July 2018

Eleanor Zurowski

How did you get into conceptual based performance art?

Eleanor It’s funny because I don’t think I would ever call myself a performance artist. I even feel weird calling myself an artist. I guess I fell into it because it was the only way I felt could express the ideas that I was having. I work a lot with the notions of labour and looking at aspects of engagement, more so than just visual engagement. Looking at sensory engagement, through sound, taste and touch. So I felt like the only way to achieve that was to be physically involved in the work. I have this internal dilemma where I’m like, ‘Yes I want this to be a performance work … but I also don’t want to perform it’ (laughs). I think it’s a confidence thing. But then I’m also a bit of a control freak so if anyone ever did it I’d be like, ‘You’re not doing it quite right’. I’m trying to find an intersection between the two, which is why I think I am moving towards doing collaborative performances, where the performance is dependent on audience engagement and can’t exist with just me as performer or producer.

 Can you explain what you mean by the ‘temporality of acts of care and labour’ ?

Eleanor Yeah for sure. I guess I am interested in how acts of care can be a lifetime commitment. If you care for something it usually means that you want to be involved with it or be present with it, which requires so much emotional labour, physical labour and everything in between. To some extent that gets exhaustive. You get tired and you have to stop at some point. As much as they are long term sensations or actions or relationships … at some point they have to stop because you have to personally recharge. Or it’s like this balance between the two where there are really short lived moments of care that are really intense. Think about when a baby is born. All the attention is on that child and raising it and then it’s a long term thing for parents or other carers to look after that child, but the demands of that are going to change with time.

How did you come to use bread as a vessel to express or explore that concept?

Eleanor When I was on exchange in the Netherlands I really didn’t like the bread there. I didn’t realise how much bread I usually eat and then I got to this point where I was like, ‘I’m so sick of this empty white bread’. I was complaining to these new people that I just met. There was this girl from France and she was like, ‘You have to try the bread in France … it’s incredible’. This guy from Germany was like, ‘No German bread is where it’s at, it’s so dense’ … someone from Britain was like, ‘No. British bread! it’s just so traditional, a hearty staple’. Then I got to the point where I realised complaining was unproductive and I decided to teach myself how to make bread because I’d actually never made it before … even though it can be super simple. It became this ongoing process for me. Every few days each week I would bake. It became a meditative process. Some days when I wouldn’t have uni I would spend the entire day baking. I made so much that I couldn’t eat it all myself. That’s how I got into the ‘Our Daily Bread’ project.

Let’s talk about ‘Our Daily Bread’ project ︎

Eleanor This was a piece that came to in collaboration with Peach, an exhibition space in Rotterdam. It’s run by Ghislain Amar, who basically uses his home to create an exhibition space, wanting to explore the idea of exhibition as something more personal and private but also accessible to the public at their wish. You can contact him to have a look at the space and he just opens his home to you. I was interested in that idea and I felt like Sydney didn’t really have anything like that. Because I was exploring bread and these ideas of and intersections between public, private, domestic and commercial I thought the space was so well suited. So I sent a bold email to them that was like this is my idea, this is what is required of you, this is what is required of me. I said I was happy to deliver bread to them, to drop it off at their house or alternatively never meet. It was their choice what kind of relationship we would have.

The proposal was to bake a loaf a day for Ghislain. Everyday it would be a different type of bread. I was looking for an output for my labor and my practice of learning to make bread. It went hand in hand with this idea of sustenance and exchange, because in return I was  being given an ‘exhibition opportunity’ and in doing so, also able to engage myself more in Rotterdam, which was really nice. Pretty much everyday we would message and sometimes I’d meet him in the city or at his studio, sometimes it would be at uni, sometimes at his house. They decided to respond to the project in their own way, which I wasn’t expecting. They decided every night to have a dinner party with an open invite to their friends and in extension to me. I went a few nights whenever I could that week … and it was just so lovely. I met a lot of working artists and the fine arts masters students, which was so great to come into contact with all these really interesting and engaged people through the project.

One thing that I’ve always been interested in is the politics of exhibiting. Very very simply, ‘what is exhibition?’ And I have a real problem with the fact that it’s really performative and there is so much social capital and clout involved in it, that it becomes a different kind of exhausting. It’s not something I particularly like. But I’m also in conflict because I want my work to be collaborative and experienced … and how can you achieve that in a gallery space? The other thing is a lot of the work I make isn’t really suited for a classic white cube space. So the question of how to show my work is really important to me as well. I also haven’t had a great deal of experience in  formal exhibition environments so it’s not an area I feel fully comfortable in. With Ghislain, who was the gallerist, (I guess? ) or you could call him curator … we were on an equal playing field. There were no weird power dynamics … it became the experience of negotiating with a friend, talking about what works and why and how we can change things in the process.

It’s also super intimidating to enter that community as well, as nice and warm as it is once you’re a part of it I feel like it’s hard to get access to it. Which is a problem with arts communities across the board.

Would you consider this project as a social practice? 

