Janja Šušnjar is an architect and a dreamer. She likes to connect small dots in bigger meanings, she likes to observe movements of the light, beautiful mountain flowers, patterns and textures in different scales. She is curious about places and stories.
How to be active in effort for a better world and still keep the inner peace?
“What are the boundaries that we choose and do not choose? What are the distances we need and what are the walls that will isolate and destroy us? How can we discern the differences between generative boundaries and destructive borders? Are we ready to move towards nourishing forms of adaptation?”
→ from Alexis Pauline Gumbs, “Honor your boundaries” in Undrowned – Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals, 2020.
Now, then, before—time is a dimension we live in and a system of reference where to act, remember action and imagine others. We keep track of time. The measurement indicates the duration and the when, the from-when-to-when. A clock tells the time. The same temporal succession of states is constantly repeated. The repetition is cyclical. Each period has the same time duration.
We live in an environment characterised by natural changes (natural clock of the alternation of day and night, etc.) that we observed, understood and classified. In relation to these changes we organised our activities and it is necessary to find a structure where to keep track of these natural shifts and our actions, and to combine them.
A calendar could be defined as “a system by which time is divided into fixed periods, showing the beginning and end of a year” or as "table showing divisions of the year". A calendar also has the qualities of connecting different events and moments of a specific time frame, to inform one another, to see, plan and prepare ‘beforehand’. The calendar could be a tool to ‘bring the cycle together’, to assemble the events and seasons of a year as a whole, to give insight, access and overview.
Etymologically speaking the term comes from the latin verb calare "to announce solemnly, to call out," as the priests did in proclaiming the new moon that marked the calends. Meanwhile the root of calare comes from Proto-Indo-European *kele- (2) "to shout." The format of a calendar could therefore be seen as a call to action, an invitation to participate. Calendar address seasons which, with the influence of the climate crisis, are not stable according to months and days. Wolf-Dieter Storl suggests using a phenological calendar, which is not bound to dates and months such as astronomical calendars are, but where the beginning of a season is introduced by specific stages of development of plants (such as the flowering of dandelion), which can shift from year to year. The phenological seasons are defined in pre-, first- and late spring, early-, high- and late summer, early-, full- and late autumn and winterly rest.
“Care work becomes better when it is done again, creating the specificity of a relation through intensified involvement and knowledge. It requires attention and fine-tuning to the temporal rhythms of an “other” and to the specific relations that are being woven together.” → from Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds by María Puig de la Bellacasa
Topolò is mostly inhabited by female cats. Ola calls it a matriarchal village. Add to this the fact that each of us has a cat. A female one, of course. Between fights and games, they swap houses, glossing over the concept of private property. And we like this.
In the village, every inhabitant or visitor has met one of our cats, who, moved by this freedom, have crossed the threshold of domestic walls to meet people and explore other people's places and homes.
Everyone in the village, in one way or another, takes care of them, as if they were a little bit their own, too.
Dora has Marfa, the oldest of them all.
Elena has Tit with a severed tail and who had an identity crisis (from Tito it turned out to be Tita, but when in doubt, we leave her as Tit)
Vida has the young Pičič/Picig/Peachaech (multilingual).
And then there is Selena's latest arrival, Mačka, long-haired and three-coloured.
The first time is a gamble, a plunge. You might get lucky, who knows. From the second visit onwards, you will be careful (without really realising it), to choose accurately the colour of what you take with you to Topolò. You will act so influenced by a chromatic resonance that you will inevitably perceive as you move through the village, from one house to another, one room to another. You will begin to understand that colours have a different value from the one you are used to giving them, they are not random attributes, they speak and tell of what would be impossible to put into words. If you pay attention you will learn to recognise the clues that colours suggest, you will know who passed by, who left that shirt on the chair, who set the table, who picked the flowers. The most experienced can recognise at first glance who is a local and who is passing by, just by deciphering their chromatic essence. It’s the silent rule of colours.
