Sancho Silva – Primordial Soup
Pinksummer: Dear Sancho, it feels good to know that you are going to have a new exhibition at pinksummer. Last year you made us happy when you finally wrote us from I don’t know where in the world you are living now, to tell us we should resume taking care of your artist career. We would have wanted to take care of it since some time earlier. You are so prudent, according to the original meaning of ancient Greek phron, that concerns not the action but rather the thought, the ethical choice that falls back on the making. You have made us laugh, when you have written that you follow the cycles of agriculture and that your ideas must be watered a lot. For sure you are not a planted tree, you believe in the future and the community of the natural forests, in the do ut des of the polis. In the kingdom of plants you would be perhaps a helpful big beech.
Regarding your art, for sure your own pace is more arboreal than agricultural.
What have you done in the meantime?
Sancho Silva: Dear Anto and Francesca. Thank you for your questions and sorry for taking so long to reply. I guess you are right about me being arboreal rather than agricultural. Even though I do not see an opposition here. The key to swift agriculture lies hidden in the shadow of an old tree. Gungsun Long (or was it Huan Duan?) once said that the flying bird’s shadow never moves. I feel the reverse has been happening to me. I stand still while my shadows move swiftly. But I digress (as usual). More to the point. Thank you for inviting me to do another show at your gallery. I appreciate your patience. Perhaps you are also a little bit arboreal like myself. As for “art,” that slippery squid that keeps lingering, it is never where you placed it last. You always need to start again. Throw all the fragments back into the vortex. But that’s fine since, as a good citizen of the polis, I like to recycle. And I have a magic wand or, to use the English term, an electric hand-blender.
ps: We saw your work for the first time at Manifesta in Frankfurt in 2002, it was elegant and really very much political with its being inside your installation and outside the museum and vice-versa, inside the museum and outside your work Gazebo. When we met you, because of your pure-mathematician look, we thought you were a techie, but we soon understood that you were fuzzier than any other possible fuzzy. By the way, there is a book by Scott Hartley titled The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Art Will Rule the Digital World. At Stanford University, where the author of the book studied, “fuzzies” are humanities students, usually considered some sort of looser; “techies” are those who study mathematics, physics, computer science: the heroes of the future. However, venture capitalist Hartley, who has also worked for Google and Facebook, claims that, in the second machine age, the humanistic competence will have a fundamental role, most of all in maintaining a high level of creativity in terms of critical thinking. If facts such as the current role of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica were crashed onto the ground of hermeneutic athleticism prepared by humanities, they would have “left the time they found”, as an ancient Genoese saying tells about something done in vain, meaning they would have done nothing, for real they would have not helped the election of a US president, nor the vote pro Brexit in the United Kingdom.
Do you think that the “stay hungry and stay foolish” preached by Steve Jobs, is a useful luggage for life?
SS: To be honest I don’t understand your question very well. So I will attempt to construct a fuzzy answer and remain faithful to your image of me. I like the saying “Left the time they found”. It seems to echo the old Huan Duan (or was it Hui Shi?) saying “Wheels never touch the ground.” I hear the mottoes of venture capitalists with the same enthusiasm that I hear the mottoes of new-born Christians on a late-night show. I believe, with Leibniz, that every single entity expresses the entire universe. But does it follow that every single motto expresses the entire universe? I think it does. Some mottoes, however, seem to express the universe in such a confused way that it is left for the interpreter to do the whole of the expressive work: an infinite but joyful task. Here go some first steps concerning Jobs’ motto “stay hungry and stay foolish.” The cynic would say Steve Jobs just wanted us, the people, to stay hungry and foolish so that he could sell us more of his sugary apples. The futurologist would say he was having a premonition of how life will be like in the universal shanty-town of the future. The Mariologist would say Jobs was secretly referring to the Job from the Book of Job who had seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she-asses, and a very great household and that once said: “naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither.” Huan Duan (or was it Hui Shi?), on the other hand, would succinctly say: “A dog can be considered a sheep.”
ps: Speaking about your fourth exhibition at pinksummer, you have called it Primordial Soup. Recently, it has been discovered that the indistinct soup from which life germinated, was not only constituted by the simplicity and abundancy of RNA, because RNA lacks in “reflectivity”; it seems that there was another ingredient, some sort of thicker, a broth dice of proteic nature, the peptides, capable of starting that replication process overcharged with hybridising alternatives, which is life on planet Earth. Your work has always been looking for alternatives, by redesigning space, by disturbing and subverting vision, looking for a horizon or better a horizon beyond the architectural and socio-economical boundaries. You have even played some dualities of metaphysical nature, by taking effigies and simulacra into it. You have mounted, taken apart, constructed and manipulated, in order to find alternatives.
