The Rest and Slowness Potluck
Abridged toasts from Dr Malaika Cunningham, Jennie Moran and Zoe Laureen Palmer
On the 22 November, as we headed into darker days and longer nights we invited a mix of artists, activists, thinkers, and revellers to a potluck at Toynbee Studios.
Over food, conversation and toasts we explored the politics and importance of rest & slowness. The event was co-hosted by Dr Malaika Cunningham, Practice Researcher at Artsadmin, whose work explores participatory performance & democracy, and artist Jennie Moran, as part of her residency Say Yes To Who or What Turns Up, which explored themes of hospitality and reciprocity in the Artsadmin Canteen. The potluck brought together their overlapping interest in the role of food and performance in creating commonly owned spaces. This was part of a series of potlucks Malaika has been hosting with Artsadmin.
Over the course of the evening there were a series of toasts. Here is an abridged collection of those toasts, alongside some photos from the event, taken by Christa Holka.
A welcome toast from Malaika Cunningham
Welcome everyone! Thank you for the ingredients – we’re putting together a very beautiful meal by combining them. A ‘pot-luck’ is normally an event at which everyone brings a dish to share. However, if you go further back into the history of the pot-luck, the name actually comes from everyone bringing along an ingredient to ‘add to the pot’. So – that’s the version of a potluck we’re working with tonight.
Tonight we embrace winter and darkness through a celebration of rest and slowness. We will do this through sharing a meal and also through a collection of ‘toasts’ to how this theme might feature in our lives. We have invited a few people to offer these toasts, but if you have a toast of your own – ding your glass and feel welcome to share.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how our (my own) addiction of productivity, to usefulness – how this feeds capitalism, environmental destruction & personal burnouts. How rest and slowness might actually be the most important act of resistance we (I) can enact. Jenny Odell offers this gentle call to arms: “Solitude, observation, and simple conviviality should be recognised not only as ends in and of themselves, but inalienable rights belonging to anyone lucky enough to be alive.”
In response to this my toast tonight begins with a story, and ends with some questions.
This is the parable of the ‘useless tree’ by Zhuang Zhou. There was once an enormous and very old oak tree. Its trunk was made up of many pieces. And its twisted branches spread wide around it. One day a carpenter passed by the giant tree. He was impressed by its size, but almost immediately declared it a “worthless tree”. Exclaiming “A boat made from its branches would sink, a coffin would soon rot. The tree was too gnarled to be used for timber.” He then walked off into the woods. Soon afterwards the old oak appears to the carpenter in his dream and asks “What are you comparing me to? A cinnamon tree would be cut down for its bark. A spruce for its straight trunk. The cherry and pear are stripped of their fruits every year. Their lives are bitter because of their usefulness. I have tried very hard to be useless – how else could I have grown so large? You are a worthless man about to die – how do you know I am a worthless tree?”
Our understanding of what is useful has perhaps never been so narrow, so instrumental. Our time equals money. Nature has become resources. Productivity is a deeply ingrained value.
Rest and slowness are easy, early causalities in our drive for more, better, faster. So this winter it feels important to resist this – to embrace rest and slowness with wide open arms, as an act of care and of resistance.
I want to close with some questions for us to take with us tonight:
What does it look like to meaningfully de-couple time and money?
What would it mean for rest to be equally accessible?
How could rest change your life, your relationships, your values, your time?
A Toast to Hospitality by Jennie Moran
Hospitality exists as a response to the movement of humans – people leaving their towns and villages in ancient times. The prospect of leaving one’s own surroundings to become a stranger elsewhere was an awful one, prompting dread and terror in the heart of the sojourner. To be without shelter for the night could mean death by exposure to the elements or wild animals, or robbery and murder at the hands of highwaymen.
Movement is, and was, inevitable.
So out of necessity an agreement was made by social groups of diverse cultures, all over the world which facilitated the admittance of strangers into a private realm.
An infrastructure of shared protection.
This system works on the basis of mutual trust: the wayfaring stranger is invited to food and shelter on condition that they bring no harm. The host in turn vows to keep the stranger safe under their roof and is afforded an opportunity to prove status and honour. There is more than meets the eye to this exchange though.
The etymology of the word ‘hospitality’ gives us poetic insight into the mutuality of the practice. ‘Ghostis’ is the Indo – European root and it describes neither the host nor the guest but the relationship between the two.
The meaning is reversible. It bounces from one to the other, like an electric current, for as long as both parties are held in their protective bind. Here under this microscope is where the magic happens.
