La Escuela del Fogón: the kitchen as a place for social transformation

La Escuela del Fogón explores the intersection where food, politics and social movements come together. This dynamic project combines art, cuisine and community, spotlighting the importance of cuisine in activism and creating a unique compilation of culinary experiences linked to social change.

C& América Latina: What ideas are there around and about the fogón? How would you define it for those who are unfamiliar with this term?

Dea López: I’m really glad you asked that because at Co.merr we have had to do translations into English and while a fogón is a large fire, it is more than that, it is a space, a time, a structure that can be constructed in a very vernacular way. It is the idea of lighting a fire, which has to do with providing warmth, getting closer, it is a community structure, which means it can take any shape, whether two bricks and dry palm leaves or any other.

It is a system for coming together and an excuse to sit down somewhere and chat at length and, from there, to light other fires: to spark ideas, start movements, share concerns. There is also the implicit idea of burning, of transforming.

In the end we left the term in Spanish, adding a footnote to share all these ideas that go along with fogón.

C&AL: Why have you used the idea of a school to name this project? Why link it to the idea of the fogón?

DL: One can learn a lot in the cooking trade. I’m surprised by the number of sayings. The transfer of knowledge in the kitchen is like a school and in this project we have added an analysis of the methodologies of protest. We started with the dematerialisation of artistic practice, but in this case we decided to expand a compilation, as a means of spreading ways of generating changes, especially among numerous children, which gave this exhibition a fun side and generated a public programme where the stove was present.

Workshops were held, and knowledge of all kinds was shared because in the kitchen – as in conflicts – there are methodologies in which orality is present, emotions work and are completely valid, it is teaching by doing. This is my understanding of the school, which is closely tied to my practice, because I am a cook by trade, not a chef or anything like that. The kitchen is a space for sharing and learning.

C&AL: Related to the concept of the school, for this project you used something called stove economics. Two major fields of knowledge and human behaviour come together in this idea. What does it mean for you?

DL: I have tried to think of economics in terms of emotions, time, how to make a system profitable and sustainable, and in the sense of how to keep a stove going. How, in the Cherán case, for example, you support a space where you have to feed an entire village for months on end: this is a kind of economy where trading is valid, donating is valid, where tasks are shared out. How they managed to feed so many children in the Black Panthers programme, when they didn’t have a cent or any support from public agencies. You realise that it’s all about putting in time, effort, care at the tables, giving and also knowing how to receive, not money or material goods, but people’s wellbeing, and that is an economic system.

There are organisational alternatives in which tasks and obligations are shared out, and everyone profits from this, which maintains these structures, like the spinning top game where everyone contributes.

Other channels open up, like planting, cooperation, and for this reason too we focused on planting workshops for children. This is the origin of punk economics, where they realise that if they plant, they can eat and they can move away from the market rules a bit. We forget how punk it is to plant food.

C&AL: How did the children that attended react to the activities proposed by the museum?

DL: To start with, we are taught that in museums we don’t touch, don’t shout, don’t speak and you have to have an attitude of receiving the art. In the art world we have a pretty strong mindset about what the museum space should be like. And suddenly you have a stove in the middle of this white space with huge windows and controlled temperatures, a cold space, where you can get dirty, it’s warm, you can even ask for wood for cooking and suddenly the museum rooms are smelling like chilli and the children are running around but if you call their attention, they understand and you can ask them to peel [vegetables], a meal is made and there is enough left over even for the security guard. The dynamics are very different.

We held cooking and planting workshops for children and they were very well received, most of the exhibition programme for the public was aimed at children, so it was constantly full of boys and girls. It ended up being a good excuse to talk to the children about anarchy and they reacted enthusiastically because there were games, food and plants.

C&AL: The introductory text asserts that one must throw oneself entirely into cooking and into protesting. How did you reach this conclusion?

DL: There is no way to cook or to protest without throwing yourself into it wholeheartedly. You put everything into making the effort involved. From hunger strikes to using a stove, you give it your all because nothing else matters. The idea of embodying a space, embodying a situation is quite powerful, the power of the body, of knowing that something hurts but that one is still there, that the mission is so important that there is no alternative but to throw yourself into it entirely, is something I admire very much.

And you cannot cook without giving it your all. Cooking has an impact on the body and the structure of the stove we built was designed for this. As an art curator, I know that in my profession we do not usually get our hands dirty, we don’t hang paintings because that’s what the museographer is there for, we don’t paint the art, because that’s the artist’s job, we are a mystery. However, in art as a social practice, one clearly must get dirty.

C&AL: Is the Escuela del Fogón the start of a compilation of social struggles through cooking?

DL: This idea stems from my feminist thinking, it is a very feminine compilation, emerging from the power of cooking and all that upholds the domestic realm. Within this premise, applied to the family and later to a movement, one must understand the role of politics in the domestic realm. The movements shown to us by the guerilla fighters, in which They are the heroes, masked and carrying weapons, are very strong, violent images, whereas the backbone of the movement actually lies elsewhere.

Maintaining a movement for six months, ten months, a long time, is something that happens one day at a time, with daily meals, breakfast, the everyday routines are there, the politics of the everyday, that’s where this compilation starts.

With the Co.merr team we were discussing what should be in the show. We had a clear idea of what movements we would include to start with, and this has to do with historicising these kinds of processes linked to the domestic realm. Perhaps the criteria of the compilations have to do with objects, what you feel it is important to keep, and what we find really interesting in this detonation is that this compilation is composed of both oral elements and other rare objects, elements that tell stories that are not taken into consideration.

When it comes to movements told through cooking, there are scattered elements. When you manage to put them together, you can create a map. We have now recorded fifteen movements and two protest methodologies. One of the ideas of this compilation is to have different ways of reading the movements, from eco-feminism to projects devoted to children. We want it to be possible to read this in many ways. There are many people researching these topics, and that helps us share this practice of the compilation because we cannot do the entire compilation, it is too vast. For the time being, we are going to work on a publishing project so that the entire exhibition can be printed on a semi-professional printer with paper from a stationery shop clearance sale, and the compilation can be used for free.

Heriberto Paredes Coronel (Tlaxcala, 1983) is a Mexican freelance photographer and journalist dedicated to documenting organizational processes in Indigenous communities, the search for missing persons and environmental issues in Mexico. He has collaborated with national and international media and has directed short documentaries.

Translation: Johannes van Buren