For sure, environmental damages have always been justified by the lack of alternatives. Why did you call your fourth exhibition at pinksummer Primordial Soup? What is this soup that smells like some matriarchal flavor?
SS: In the last 3 years — and now I will answer question one — I have been managing a piece of land around the house where I live. I do not know exactly how to describe this practice. Dadaist agriculture? Philosophical agriculture? Agro-art? None of the above. In any case it involves collecting all sorts of seeds, occasionally revolving the earth, weeding, irrigation, and a lot of observation and research. This has been more of a dérive than a project with a specific per-determined aim. But as an offshoot this meant that there have been a bunch of strange looking cabbages, pumpkins, turnips and a bunch of other creatures roaming around the house calling to be “processed”. Now since I happen to have a magic wand (and two kids to use as guinea-pigs) this has led me to produce a series of enormous pots of a green-brown paste — a primordial soup — that I tried unsuccessful to feed the kids with. But I haven’t lost hope. Perhaps it is all a matter of presentation and the soup will be more successful if served in a gallery. To quote Hui Shi (or is it Gongsun Long?), compasses cannot make circles.
ps: Some years ago at your place in Lisbon, you showed us your collection of seeds. That night in your kitchen, we found out that you are a seed saver and maybe an inventor of aesthetic hybrids. Seeds are not a small thing, as a slogan goes.
Now and then in the world agriculturists rise against the multinational seed companies, that created the dependency from hybrid seeds, GMO plants, fertilizers and pesticides, polluting and exterminating insects fundamental to pollination, such as bees and butterflies. Press tends to liquidate the protests with little short articles, as if they were scuffles among growers of fruit and vegetables.
Initially the conservation of the seeds was part of the agricultural tradition finalized to the preservation of farms and gardens. Today, seeds must be purchased and openly produce hybrid plants. Seed savers are seekers of old varieties or agrobiodiversity not subject to genetic erosion, who let them reproduce in order to avoid the ultimate extinction of them and of the millenarian knowledge that generated them.
Indian activist Vandana Shiva, one of the leaders of the International Forum of Globalization, asserts that GMO used during Indian Green Revolution, supplied by the United States, were mainly an instrument for moving India away from any potential Soviet influence. However, high-production monocultures turned out to be non-sustainable, a little like nuclear energy.
Vandana Shiva in her book Monoculture of the Mind tells that we should defend ourselves from global monocultures because biodiversity is the shell of culture.
Could there not be cultural diversity without biological diversity? Is diversity first of all a system of thought?
SS: I heard that they are inserting fish chromosomes into vegetables to make them more resistant. That could be exciting if done by a good chef (even though I’m not a big fan of fish-sauce). I’m skeptical of the culinary expertise of the big companies though. Their strategy seems to simply add sugar into everything. But people can be convinced, with a little effort, to eat all sorts of substances. Again it is a question of presentation. And these companies have a lot of magic wands! Humanity is slowly being trained to desire and enjoy eating the strangest of things. I guess whatever there is an industrial excess of. Probably in the future we will have created a new breed of humans that breath carbon monoxide and feast on radioactive waste. They will need to wear protective suits when visiting the remaining forests not to get overexposed to oxygen which by that time will be highly toxic for humans. What we now call middle class will then have vanished and society will be composed of a myriad clans ruled by gangsters and cult leaders in the universal shanty-town. We just need to visit places like Lagos in Nigeria and the favelas of Brazil to have a glimpse of our joyful future. Europe and a bunch of other countries have so far been able to export the violence they breed overseas with the fault-line being placed at the Mediterranean. Brazil (and Nigeria), for example, have not been so lucky. Here the fault-lines zig-zag through the territory creating the conditions for a perpetual undeclared civil war. I read that in the last 6 years more people have been murdered in Brazil (280.000) than in the war in Syria (260.000). So I guess we are heading towards what Empedocles called “the rule of Strife,” or what Jobs would call “the rule of the hungry and foolish.” But we must be optimists! If we fast-forward a dozen thousand more years mankind will live in ways similar to the ones isolated tribes in the Amazon now live. Forests will have regrown over the entire globe covering the ruins of ancient civilizations. Humans will be smarter and more advanced. More subtle. They will have no cars, nor factories, nor work and will be able to once again look up at the stars and wonder. They will then be able to say, with Hui Shi: “let love embrace the ten thousand things; Heaven and earth are one”.
ps: Ecofeminism claims that the anthropocentric and androgenic culture has a dichotomic interpretation of reality, defining concepts solely by opposition or denial which produces exploitation, desolation and frantic race for profit.
