Cathy Lane – The Pickle Jar is her home

Cathy Lane is an artist specialising in sound. Her work consists of composition, installation and radio pieces. Cathy recently published a book entitled Playing with words: the spoken word in artistic practice. She is the head of CRISAP (Creative Research Into Sound Art Practice).

The pickle jar is her home click here to listen

Le Hub: Today we would like to talk about the pickle Jar is her home, a composition you realised in 2009. Your piece was recorded both in Britain and India. It is made of a diversity of beautiful sounds of food being chopped, mixed and cooked as well as voices and outdoor ambiances. Could you tell us about the ideas behind the pickle jar is her home and what led you to start the project?

Cathy Lane: The starting point of the piece was to explore food as a material, as a sounding substance, and the relationship between food and sound as material to be processed and transformed. I was interested in the similarities between the way we treat food and the way we treat sound in terms of ‘cooking’ (either of them really: mixing, chopping, cutting, blending) and in terms of the spatial gestures that we use with both things.

LH: The pickle jar is her home takes the listener beyond sound and food as material, what else did you investigate through sound and food and food through sound?

CL: I started to make a lot of recordings about food: where it is sold, where it is consumed, where it is grown. But I was also very interested in individual people relationship to food. In parallel, I was making interviews about their memories of food, more precisely about the food that reminded them of their youth and the food that they like to cook.
These discussions were so interesting from a socio-economic perspective, because it says so much about the time and place where people were born and brought up: Who cooked the food? Where was it cooked? What sort of food was cooked? People can really relate to others through this kind of things. These are particular to classes, countries and ages of people.
I also got into the historical aspects of food. We are now very aware of the global politics of food, but of course food has always been central to global politics. One of the things I looked into, which comes out probably more in the book than piece is the case of pepper. Five hundred years ago, pepper was the most important thing in the whole world: the piece became also about relationships between countries and in particular between Britain and India.

LH: The project became a journey through time and place! Could you tell us more about the title: The pickle jar is her home.

CL: I started to look into how food embodies the idea of home. In the case of my friend Margie, who the piece is named after, she didn’t actually have a home (laughs). She had this very large pickle jar she had bought in a market and that she used to cart around the world with her and placed in places… As long as she had it with her, I think she felt she had her home around her. For her the jar was a symbol of home.

LH: The audio composition comes with a book. Was it a combination you envisaged since the start of the project ?

CL: It was a difficult decision. It was the first time I had done it, as I have always believed that sound should speak for itself. And I do think sound does speak for itself: it’s just that it doesn’t necessarily deliver the things you wanted to say. In this particular case, although my starting point was a simple exploration of food as a material and its relationship to sound, the minute I started researching I found that so many other things came into it. My research became wide-ranging, and I felt I wanted to include that when I presented the work.

LH: The book is not a transcription of the audio. It consists of photographs and snippets of conversations that aren’t exactly connected to the sound. What is exactly the relationship between the book and the sound?

CL: I didn’t want to make it documentary. I wanted to have an abstract approach to the facts that were informing the project. The book is made of a lot of photographs as well as little snippets of conversations. It is non-linear, but hopefully acts as a kind of ancillary, almost as an appendix to the sound piece. One of the ways the piece can be exhibited is as an installation, where you can look through the book while listening.

LH: Why was it essential for the project to involve several places: Britain and India?

CL: I don’t think it was essential to the project because it didn’t started off with that in mind. I was really lucky to be offered a chance to work in India for a little while. I had already started the project in Britain and carried it on in India, which gave it a completely different dimension. India and Britain’s history is so tied up. It can be traced and unravelled through its food. The fact for example that chicken curry, which you never find in India of course, is now supposedly Britain’s favourite food. Or that many recipes you find in India were influenced by the British time there.
These two locations also created a really good contrast. Many of the battles that have been lost in Europe between small producers and agribusiness are still very current and have just started in India. India so far has managed to very largely sidestep the globalisation of food and fast-food, and still has distinct and original cuisines. Unlike Britain I would say.

LH: In the composition some of the sounds are repeated several times consecutively, possibly evoking the idea of repetition. On the one hand, it made me think about the beauty of cooking gestures being repeated and always improved, on the other hand about the repetition of a same eating experience from one fast-food to another.

CL: One of the restaurateurs I talked to in Bangalore said how every Sunday since 1943 they had to make the same meal for lunch. They have a regular clientele, some of whom are in their 80’s and 90’s who go back because it is a recipe that isn’t really made anymore: it is a special recipe from the south of India, it takes a lot of preparation, nobody has really got time to make it at home anymore…even in India. Every Sunday people go and enjoy it! That’s a kind of positive repetition possibly.

LH: Finally, how would you describe the difference in sound between a kitchen in India and a kitchen in the UK?

CL: A lot of Indian kitchens work of bottled gas, have a marble chopping surface and aluminium pans. These three things dominate the background atmosphere. Also, there is so much more pounding in an Indian kitchen! There is certainly also more frying… Of spices such as mustard seeds that pops!

LH: And what are you cooking at the moment?

CL: I am working on a number of projects, in particular a long-term piece: which is again tracing relationships between Britain and India, this time through the Indian nurses or hires that came over to Britain with families coming back and then lodge in Hackney, while they were waiting to be employed to go back. But more immediately, I am working on an immersive sculpture/installation that will be part of the Camberwell Arts week in Brunswick Park.

17 June 2011 | admin @ 3:50