Concept for cultural_capital
Drawing parallels between the use of bacteria and culture in traditional breadmaking and the self-organising and generative condition of network art, cultural_capital is a transformational artwork in which a sour-dough starter is created and grown in the gallery; cared for by the curators.
Sour dough-starters can be created from a range of organic material, such as potato skin, grapes or bread. They can be ‘self-generated’ by taking a small amount of raw dough and adding more flour to it. The starter used in cultural_capital is created out of wild yeast from the bacteria lactobacillo that is generally present in the local environment. Historically, a good sour-dough culture was very important to day-to-day living; it can be transported easily, shared with friends and strangers and can last for generations.
cultural_capital is conceived as a touring artwork that accumulates bacteria and cultural capital from every venue in which it is installed.
Installed in the kitchens (or other suitable place) in the gallery or non-gallery venue, the starter transforms over a period of six to seven days into a mature sour-dough starter that can be prepared and baked into bread. Six or seven days after the dough starter has been installed in a venue, a collective event is held at which a portion of the finished dough is distributed amongst guests. Those guests receiving a share of the starter can choose whether to use it all to make a single loaf of bread, grow it and tend it ongoingly for a continuous supply of bread dough, or let it die completely. Some of the dough is retained by the curators to do with as they choose, and the remainder passes on to the curators at the next venue.
The artwork gives attention to the role of curator as carer. In their 2006 text ‘On Misanthropy’ Alex Galloway and Eugene Thacker note that '[t]he act of curating not only refers to the selection, exhibition, and storage of artefacts, but it also means doing so with care, with particular attention to their presentation in an exhibit or catalogue. Both “curate” and “curator” derive from the Latin curare (to care), a word, which is itself closely related to cura (cure). Curate, care, cure’ (1). Throughout its transformative process the sour-dough starter is in a very fragile state, and will die unless given regular attention. The curators at each venue are asked to care for the artwork: to try to keep it alive, and to ensure that it is passed on safely to the curators at the next venue.
Theoretically, cultural capital (Bourdieu 1979/1984) is the social power collected around the producer, collector or owner of highly valued objects. Cultural capital turns ordinary objects into works of art and gives them ‘symbolic power’: it has its own currency and brings its own opportunities. At any point in the tour, the cultural capital of the sour-dough starter received by guests is equivalent to that retained by curators and that passed on to the next venue.
cultural_capital was launched in Cornwall in March 2009. It is now in the care of curators.
(1) In Joasia Krysa (ed.) (2006) Immaterial Curating, New York: Autonomedia (DATA Browser 03), p.160