FINAL MAJOR PROJECT. ASSESSMENT RECESS.

Dolma Cooking on the Stove. James Bellorini, September 2020.

Yesterday saw my first trip to London since March 8th. This was the date of my last commercial shoot there before the pandemic lockdown. I was to meet with Turkish artist Mustafa Boga. He wanted to cook me a traditional meal, and I hoped to make some images that might go into my Final Major Project.

It was amazing to see how quiet the Capital was in comparison to what used to be normal. Very little traffic as I walked from Finsbury Park to Crouch End. I used to walk this route years ago when I worked for the band World Party. We’d meet in Crouch End before going to their recording studio on the Caledonian Road. It’s interesting to reflect on where I’m at now 20 years on, still very much leaning on music in my creative journey.

Victorian wall decorations on The Old Dairy, Crouch Hill N4. James Bellorini, September 2020.

It was bright. Early Autumn sunlight. Good for me. Mustafa wanted to cook a dolma from his birthplace of Adana. As this was the first opportunity to be present at the making of a dish for the project, I couldn’t turn it down.

The recipe uses dried aubergine skins, beautiful in their own right, soaked in water to reconstitute them. These are then filled with a mix of chickpeas, rice, tomatoes, garlic, and sun-dried capsicum paste. This treat is hand made by his Mother in Turkey. The dolma are then cooked in boiling water with added mint for about half an hour or so.

Having completed an MA at St. Martins, Mustafa is now recognised as an important contemporary artist in Turkey and the UK. He uses performance, textiles, film and photography in his work.

As the dolma are cooking, we discuss the journey our mutual MA’s have mirrored. Especially, the journey towards recognising oneself as an artist. I expressed my realisation that maybe the deepest learning I have gleaned from my M.A. journey is that I do consider my subjective practice an artistic one. Especially as I recognise that my work has grown more and more conceptual as time has gone on.

We also talked about the need to make work for oneself. Something that has become apparent over the past 6 weeks. My realisation has come from the indifferent reception my project work has received. I recognise that nobody but myself can care about the work. Of course that changes if you are ‘given’ a reputation by the cultural and artistic ‘gatekeepers’. Mustafa recognises this.

I’ve always believed that good work will garner interest, but I’m not so sure these days. And, rather than pursuing the desire to make work for others, I am approaching the work as a self-motivated enquiry. I would love for my voice to be heard, and for others to connect to it somehow. Self-indulgent work is pointless, but at present an ‘audience’ is no longer my motivation. In any case, my concern with ‘audience’ was actually holding me back. I recognise that I am risking failure here, because we have to consider audience for our FMP. But I have to do what I need to do to make work and that includes challenging expectations right now. Mustafa echoes this. His project Extraneous Objects was one he did for himself almost ‘off the cuff’ and it was this series that finally garnered him attention from galleries.

With the dolma ready, Mustafa serves them up with plain yoghurt and we head outside to eat and see what images might come. It’s a short shoot. Maybe half an hour. We play with a few ideas but, as is often the case, it’s the unexpected spontaneous gesture that I connect to and that might get carried forward into the final work.

UNTITLED (MUSTAFA). James Bellorini, September 2020.

As I shoot, the phrase ‘offering without suffering’ comes to mind. A phrase that describes hospitality, openness. Something that has been prevalent during my recent image-making. I am reminded of John Berger’s dogged viewpoint: ‘Hospitality: the friendly and generous reception of guests, visitors or strangers…The impetus towards kindness and care’ (Laing, 2020, pg. 304). To be ‘open to difference, cross-pollinate freely’ (Laing, 2020, pg. 305).

This is what sits at the backbone of this work for me. It is inherent here and now and in the direct legacy of my Father’s Italian identity and his trade as a chef and restaurateur. I see this as living as defiance. Defiance of those that would prefer to wall us up and divide us. Hospitality is the direct opposite of that. It is an arena of perpetual connection. And food is almost always at the heart of it. It is, I believe, what Elif Shafak calls ‘one of our last remaining democratic spaces’ (Shafak, 2020).

REFERENCES & RESOURCES

Laing, O. 2020. Funny Weather. London, Picador.

Shafik, E. (2020) ‘We need to tell different stories, to humanise the other‘. The Guardian, 13 August. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/aug/13/elif-shafak-we-need-to-tell-different-stories-to-humanise-the-other (Accessed 13th August 2020).