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Nyamnyam: taking the everyday beyond the home

Magazine

17 October 2016
This month's topic: Food
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Nyamnyam: taking the everyday beyond the home

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 V