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I discover nyamnyam in 2013. Somehow or other I find out that it’s a space that will house, between January and June 2014, projects by artists I follow, such as Job Ramos (who we wrote about here) and El Conde de Torrefiel. The first time I set foot in nyamnyam is for the party presenting the cycle “Todo el que me gusta es ilegal, inmoral o engorda” (Everything I like is illegal, immoral or fattening), in which the artists I’ve just mentioned, amongst others, participated. I celebrate having gone accompanied because I find myself in a house, where they propose I take my shoes off, where people eat and talk in a relaxed manner, and I’m not quite sure what’s going on. In fact, nothing happens, but everything happens. It’s a party.
Since then and up until today, I’ve returned to this space and established that the ambience is always the same. Nyamnyam has organised three editions of the cycle that began that day. They’ve carried out “Cocinar es un acto político” (Cooking is a political act) a series of cooking workshops. They’ve participated in various festivals, they’ve run “Nyam vacuum-packed “, a weekly home catering service, they’ve had two children, and at the time of this interview, they’re in Madison, USA. They’ve been working there for two months, invited by the Art Department of the University of Wisconsin, and have elaborated the display “All fours” for the project “Feeding Farmers”, by Spatula&Barcode presented in the Wisconsin Triennial, at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Arte (MMoCA). They’ve also done a residency at The Bubbler, in the Madison Public Library. On returning to Barcelona at the beginning of October, they are received with Applause, one of the Premios FAD Sebastià Gasch for Paratheatrical Arts.
But what’s behind so much activity? What is nyamnyam? If I try to synthesise it into two words, the words “art” and “eating” immediately spring to mind. But a question also immediately follows. nyamnyam has nothing to do with art nor eating, if by putting these two words together, what springs to mind are images of pretty cupcakes on Instagram or Pinterest; a visit to Opera Samfaina; the “Arts and Foods” exhibition of Milan (2015), or a plate by Ferran Adrià. In the last few years, there’s been a boom in gastronomy as a form of merchandise in the media and social networks that offer a consumption of food based on its aestheticizing, its appearance. Food is consumed visually through these channels as a nice, neutral, depoliticised image. Nothing could be further from nyamnyam. We talk to those who make it possible, the artists Iñaki Álvarez and Ariadna Rodríguez, in the presence of their two children.
What are the beginnings of nyamnyam like?
Ariadna: When we began the project in 2011 we found ourselves in a situation where we suddenly more time and less money. We knew that if we began something we had to begin by returning home, going back to the very basics, to the everyday. We wanted to create a context where things would happen, and for us, food was a very interesting element with which to achieve this.
Sometimes we’ve been told that we’ve been really lucky to work with food because it’s in fashion. But for us it’s not luck because it leads to people thinking we work with food in a way that is quite different from the way it really is. When talking about what we do, we always begin stating everything that nyamnyam is not: it’s not a restaurant, and we don’t work with food as a material. Our reading stems from letting food be where it is: food is food. On the other hand, we want to bring art down to a more relaxed level, bringing it to the table, as a democratising element, as a place where things happen. As in the three editions of the cycle “Todo lo que me gusta es ilegal, inmoral o engorda”, for which we invited various people to carry out a project in our house at lunchtime on Thursdays. You could say that people come here on Thursdays and eat, and it’s a reality, but there’s also all of the work around the project of each person invited. This work is over and above the food. The work is the focus.
Iñaki: Eating is the pretext, the excuse. What is central is not the food, so much as the moment of sitting together at the table, cooking together, or sharing a particular hour, which is the hour of eating. There is one thing that’s a bit ugly but I like saying it, which is that with nyamnyam we can allow ourselves the luxury of making bad food because ultimately the food, as a result, is not important. We don’t have to convince anyone that we know how to cook. We can make crap food because perhaps at the moment, for whatever project is being carried out, it is necessary for people to eat it. Then, whenever I say this, Ariadna immediately responds saying that it’s not true because everything we do is always very good.
Thinking about it carefully, perhaps a word that could define nyamnyam more than the noun “food” is the verb “to cook”. How do you see it? In fact, you did a series of workshops that you called “Cooking is a political act”. Does this have any relation to your attention to all those layers of meaning that food and culinary practices have as if you were carrying out a sort of gastronomic research?
Iñaki: We defend cooking to talk, on the one hand, about good nutrition, given that one of the aims of nyamnyam is to work and disseminate good eating practices. On the other hand, we also want to grant importance to the processes of exchange of information that surround the act of cooking. We’re interested in the open-source of recipes.