In the text The Convivial Table, Kelly Donati takes into consideration the difference between the notions of generosity and conviviality. While the first refers to an “individual altruistic virtue” and create an unequal relation of privilege and disadvantage, or gesture of an active giver and passive receiver, the second is “a hospitable stance of openness to difference, responsibility and receptiveness to the needs of others rather than one based on relations of benefactors and recipients”.
Conviviality (con- meaning “with” or “together” and vivere meaning “to live”)—as Donati says—”attends fundamentally to the question of how we live together”. The ‘we’ needs to look beyond the human and consider our interaction with other species—multispecies relations as Donna Haraway conceptualized in her work When Species Meet. How can we reshape the material and conceptual ways in which we share the world with others?
ma dai Vidaaa (low voice, with prolonged last syllable of the name), dai Ali (accompanied with a gesture of hands connected similarly to amen style, going back and forth), dai, dai (short and friendly, and encouragement while mixing dense polenta), daaaaai, incredibile! (said in certain cheerful disbelief, as a reaction to gossip).
Exercise is a form of play and play is one of the essential forms of dwelling.
Try and Imagine, Describe, Work out the itinerary, Start at the end, Observe, Observe with a concern, Apply yourself, Note down what you can see, Walk backwards, Pick something from the floor, Turn it around, Note the absence, Count, Detect a rhythm, Read what’s written, Read backwards, Decipher, Wait, Carry on … “until the scene becomes improbable, until you have the impression, for the briefest of moments, that you are in a strange town or, better still, until you can no longer understand what is happening or is not happening, until the whole place becomes strange, and you no longer even know that this is what is called a town, a street, buildings, pavements.” From Species of Spaces by Georges Perec.
FEAR OF PERIPHERY
The fear of being peripheral, of remaining out, is a feeling and concept that I feel quite strongly while living and working here in Topolove. Working with contemporary culture on the margins, in a small village, puts you always in relation to the city, to the center, to which you always look for validation. Fear of periphery speaks about the need of being in contact with the urbanity and of the power relation that still exists between culture at the center and at the margins. Fear of periphery is about claiming power and also about emancipation. It portrays a need of being connected to transformation (which is usually urban). It also reflects on what is expected from the peripheries (a certain type of works, connected to crafts, ancient knowledge, traditions) and on how to go beyond these expectations.
“How to be grounded without getting stuck in the mud of personal experience? I guess I am trying to re-articulate ‘grounded’ as a ‘thinking-and-making-with’. (...) To be grounded means to be porous to remote impressions, to trust the touching done by (other-than-human) others.” → Femke Snelting in Making Matters by Janneke Wesseling & Florian Cramer (eds.)
Following Jacques Derrida’s text Of Hospitality (1997), hospitality (if not unconditional) implies a power to host and hence involves claims to property, ownership and a form of self-identity. The opposition between who is a host and who a guest, therefore, speaks of a relation of power.
For this reason, when possible, we try to avoid this duality of hosts vs. guests, speaking rather of temporary and permanent dwellers or referring to guests as co-dweller. Making the relation between temporary and permanent inhabitants reciprocal and sharing with guests responsibilities the place demands is a way of overcoming this binarity – of making hosts less hosts and guests less guests. (Furthermore, the fact that in Italian the host and the guest are called with the same word – ospite – helps to go beyond this dualism).
See also conviviality.
Building a relationship between two people, in a space and a time: a door always open, a warm cake in the morning or a glass of wine to share on a summer evening. Opening your private dimension to someone else, bringing a fragment of your home to a home of a stranger, becoming part of its story and collecting something to carry with you. A reciprocal exchange of care, gossip and good food.
Intense proximity is a term coined by Okwui Enwezor which we use to refer to the relation we strive to stimulate between the temporary dwellers and the site where they are immersed into, intending it not only as a physical environment but also as a situation, an event, a set of relations among people and other inhabitants of the place.
Intimate necessity is a word that I frequently use to refer to the modality of thinking/doing of Robida. I use this term to explain that whatever we do is not driven by a concrete, real, detached-from-us necessity of the place/situation we are immersed in (in our case, the village of Topolò), it is not necessarily an answer to those urgent questions that the place opens. The adjective “intimate” refers to the personal dimension that we recognize in these needs of the place. It is a way to underline that, with our practice, we cannot bear on our shoulders all the urges that surround us but we chose those which have an intimate resonance for us. This gives us the possibility of finding our personal meaning for what we do, avoiding the risk of operating just to solve things, without building a personal attachment to these urgencies.
