Thessaloniki, October 2016

Summer 2016 Residencies: Eric Ellingsen & Lynn Peemoeller

Text: Giorgos Giouzepas
Photos: Giorgos Kogias

Radical Imagination Community by Eric Ellingsen

Radical: 1350-1400; Middle English < Late Latin rādīcālis having roots, equivalent to Latin rādīc- (stem of rādīx) root + -ālis –al

Perceiving Academy festival, 14.07.2016; photo: George Kogias
During the first weeks of June, a strange group of people roamed the city. Their peculiarity had nothing to do with how they looked. They were an introvert gathering of young men and women, students and young professionals with architecture or fine arts background. They were Eric Ellingsen’s Perceiving Academy. Despite their plainness as a group, they repeatedly seemed to fail to move in a “proper” manner through the streets, appearing unexpectedly in different places for a week and disconcerting the city and its inhabitants. The participants would go around with their hands spread out –as if they were inviting passersby in an awkward hug– move as Perseus’ copycats looking only through a mirror, shout around the neighborhoods, walk suspiciously slow, or lie down creating a human myriapod.
The purpose of these erratic activities was to experience latent aspects of the city or, as in the case of the blind walk, to face the challenges minorities have to deal with in their everyday lives. For this first week, the group went through a process of becoming a part of and creating an unconventional city, expanding the notion of what is expected in the public space.
Residency #2: Eric Ellingsen, Perceiving Academy Day 1, 05/07/2016; photo: George Kogias
Residency #2: Eric Ellingsen, Perceiving Academy Day 1, 05/07/2016; photo: George Kogias
Residency #2: Eric Ellingsen, Perceiving Academy Day 2, 06/07/2016; photo: George Kogias
During the second week, the Academy went silent for some days, only to reemerge a quiet Thursday afternoon in the area around the city hall. In an almost pagan litany, the group carried around big red structures, which despite their seeming frivolity, were characterized by an alarming geometry. These were the outcome of the silent but frantic days, during which the participants conceptualized and created the structures. Arriving on the waterfront they tried to engage onlookers in their activities, to lure them into their heretic public behavior.
Whether because of the summer inertness, its rooted discomfort with the unconventional, or its inert resilience, the city avoided a strong engagement with the project. Many passersby looked, fewer asked, but virtually nobody decided to take part in the erratic walks. The municipality gallantly offered LABattoir and overall supported the project, but the city council politely refused to take part in activities when the Academy asked. Other institutions also found it difficult to deal with challenges posed to them and accept what was generally perceived as unconventional. However, during the last day people came closer and took part, especially a group of children –Syrian refugees– with their disinterest on decency and thirst for fun. The inclusion of this recent, but also latent, part of the city and the genuine enjoyment gave deeper political meaning in the act of having fun, as a participant remarked.
Residency #2: Eric Ellingsen, Perceiving Academy Day 4, 07/07/2016; photo: George Kogias
Residency #2: Eric Ellingsen, Perceiving Academy Day 3, 07/07/2016; photo: George Kogias

You are Food by Lynn Peemoeller

At the same time, a more subtle project was taking place in the city: “you are food”. Lynn Peemoeller studied the city’s foodscape, not through the customary culinary paths, but through the subversive potential of the grassroots endeavors of urban agriculture and a literal tasting of the city. Lynn found the people that cultivate the city, that bring fertility in disused places, integrating them in the social space. As Dimitris from Peliti  –one of the participants– eloquently said about PERKA, an abandoned military camp, people there “made fertile a place that was rendered sterile by soldiers’ boots performing military drills for years”.
Residency #3: Lynn Peemoeller, interview with Perka, urban agriculture project, 30/06/2016; photo: George Kogias
In the actions of urban gardeners, that bring the diversity of plants and varieties, tastes and scents, there is common ground. Despite their differences and degree of militancy, in their words one can find defiance. Without overstating the scope of their actions, there is a political thread that connects their efforts with general issues such as the economic crisis, unemployment, global agro-food systems and social justice. In this sense, Peemoeller’s project also elevates a latent aspect of the city, a group of people that grow awareness through practice, in a subtle but very committed way.
Residency #3: Lynn Peemoeller, interview with Kipos3, urban agriculture project, 30/06/2016; photo: George Kogias
Residency #3: Lynn Peemoeller, interview with Agri Herb & Pelitis – local seeds preservation project, 01/07/2016; photo: George Kogias
Residency #3: Lynn Peemoeller, discussions on a possible food waste campaign, meeting with Fair Trade Hellas and local experts, Goethe-Institut Thessaloniki, 07/07/2016; photo: George Kogias
The project also included the savoring of the city’s flavors. The five different tastes were condensed from ingredients that came from integral parts of the city. This food-city was offered to its inhabitants, in an urban communion ceremony that made one the body of the city and the body of the dweller. A ceremony to bring about the togetherness of the inhabitants and a city, as well as to function as a manifesto for an urban space that integrates its own self-sustenance in its functions.
Residency #3: Lynn Peemoeller, Growing, Eating, Sharing Storytelling; networking with urban agriculture groups, 05/07/2016; photo: George Kogias
Although the residencies ended, both artists left a legacy behind. The participants of Perceiving Academy with the help and guidance of Ellingsen are taking their first steps to attempt more permanent interventions in the city, while Peemoeller is engaged in support of local institutions to a food waste reduction campaign. The food waste campaign has a smoother road ahead in a framework where waste and food are increasingly accepted as important issues, albeit the Perceiving Academy’s undertaking faces more challenges.
Residency #3: Lynn Peemoeller, Taste the City – taste experiment preparation; photo: George Kogias
The willingness to pursue these ends, the ideas and interest of the participants are there, as is the support of the artist and those that were involved in the project. What will pose the basic difficulty though would be the development of commoning, which though implicit underlines the practices of the Academy. Nevertheless, this is one of the aims of the project itself – that is to bring “Community” through communing, next to the “Radical Imagination” of the perceiving experiences.
The seed is sowed. It needs work and care to become radical.