on Enzyme come from the foods we have prepared and eaten in the past year. The resulting visual essay is intermingled with Vandana Shiva’s lecture transcription, whose research on seeds has been a major reference to our own. But seeds will not sprout if their enzymes are not active, and that is exactly what corporations like Bayer found out to control life. Many of the pesticides and herbicides in the market operate as enzyme inhibitors, which is another way of saying life inhibitors. By controlling enzymes, these chemicals have the power to say which species will live and which will not. That explains why 60% of our food today comes from only 3 favoured species: wheat, corn and rice. Out of the 25.000 edibles species of plants on the planet, we limited our diet to the most convenient and profitable, threatening of extinction thousands of species and entire ecosystems as a result.
But life is still uncontrollable and, according to Vandana Shiva, “takes interesting turns”. Inhibiting the inhibitors and Enzyming life up is our present response!