"Quando c'è acqua c’è vita" (Graziano 2022)
Irrigation is the agricultural process of applying controlled amounts of water to land to assist in the production of crops, as well as to grow landscape plants and lawns, where it may be known as watering.
The izba is in Topolove the room of conviviality. It is the clean room of the house, heated by the peč, the old stove made of majolica tiles, upon which children and elders used to nap, the room where tales were told and where guests felt welcome. Its opposite is the črna kuhinja, the black kitchen with the fireplace and no chimney. Inspired by the convivial inner meaning of this word, we named the new collective space of hospitality of Topolove Izba.
The word is translated into english as hayrack but we like to use the original Slovene word since the english translation is quite generic, indicating a structure where to hang to dry hay. The kozolec in Topolove, in its most complex shape, is an architecture standing on four or six pillars made of stone, covered by a roof, defined as a “monument to farmers culture”. The pillars are connected by wooden racks where hay, buckwheat or wheat was dried: these racks were filled up in summer and slowly emptied until winter. The kozolec is therefore an architecture showing in its filled or empty structure the passage of season, the cyclicity of time. A calendar in the shape of a house or a temple.
KUOTA (slo) /CARBONAIA (ita)
"Era quasi mattina quando i due sono arrivati allo spiazzo d'una carbonaia e l'omone ha detto: Qui possiamo far tappa. Pin s'è sdraiato sul terreno fuligginoso e come in un sogno ha visto l'omone coprirlo con la sua mantellina, poi andare e venire con dei legni, spaccarli, e accendere il fuoco." (from Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno (1947) by Italo Calvino)
She/her in Italian – a three-lettered word crucial for the village, where the population is more female than men. The gossip goes, that the young generation created a Slavic Matriarchy here, which is an incredibly heartwarming concept. They even have a flag of “lei” which they hang on the balcony, alternating with the one with a peace symbol on it.
From the Old English "hlysnan", "pay attention to". If all places are characterized by their soundscapes, these are often richer than ever in the proximity of the margin, and being there demands for listening, for paying attention. To take care of something also means to be able to listen to it, and arriving in a place is always also a matter of letting it talk to you. Topolò always welcomes me with its soundscape of sounds, languages and voices, familiar and foreign ones: and it is surely no coincidence that right here a radio was born, and that I can listen to the sounds and voices of Topolò through it, even when I am not there.
In Topolò, one does not come to see things, or even just to look at them. One listens and observes. A landscape, a leaf, a gesture, a stone, a breath, a detail, a noise, a lichen, a relationship, a memory. From the micro to the macro, and vice versa, from the physical object to its abstraction. "Observing", from the Latin "ob-servare" or "to preserve, guard, consider", brings one back to the personal sphere of the in-depth understanding of things. In observing something, all of the action that this something exerts upon us is reflected.
I believe that knowing how to observe a place is the first step in taking care of it.
PARASITIC READING ROOM
The Parasitic Reading Room is an open format formed by a multitude of voices in a spontaneous set of reading spaces. Texts gathered in a reader are spoken out loud by participants who should have a willingness to be affected by other voices and ideas. A Parasitic Reading Room intends to provoke a contagion of knowledge by acting as a parasite of its chosen site, as well as its reading participants. There is no straight line for the Parasitic Reading Room, but a zigzag of joyful moments which bring a multitude of voices to contemplate future imaginaries for spatial practices. → from Climate Care Reader 2021 by Soft Agency
Brandon LaBelle defines Rhythm as—“the making of a particular order; it rivets together time and space according to certain energy expenditures, defining a relation amongst bodies and things; it is a field in which different orders meet, regimenting bodies while also affording acts of modulation and breakage; the beat is a territorial dispute, an argument; it is a violence bringing pain and pleasure together, teaching us how to find place and also how to redefine, reorganize or disrupt existing patterns”.