Ariadna: From the outset, we make an in-depth investigation related to the project being carried out at nyamnyam. For example, working with Aimar Pérez Galí, with whom we began to talk about the concept of comunitas, within the framework of his participation in the first edition of the cycle “Todo lo que me gusta es ilegal, inmoral, o engorda”, led us to the subject of fermentation. From there we began to work with fermentation in a very intense way, when in the beginning we had no idea. This has happened with many things. There is an investigation set in process through the food but we come to it through the work. We also say that we have wanted to distance ourselves from gastronomy and get closer to food, but this is a lie. Gastronomy ought to be what we do. Gastronomy is what surrounds eating and gives it a context. What happens is that it is a concept that, like so many others, has acquired different connotations, which have converted it into something else.
All these trends surrounding words such as “gastronomy”, I read them as the fruit of campaigns that manage, on the one hand, to make us consume a specific product related to a clearly capitalist economic system, and on the other, to transmit to consumers a sense of responsibility or power to decide about some environmental, social and economic conditions that aren’t within our hands. If you really want to confront all of this from a firm ideological position, you find that it ends up being almost impossible to follow coherent political patterns in your everyday acts. It seems to me that in the face of this complexity, the way nyamnyam functions is very much in tune with these ideas, to the point that it comes to affect all aspects of your life.
Ariadna: It’s reached a very exaggerated point. And there are two extremes: you can shop in Veritas or manage to get into a cooperative in your district. On the other hand, all this affects other aspects of our life because, for me, if I defend the politics of cooking and eating in a specific way, my relation with the children also has to pass through this. For me, it’s all the same thing. For this people sometimes have the sensation that nyamnyam is a world in itself. Because, it’s clear, we are talking about eating, but also about nurturing…it is, after all, a house! It’s a day to day, it’s the everyday, and it’s related to all these things. Without wanting to become a model for anything. In fact, leading this life isn’t easy, but it’s clear that we very much prefer to manage to do all of this, however much it costs. It’s not easy to be an artist and live like this. But it’s what we’ve chosen to do: to create a context for ourselves. It’s clear it could be a lot easier, we complicate things, but we look at things through this lens because it’s a way of life.
At the moment of making this interview you find yourselves in Madison. You’ve spent two months there, you’ve travelled as a family, and you are all working together. But as you said before, nyamnyam is a house, and everyday family life is very important. What has the experience of working in other context been like?
Ariadna: Here in the United States, there is a reality that is very strong: if you have money, you weigh a few kilos, and if you don’t, you weigh three times more. Here it’s always more expensive to cook than to buy ready-made food. And this is something that back home has not yet arrived. The relation between food, power, and control becomes visible in the fact that everybody is totally dependent on a series of habits due to the use of sugars in any type of food. The majority of people are totally hooked. For me, all of this just gives me that bit more impetus to carry on working the way we are.
Iñaki: The experience will have been a major jolt. When we return home undoubtedly, we will realise that it has caused many things to shift and it will lead us to question how to organise ourselves in the future, on a level of work as much as on a family level, because it’s very intense (Gal·la can be heard singing in the background). But on the other hand, here we’ve come to realise that all the work we have done up until now in very different formats, serve for this new project, “Eat Food”, that we’ve worked on and presented here and which we’ll bring with the title “COMIDA” to the Teatro Pradillo, in Madrid, from 17 to 23 October. It is the first project signed as nyamnyam, without inviting an artist, without being a commission, or having the format of a workshop… There are a series of things we’ve been doing in the last few years that are here. It’s an installation, and it’s also something theatrical, but without formalisms or confrontation. It could be a workshop, but it isn’t. It could be a meal, but it isn’t… In appearance, it’s just a table full of books that constantly changes, where we place objects, actions, and foods in a casual way. This element has the potential to activate other collective gestures to become a kitchen, a meal, or a party, as could happen if we found ourselves in a friend’s house.
For what you say, therefore, in the Pradillo the physical space of nyamnyam, the house where you habitually concentrate your work and that of your guests, is once again far away. Anyway, before you talked about it as an essential element of nyamnyam and it seems to be through the gesture of cooking, the very elements of gastronomy –”that which surrounds food and the context”-, that you manage to refer to this place. What is the relation with the house and you work at a distance?
Iñaki: I think we’ve learnt a lot to play with the everyday and to make people feel comfortable with what is happening at the moment. The general reflection of the people that came to the presentation of “Eat Food” at the University of Madison, was this: a sensation of the everyday, like being in someone’s home. They were comfortable because they didn’t need to pay attention, nor fix their point of view on just one thing. Everything happened gradually. It was closer to an idea of a party, or of understanding those workshops that we do where there is no director, and everyone follows along, in so much as it’s about cooking together. We continue to pursue this idea of cooking together, of sharing knowledge and of thinking that perhaps the conversation is much more interesting that the initial point of departure because the conversation leads us to other places. This atmosphere is perhaps what we are now trying to look for: how can we transport others to places the atmosphere we normally have in nyamnyam? How can we convert it into other formats? And perhaps we disengage from the house and begin to generate things beyond it.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)