Some ecofeminist women look for a common ground between environmentalism, animal rights and feminism. Patriarchal power-over-power model recalls sexism, dominion over nature, racism and the speciesism. Could inequality be born from the axiom defining x as x not in respect of but only as the opposition or denial of y?
SS: I think the problem is not so much with dichotomies but with a certain fixation within a set of images or figures of thought. We tend to get trapped into mental and bodily habits which we assimilate far too easily due to lack of strength and discernment. Our environment, both physical and psychological, constantly modulates who we are. Like gravity, wind and light modulate the shape of a tree, we are shaped by our cities, schedules, languages and equipment.
For millennia we have raised forms of thought and physical gestures structured around a clear division between man and woman and other Manichaean divisions (adult / child, native / alien, aristocratic / plebeian, human / animal, alive / inert, etc., etc.)
However, such dichotomies are nothing but ruins, dysfunctional traces of ancient lives, skeletons and ghosts cluttered around and inside us. How can we escape the ruins? How can we reach the seeds or the germinative elements that can redeem the past from itself, which free the possible from its rubble? The key here is, I think, to be able to accept but not to succumb to those ruins. It is a fine line and in the end it is a question of equilibrium. If we are lucky and inventive enough we can impart on the world a little spin, a sort of Clinamen, that will make the entire difference. Going back to Huan Duan, we can say: “Horses lay their eggs”.
ps: The father of Green Revolution Norman Borlaug, Nobel prize in 1970, asserted: “If in 1999 we had had the yields of cereals of 1961 (1531 kg for hectare) we would have had needed nearly 850 million hectares extra.” It is obvious that so much land was not available and for sure it wasn’t in the densely populated Asia. Furthermore, even if that was available, think at the ground erosion and the loss of forests, prairie and wild fauna that we would have caused, if we had tried to produce those amounts of cereals with the old low-production technology.
The Green Revolution achieved a temporary success within the human war against famine and deprivation: it gave men a little break. If totally implemented, the revolution can supply enough food to sustain us for the next thirty years. However the terrifying power of human reproduction must be conquered, otherwise, the successes of green revolution will be ephemeral”. Homeopathy is risky in case of an acute problem, against bronchopneumonia an antibiotic should be prescribed instead of Centella Asiatica grains. The Green Revolution with the high-production monoculture was an antibiotic, that did not eliminate the disease, it made a quick fix, by causing at the same time an immunological imbrittlement. Nonetheless, that was a solution to famine. Why in the Western world governments are afraid of population decline? Any time, at any geographic latitude, women schooling has the effect of an immediate reduction of birth rate. Wouldn’t that solve a good part of world environmental problems?
SS: Schooling is good I guess, if it is good schooling. Again we return to the problem of ruins, this time the ruins of an educational system that for millennia had the mission of informing “inert matter” (children, “savages”, but also teachers and caretakers themselves) into fully functioning components of the social organism. What seeds could we rescue from these ruins? I guess the idea of school as a place of exchange, transformation, experimentation and creativity is one such seed. For a while it seemed as if this latter type of schools were not only sprouting but also becoming more widespread. Now it seems the opposite is happening. Funds are being slashed and we seem to be sliding into an era in which schools (and universities) are seen merely as tools for producing humanoids as technical components to be inserted into the ever-growing industrial cycles. It seems that until we radically alter our intellectual environment we will have no chance of understanding, much less of nurturing, our physical and demographic environment.
ps: You suggested us the book by Emanuele Coccia La vie des plantes: Une métaphysique du mélange (The Life of Plants. A Metaphysics of Mixture). We have not got it yet, but when we ordered it on Amazon we read: ”We hardly talk about it and their name escapes us. Philosophy has always neglected them; even biology considers them a mere decoration of the tree of life. And yet, plants give life to the Earth: they create the atmosphere that surrounds us, they are at the origin of the breath that animates us. Plants embody the closest and most basic connection that life can establish with the world. Under the sun and the clouds, mingling with water and wind, their existence is an endless cosmic contemplation. This book starts from their point of view – that of leaves, roots and flowers – to understand the world no longer as a simple collection of objects, or a universal space containing everything, but as the general atmosphere, the climate, a place of true metaphysical mixing”
What will you present at pinksummer?
SS: I brought with me a series of beings or fragments of beings. Ruins, seeds and their shadows. Somewhere between 10 and 10.000 of them. These ingredients will be used as actors in a sort of culinary opera. They will be thrown into a vortex where they’ll combine in aleatory collisions in the making of an audio-visual soup. This soup will be served on a screen or membrane that will function as sort of pre-digestive gland. Bon appétit!