From Rhythm to Polyrhythm.
Polyrhythm is the simultaneous experience of two or more personal rhythms that are not readily perceived as deriving from one another but create an unexpected experience for both parties.
is a call for tender acts of individual and collective imagination through which new axes of caring, connection, and resilience might be forged. Calling those acts “radical” speaks to their power not only to transform how we live together, but also to a promise of emancipating people from structure and ideologies that have limited their thinking and thwarted agency. → from Slow Spatial Reader – Chronicles of Radical Affection by Carolyn F. Strauss (ed.)
to cause to grow or flourish anew
(1) the action of cultivating land, or the state of being cultivated.
(2) the process of trying to acquire or develop a quality or skill.
RELAXED AND DISCIPLINED
One of the most prominent Slovene partisan poets Matej Bor once wrote: “The rhythm of Slovene revolutionary poetry must merge into one with our liberation struggle. And what is the rhythm of the awakened Slovenian masses? Relaxed and disciplined at the same time. Why would we search for form in various currents and -isms? Form is dictated to us by our flowing life itself.” Living in an abandoned village throughout the whole year requires intentionality in both discipline and relaxation. While life in the city is guided by the city-flow, in Topolò, the lack of the gaze of another during winter and our consequential habit of this lack turned our gaze to the flow of surrounding nature, our loyal companion: be persistent and disciplined in growing, generous and relaxed in giving.
To bring words back to place, to ground them, to locate them. We discussed a lot about some terms, such as the word residency, so loaded with content which we would not necessarily find fitting our practices. But instead of replacing these words with others, instead of substituting them or ever re-inventing them, we start here with re-placing them, making them fitting our place, our context, our community.
The term residency, and especially artist residency, is many times the carrier of a concept that we do not find appropriate for the type of involvement we wish to generate in our place. We do not see the residency as a place where the artist/researcher/architect/etc. would withdraw, a creative retreat where the person is isolated and self-focused.
Anyway we don’t want to find another word but to re-claim the word residency which we found interesting as it is a chronotope (using Mikhail Bakhtin word, coined in 1973) – it contains a spatial dimension (meaning the concrete place where the person is hosted) and at the same time a temporal dimension (recalling a defined period of time in which the person is hosted). Other words do not have this quality, some (as guesthouse) refer much more to a specific space, others (as sojourn) refer to a period of time. Residency is here intended as a permeable space – that reacts, reflects and cares for what it has around it – and as an expandable time – guests can prolong their stay, return and start to build, through time, a relation with the place.
Joan C. Tronto and Berenice Fisher suggest four phases of care, each of which has a concomitant virtue. The first of these four phases is “caring about'' and its related virtue is attentiveness; the second phase is “taking care of” and the pertinent virtue is responsibility. (The other two phases and virtues are “care-giving” – competence and “care-receiving” – responsiveness).
What does it mean to return to a place, each time rooting deeper. To connect to a place, its people and plants is to take part, be with it, through it, over and under it. By taking distance we can observe growth, transformation and take direction. Returning is about taking time to look back and look forward. It’s about remembering and dreaming. It’s about taking apart and (re)building. Returning is about movement with care, with trust and with doubt in order to know a little more and a little less.
And with the passage of time; and again; another time; routines live in repetition, in the execution of an act over and over, again and again.
Routine comes from route, path, road. A personal or collective practice that comes with experience, patience and time. When thinking about them the image of a wheel (from french roue) comes to mind—this round object moves forward just by rotating on itself. It needs the energy to do so but once it’s in movement it goes.
These repeated gestures allow us to orientate in time and space, as daylight and dark, giving a rhythm to our days, months, years. Routines can be site specific: an act performed with the land, a facility or specific person; ‘nomadic’: they belong to the body, you carry them around for all your life; and alienating or monotonous, when related to work.
