Separating the Wheat from the Chaff # 7

15.07.22
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Allyship, empathy, divination, and other forms of collaboration

Getting to the wheat

This year is the year of ‘The Lovers’ in Tarot. It is a card ruled by Gemini, my star sign. It is related to the heart, to following your heart.

I feel like this year is about separating the wheat from the chaff. It’s fitting because I’ve been focusing on baking sourdough bread for a good while now and ‘to separate the wheat from the chaff is to separate the kernel, (that which humans can digest) from the harsh indigestible husk surrounding the wheat grain. If we were cows we might separate the chaff from the wheat and chow down on a good bit of Chaff… but we ain’t.

Throughout my time collaborating with producing partners, I’ve learned to read the quality of the interaction. I have realized that I can usually tell after the first meeting if it will be a generative collaboration. It's like reading tea leaves or the tarot only…a bit more obvious. Always and unfailingly, in a collaboration that develops into a positive supportive exchange, this first dialogue, between myself and the person who holds the power and the purse strings, flows. It feels far more like a dialogue between equals, a reduction in hierarchy, where power is not wielded but shared, where my ideas are appreciated and where their ideas are nurturing and in sync with the project's aims.

I turned 50 last month and I ran away to the hills with my partner Carolina. The hills of southern Italy, not too far from where she lives and where I have been staying for the last month or so. We booked an Airbnb for three nights. We booked it the night before going because that is what work and familial responsibilities allow at the moment. At that point, in our price range, there were scarce pickings. So we booked on instinct and headed to a remote homestead in the centre of the Cilento National Park. On arrival the donkey brayed and an older white-bearded anarchist Angelo stepped out of a large wood and stone built house.

Angelo turned out to have made his choice to 'step out', 30 years previous. And now offered space away, meals to locals and was also a master baker who collaborated with an artist to make breads for local celebrations. He knew all of my partner's southern Italian permaculture, ecological activist community and on the final night of my birthday weekend myself and Angelo baked 27 kilos of Ancient Grain Sourdough bread together. He then invited me to present my work in the most renowned Harvest festival of southern Italy,  Palio Del Grano, which he co-organises annually and which brings together ancient grain growers, bakers, harvesters, microbiologists, and educators to explore the world of grain, soil regeneration and ecology.

To me there are symbols and signs to be read within what can be termed a coincidence. Within the precarity of a transient life between love, work, history and the future this was a gift and it spoke to me. It said, "Relax and soak it up, you are in the right place at the right time".

This may sound a little late (having just turned 50!) or obvious, but I think I am arriving at a time when I want to recognize the quality of initial exchanges with collaborators or of coincidences like this for the soothsaying elements they hold. And on a professional level to try to step away from encounters that don’t offer the possibility of this level of congruence in the initial interaction and step into coincidences that suggest flow.

‘The Lovers’ are also about pleasure, following pleasure.

We @thebakeryofslowideas are lucky to have several current collaborations with institutions, festivals and curators that fall into these categories of flow and pleasure. One with Daniel Whitehouse in the windy wilds of West Cumbria at Rosehill Theatre, another with Matt Burman at Cambridge Junction, then in the autumn we will be collaborating with New Mills Festival in Derbyshire and we're in discussion about presenting within a program curated by artist Lowri Evans for Heart of Glass in St. Helens. With all of these collaborators we share aims and ethics. Ethics surrounding social art practice and the importance of listening and exchange as artistic strategies. Fundamentally we all share the ultimate vision of the community version of The Bakery as a tool for intimate and engaged dialogue with locals, enabling curators, programmers, and institutions to learn from and understand those that they wish to serve. Maybe one of the reasons I am so interested in fermentation is because it builds up our gut health, our gut strength and our gut is the home of instinct, a different kind of listening. 

So maybe as I discussed in Blog #2 of this series, and continued to suggest throughout, we already have direct and tangible strategies for engagement and future projection at our fingertips, and in our gut and really what it is about is the direction in which we choose to look and what it is we place our faith in. . And examples, analogies, and metaphors for flow, and organic transformation can be found in the microbial world that makes up so much of what is in us, on us and seems to continue to pull me into and connect me with the world all around us.

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