Hospitality is the space of possibility that opens up between guest and host when both parties willingly engage in mutual respect. Here, anything is possible.
In the cold dingy basement ‘office’ of my café I have mounted on the wall a crumpled photocopied extract of philosopher Jacques Derrida’s 1996 seminar, ‘Step of Hospitality/No Hospitality’ which sets out, in no uncertain terms, ‘the law of absolute , unconditional, hyperbolical hospitality’. The passage which I look to, begins with the sentence, ‘Let us say yes to who or what turns up, before any determination, before any anticipation, before any identification, whether or not it has to do with a foreigner, an immigrant, an invited guest, or an unexpected visitor, whether or not the new arrival is the citizen of another country, a human animal, or divine creature, a living or dead thing male or female.’
This unassuming piece of paper carries surprising weight. The outlandish and unfeasible demand imprinted on it tells me what the aim is – to welcome each soul that crosses the
threshold and cry out to them, ‘Enter quickly for I am afraid of my happiness!’ (2000, p. 131). Sometimes I growl at this sheet of paper in frustration.
I fall short and I fail. “Oh shut up Derrida you don’t know what it’s like”, I say. I try again. It works sometimes.
Beholden. Be holding. What about mutual hospitality?
French theorist Luce Irigaray advises us to take time before ushering the stranger into our lives. This pause is counter- intuitive. It implies hesitation or even suspiscion. However, the opposite is the intention.
She asks us not to automatically rush to assimilate the stranger into our world but rather, to prepare a new space of possibility beyond our own cultural horizon, where we can meet and share the difference between us. In leaving our own comfortable familiar space, we immediately become aware of its limitations. We are on holiday from our normal lives.
We land on the same page as the stranger. We become co-wayfarers. We might now meet them here on equal footing.
In this ‘virginal’ space, we stand together, naked (of customs and cultural difference); poised and silent, ready to listen to what is expected of us. Here we can imagine the ‘ghostis’ moving synaptically once more, between the two parties, creating the new energy of reciprocity,
Where before there was nothing.
Here in this space, the host is listening closely. Curiosity is permitted; encouraged even. When they return to their own place afterwards they might be ever so slightly altered by the encounter. The breathless exhilaration of ‘Enter quickly for I am afraid of my happiness!’ (Derrida, 2000, p. 131) makes much more sense now. I can get behind the excitement relating to escape, freedom and newness on the part of the host, much more than the version of hospitality we have become accustomed to which is ‘a sort of charity toward someone who is in want’.
Let us allow our lives to be altered by the stranger, complex and interesting humans in their own right, sharing their cultural narrative, offering insight and new experiences. Let us enjoy these unseen gifts.
Let us remember too that this same exchange is possible not just with other humans but with nature – plants, animals, soil, water.
When Irigaray describes the new architecture of possibility where host and guest coexist, the prescribed action is to discover what is expected by the guest. She recommends silence and I think we can interpret this as a quieting of our dominance. She shares with us her ideas on ‘words to favour welcoming’
We have grown accustomed to language in the shape of:
I say to you what this is. I inform you about something. I love you. I offer you hospitality.
We talk to each other. We question each other. We respect each other. We give to one another. We love each other.
These syntactic structures allow space for Looking. Watching. Learing. Growing. They form part of the architecture of equivalence deemed necessary for mutual hospitality.
A Toast to the Bees by Zoe Laureen Palmer
To what, or whom, do we afford rest…?
To what extent can we inhabit slowness?
How are our own acts of rest + liberation bound up with those of the more than human world?
At this time of years the bees in their colony shrink down to hibernate
They mass around their queen, connected through her pheromones, keeping her warm
Many workers die off
This is the season of rest
Honey that has been made through the efforts of 100,000 bees
From the nectar of countless plants, trees + flowers
From hundreds of thousands of miles flown in multiple directions
Infinite dances + interconnections
But now, in slow time, they rest
And feed on their stores
You cannot rush meeting bees
Because they will rush back at you + sting
Its a gift that burns + sings
A toast to the honey makers
workers weaving across the loom of the land
their furious dancing
in figures of 8
to infinities of ivy, cosmos + sage
a journey from solid to liquid to viscous
portals of reciprocity
into this moment, this portal
crafted by conviviality
a toast to our expansiveness
the things we cannot count or quantify
the tastes we learn + live by
Say Yes To Who Or What Turns Up was supported by BE PART, within the Creative Europe programme of the European Union.