Gilles Deleuze reading Charles Dickens: “A disreputable man, a rogue, held in contempt by everyone, is found as he lies dying. Suddenly, those taking care of him manifest an eagerness, respect, even love, for his slightest sign of life. Everybody bustles about to save him, to the point where, in his deepest coma, this wicked man himself senses something soft and sweet penetrating him. But to the degree that he comes back to life, his saviors turn colder, and he becomes once again mean and crude. Between his life and his death, there is a moment that is only that of a life playing with death." That very moment is the moment of the ruin: we admire it, because while dying, a life shines through it. This realization that life and death play in everything that is, is cultivated while admiring the ruin.
Situated knowledges are about communities, not about isolated individuals. The only way to find a larger vision is to be somewhere in particular. The science question in feminism is about objectivity as positioned rationality. Its images are not the products of escape and transcendence of limits (the view from above) but the joining of partial views and hating voices into a collective subject position that promises a vision of the means of ongoing finite embodiment, of living without limits and contradictions – of views from somewhere. → from Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective by Donna Haraway
The word Spirit has its roots in the Latin “spiritus” meaning breath, which might explain why spiritous means humorous in Italian. A laugh is after all an exercise in uncontrollable breathing, an escaping spirit perhaps. While in Topolò I became fascinated with the pirate process of creating grappa in the region. The illegality of this ancient process and all the social, spatial implications of this. Distillation can be traced back to 1200 BCE describing processes of perfumery. But it is the 14th Centry alchemists using these processes to try and transform everyday materials into gold who saw this process as extracting the spirit of fruit or plant matter hence the term Spirits to describe this strong alcoholic beverage. To alchemists, drinking grappa would be consuming the spirit, the life force, of the grape. These processes still have a kind of magic about them. I find these alchemists an inspiring analogy for the creative process. The alchemists took their own imagination so seriously, like a kid making a mud pie in the garden that eventually, serendipitously they were creating alcohol, modern science and medicine.
Alchemy → Science
Spirits → Alcohol
Agriculture → Culture
“We define 'support' as the ways your needs for well being are met in order to dream, practice, and work on any project. Support extends beyond the life of the project, often shaping the ways in which people navigate the contradictions of living and working. We are focused not on the support practices that we utilize for short-term projects, but on the ongoing support that is necessary for livelihood and for social reproduction.” → from Reproducing the Struggle: A New Feminist Perspective on the Concept of Social Reproduction by Fulvia Serra (2015)
If one can patiently stand still within the slippery landscape, if one lets the freezing water fall on them with no particular reaction, if one knows how to win and lose the paper, rock, scissors game, if one is cool, and quiet, and pretty, means they learned well from the allies of this place – stones.
Knowledge is a form of persuasion. It distributes visibility and power. We know that we cannot know precisely. So why not know creatively? One of the most potent and primordial strategies of creative human thinking is anthropomorphizing. It was always perceived as an anti-philosophical all-too-human colonization of the non-human. However, when a poet personifies non-human entities, he does not merely compare, but also creates: a new possible form of sensation which sees non-human entities as agents with their own autonomous power. Get out of your chair too quickly and the stars themselves will rush before your eyes; the crickets are trying to tell you something; the stone rolling along the ridge is its way of self-expression.
A common need and demand to live in symbiosis with each other, with ‘the other’, in order to survive (global but also personal) challenges. Only together can we get there.
We were initially hesitant to use this term to describe our two-days gathering because it recalls serious academic meetings. In its roots, however, it indicates the act of being together, often accompanied by music and chants (and traditionally food and wine). We liked this second interpretation!
Tacit knowledge is the knowledge you have gained through living experience, both in your personal life and professional development. It is often subjective, informal, and difficult to share or express because it is affected by our personal beliefs and values.
THE BLUE CARPET
It is allowed to walk on it only without shoes and this rule is carefully respected by all. This stunning cobalt carpet, with amazingly long, soft bristles (almost like french fries) is a sanctity for understandable reasons. It is a real blessing to come back home from Topolò, and find little blue pieces felted into the white, knitted sock — tiny memories of soft, blue walks.
Hybrid space of "super-living"; Active and generative resource (in botany: generative nucleus, the one present in the pollen grain). A place without a perimeter, conceptually infinite. Capable of functional metamorphosis, the toolbox house responds to the needs that question it, flourishes with transitory, totally usable tools and spatial solutions. Space that lends itself to change, puts itself into play.
