Stiff Peaks

Nora Silva and Inês Neto dos Santos met while studying at the Royal College of Art in London. Brought together by a mutual interest in food that has resulted in multiple projects, a collective called Stiff Peaks, recipes and now an online course called Food Cosmogonies, their goal is to use critical thinking to re-conceptualise the world through food.

Whilst studying, Nora and Inês discovered a mutual wish to focus on food as a medium. They also felt there was a lack of food-related references, topics and theory in academic discussion. “We understand food as a discipline as valid as sculpture or painting,” they explain, “In setting up this course we wanted to present food as fundamental; as a building block or tool to widen our views of the world.”

Inês Neto dos Santos “Unfurling”, Radical Residency V, Unit 1 Gallery Workshop, 2020. Image courtesy Inês Neto dos Santos

Born in Lisbon and based in London, Inês’ research path has led her towards “the history and applications of fermentation, its potential as a metaphor for community, togetherness and for imagining the worlds we would like to live in” and she teaches on topics such as fermentation, cooking, sustainability and ecology.

We understand food as a discipline as valid as sculpture or painting.

Hailing from Madrid and also based in London, Nora’s professional experience as a cook has heavily influenced her art practice as a performer. She is also a philosophy student and says that her expertise stands “somewhere in between contemporary theory of politics, philosophy and art and hands-on performance practice”. She is co-founder of a number of collectives, including The Gramounce exhibition supper club.

Inês Neto dos Santos and Nora Silva, “Fermentour on Mars”, Design Museum, 2020. Photo © Carlotta Marangone

The duo are curious about the great potential of the dinner table to talk about politics, and have used it extensively in their practices to discuss a variety of topics ranging from sustainability and togetherness to identity and class and the realms of social media. They are also interested in the potential of horizontal learning to shift away from hierarchical academic structures and wish to use this course as a testing ground for new learning and teaching tactics.

Here is an amuse-bouche about Food Cosmogonies from Nora and Inês in their own words:

With Food Cosmogonies, we embody and encourage critical thinking around our histories, past, present and future. We aim to establish food and cooking as inherent signifiers of human culture, and therefore ideal material for the world-making process. We will justify cuisine’s crucial role for the human being as a social individual, and demonstrate how society’s structures of power and hierarchy throughout history can be discussed using the metaphor of dinner.

Departing from a study of food and cooking as kosmos, we will discuss the value of cooking as world-builder and society-maker, whilst investigating artists who, across history, have used food as material, subject and metaphor. This course will look at how colonial practices, religion and capitalist structures of power have shaped the way we eat and relate to food, and conversely how it has shaped us – proposing practices such as fermentation, foraging, communal seed keeping, herbal knowledge and regenerative agriculture as radical acts of care and togetherness in the face of global homogenisation. 

Inês Neto dos Santos “FERMEN-TOUR”, Arcade East + V_A, 2018. Photo © Katie Davies

Historically, it is at the table that decisions are made, deals agreed on, ideas scribbled on napkins. Food allows us to create connections with space, time and each other, across past and present – opening up pathways to imagine and speculate about the future. Food is ingested, it goes inside, it is a distinctive feature that sets it off from the rest of material culture. It is also the output of someone’s labour, effort and sweat. An output that turns into an input into another’s mouth. Therefore food is a particularly apt vehicle for symbolizing and expressing ideas about the relationship of self and other. 

As humans, we turn consumption of food, a biological necessity, into a carefully cultured phenomenon. When the easiest part of the whole process of producing edibles comes, eating them, we start to drown the proceedings with an elaborate system of rules. We aestheticise the task turning it into a complicated framework for signifiers.

This is not just a food course, this is the world through food.

Food is undoubtedly a building block of our planetary existence – for all living beings, human and non-human. “I gather, you cook” is likely to be the oldest social contract – leading to developments and exchanges of knowledge, language, and stories. So this is not just a food course, this is the world through food.

The Stiff Peaks Dpt. collective was founded in early 2021 together with curator Isabel Blanco Fernández
as an educational art collective focusing on the intersection between food and art. The first expression of Food Cosmogonies course will be realised with the Institute for Postnatural Studies. Later they hope to develop it further with different groups and contexts and expand it with other institutions into a larger, more comprehensive course irl.

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