Eleanor Yeah it’s kind of a buzzword (laughs). When I started it I didn’t intend for it to be. It was coming from an independent, selfish place … something for myself. But it inherently became a social thing because it was engaged within this community that was already established. I was entering it new. I don’t think I attempt to put myself in arts categories but I think it just sort of happens because that is the nature of work in the arts currently. I find social practice really interesting, but also a little bit problematic sometimes because there’s an extent to ... how much are you taking advantage of individuals or communities within this ‘social practice’. That’s something that I try to be conscious of in my work. I think bread as an object is interesting for that because I think I am also treading a careful line. Bread is a really sensitive topic for a lot of people, particularly in a religious context. It’s a really sacred symbol. I actually grew up Catholic … so I think somewhere there is a strong attachment to bread as this sacred object that I don’t really explicitly acknowledge. A lot of the language that I use comes from that, like the title of the project was ‘Our Daily Bread’ which totally has this religious history but I kind of used it in a way that was playful and out of context. Which I’m aware could touch some nerves for some people. In saying that bread is also really accessible because I think everyone has some form of attachment to bread. You either eat it  or you don’t. And if you eat it … what type of bread do you eat? Why are you eating it? It’s about access … it’s about privilege … it’s about religious beliefs … it’s about social status. Historically it’s this foundational food and something that is exemplary of mechanical processes changing. Looking at the way that society functions, the flow of capital. It’s basically the product of the changes of society in a really simple form that gets totally disregarded and unacknowledged for the power that it beholds.

Very interesting … and I want to know a little bit more! Can you give me an example of this?

Eleanor Yeah sure. So one example of bread as a political object is the way it’s been used historically in labour politics. Looking at rations and this idea of necessity …  bread has always been seen as something that everyone has a right to have. Then in Egypt … I’m not going to attempt to remember the dates, I’m going to butcher it … but way back when, there were bread riots and it was used as this symbol that people would walk to streets with and hold. It was this strong unifying thing that everyone would use to say ‘this is our right’! Food is our right!’ Bread was representative of not only food but access and the distribution of wealth and power. It’s interesting that that has translated throughout history and we see it again now. There was a bread protest recently in America when there were changes to the hours of bakeries. Bakers took to the streets and had this symbol of bread again.There is also an example of when women in the UK took to the streets with bread as this domestic symbol. I think the relationship between bread and gender is something else that I find really fascinating. It is so completely gender neutral … how do you gender bread? It’s an object … it’s not telling you anything. But then because of its domesticity it’s so much tied to femininity and as a female identifying artist, when i engage with bread I feel like people read that in a very particular way. That’s something that you can’t really deny or change, or rather, it’s really difficult to. So I’m trying to utilise that within my practice as best I can, looking at power dynamics.

The work I’m performing for OPENING, ‘A Maize In Grace’ … I think gender is a big part of it because the set up softly mimics the last supper. Where I take the Jesus role (laughs) … there’s that kind of subversion of politics and power dynamics. It has this strong involvement with technology and sound production and through that it’s softly engaging with techno feminisms and the kind of integration between and performances of gender and technology. Particularly in a music sphere and the way that is dominated and distributed. Again, what is it for a female identifying individual to be the main producer in this performance and the one who is ultimately determining the sound that is being produced or played. As much as it is collaborative I could just shut off the system if I wanted to. 

Can you unpack what you meant by the conflict between domestic bread making practices and commercial bread making practices?

Eleanor There are so many conflicts and they come from so many different areas and spheres. For example, economically it’s very cheap to make your own bread and a lot of people don’t realise that. You see sourdough sold at a market in Sydney and it could be $9. That’s expensive. You could make that for less than a third of the price, but it is just demands time. I think because most people are studying or working, time has become almost more valuable, so people will pay the $9 rather than make their own. I think bread will always be to some degree domestic. Someone will always be making bread out there. Because it is an enjoyable tactile experience for so many people. It became a commercial practice when the demand got higher. The mass production of bread totally changed the social relationship. Historically to eat brown bread was indicative of a low social status, white bread is good bread, brown bread is bad bread. Which also stemmed from a social and racist understanding of what is colour and privilege. But now if you’re eating brown bread, it’s deemed a rich persons bread. If you have a Rye loaf … you’ve got money. If you’re eating the cheap $1 Coles white bread that can be read as a symbol of a particular economic or social status. Once bread became mass produced the focus on nutritional value decreased. Instead it was looking at getting the most out of the grain to increase quantity. The focus was no longer on quality or health benefits. For example, white bread is looking at using the smallest about of grain to produce the largest amount of bread possible. Commercial bread making practices have completely changed the way we interact with and value food.

How has it been to bring your bread making practice into a ceramic studio practices? What have been the challenges?

Eleanor I see so many similarities between ceramics and bread-making. Both are so demanding of time and require so much planning. You have to really organise your day around it. They both are very tactile in the sense that you have to be present for the whole process, which becomes both meditative and extremely frustrating for me. Your hands and eyes are engaged, but within that you can sort of zone out, and your body just knows how to physically make forms and begin changing the structure of the material you are working with. Within the process so much of it is out of your control. Either when it hits the kiln or the oven. You can put hours and hours into something which will completely fail, or break at one step.

The end result, in both ceramics and bread making, is also always something shared. I like to make random ceramic things for friends and I occasionally make bread for people. I enjoy doing this for myself too, though it’s always nicer for it to become collaborative or shared.

I really struggle with ceramics in a university context because there is an expectation that there will be a product. And often that that product is intended to be useful. So my experimentation in the last little while has been looking at the process more so. Integrating yeast into ceramic and clay chemical structures to see if that changes anything. In the way that yeast reacts to heat and grows and expands. It has been largely unsuccessful because yeast dies at a really low temperature. I had a random breakthrough where I would feed this clay powder with yeast and sugar every few days so I was treating it like a sourdough starter. And it actually grew! I was getting a really similar response to the way bread dough responds. But then I didn’t know what to do with it because if I put it in the kiln it’s just going to die. So I have this ceramic ‘starter’, but am unsure where to go with it, so stay tuned!

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