A message from the sea. To remind the mountains of the oceans. The word came from Latin trānsmontānus (trāns- + montānus), beyond/across the mountains, Alps in the North of Italy. The word has other non-wind-related senses: it can refer to anything that comes from, or anyone who lives on, the other side of mountains, or even more generally, anything seen as foreign, strange, or even barbarous.
“Undisciplined practice is too busy with proliferating sensibilities, issues, demands, requests, complains, entanglements, methods, and questions to bother with the inherent etiquette of disciplinarity. It insists on a mode of thinking and making that is situated and ad-hoc. It is anti-solutionist and motivated by the need for rigorous uncalibration and disobedient action research.” → Femke Snelting in Making Matters by Janneke Wesseling & Florian Cramer (eds.)
Within a landscape which is abandoned since fifty years, a once productive land which today hosts a young forest, a post or ex rural landscape – what does care mean? What type of minimal gestures could represent transformation or even only maintenance? Useless care is represented by those types of gestures and practices which do probably not make any difference, do not change the course of landscape’s transformation: they describe an attitude toward a territory, they are a memento of your presence right there, a caress to the environment that surrounds you every day. They speak of collaboration and co-habitation, rather than of control and use of the land. Small gestures of useless care could represent a possible feminist approach to abandoned landscapes to which we feel a certain affection.
Vernacular are, I think, all those products, objects, buildings, works that organically develop out of practices of dwelling. They are therefore situated, embodied, vulnerable (“because location is about vulnerability” says Donna Haraway in her Situated Knowledges). This definition of vernacularity as a practice of dwelling came out during the Morning Reading Room sessions on Radio Robida, talking with Jack Bardwell.
Holding on, reaching out. Following the vines around the village and around the terraces surrounding the village. Along their reaching, holding on whatever support structure they can find. The vines show us how to reach out. Guide us to unexpected support structures and invite to this dance over the seasons.
Visiting is not an easy practice; it demands the ability to find others actively interesting… to cultivate the wild virtue of curiosity, to retune one/s ability to sense and respond – and to do all this politely! → from Staying with the Trouble – Making Kin in the Chtulucene by Donna Haraway
"WHO IS COOKING?”
Present continuous tense of the verb to cook, to be distinguished from "who cooks?" whose verbal form presupposes asking the question at such a time that one still has to decide, through a more or less established organisational scheme, who is actually going to prepare food. "Who's cooking?", on the other hand, is a kind of magic formula, encompassing layered and emblematic meanings. First, it presupposes that someone, even someone you don't know, is already taking care of you and the people around you, before you even realise it, devoting part of their time to putting together a meal that they will never know for sure how many will eat. It then implies the sudden reorganisation of the activities in progress, the calculation of the remaining time, the strategic choice of the place to eat, the division of tasks between who will go to help, who will spread the word, who will start the comments, who will go to set the table (or the wall, the lawn, the stones). Automatically it will become clear who has to tidy up and wash the dishes. "Who is cooking?" is a question whose answer suggests new flavours, experiments, exchanges of recipes and secrets, surprises. The person or persons who take on this precious task choose to share a part of themselves, the place they come from, memories and habits, dirty hands, aprons and sweat included. So, who is cooking?
The concept derives from the text “Meteorology of Media” by the media theorist and artist Brett Zehner who proposes that, during extreme meteorological events, people develop a specific embodied intimacy and therefore they become with-nesses rather than witnesses of the event. We borrow this concept from him imagining that temporary dwellers coming to Topolò are not just witnesses, observers, of what surrounds them (working eventually with these observed things/situations/places/faces…) but they are included in the dynamics of the place, in its rhythm, sharing response-abilities and acts of care, being therefore with-nesses.
The hoe is an ancient and versatile agricultural and horticultural hand tool used to shape soil, remove weeds, clear soil, and harvest root crops. Shaping the soil includes piling soil around the base of plants (hilling), digging narrow furrows (drills) and shallow trenches for planting seeds or bulbs.