On Small Things
In the entire Robida Collective, in all its members, the community experience that we had as part of the Summer School of the Academy of Margins — which was organized in Topolove by the Association Robida, with the financial support of region Friuli-Venezia Giulia and co-financed by the Government Office for Slovenians Abroad, between August 24th and 31st of this year — is still resonating. One of the most interesting events was the digging up of the butter. A fascinating event for a festival that is supposed to be about the environmental humanities. How are these environmental humanities and butter digging related? Let me briefly explain the whole story: In October 2021, as part of the Care of Margins symposium, we made butter by the stream, wrapped it in a piece of cloth and later buried it on one of the Topolove terraces, together with the Austrian artist and designer, food activist, Philipp Kolmann, so that through a longer period of fermentation and aging, this butter would acquire the taste of the earth that would surround it. A little over a year later — as part of the aforementioned Summer School — we dug up this butter and tasted the flavor that time had left on it. Of course, the purpose of the experiment itself was not only to find out what the butter would taste like after a year of its collaboratively co-creating with raw earth. We also thought about how such a small thing as a butter can connect the community around it. At the time of the butter shortage — here I am talking mainly about the last century — its smuggling was also a solidary act of unification of individuals and communities from both sides of the border. Selling butter was — regardless of the economic aspect of this act — primarily the handing over of butter and thus also the act of handing over, offering help. Someone on the other side defies the abstract bureaucratic state machine with you — and helps you. This small thing was a metaphor for something as big as solidarity. Environmental humanities thus also take under its critical wing the meaning of the word environment, which is hidden in the direct, experienced and interpersonal environment and not only in that environment which is threatened by global warming. But both are parts of the same story, constantly intertwining. Global warming is directly linked to — to play with words a bit — the cooling of the local, the freezing of the community. Individualism and global warming are linked.
Around that dug out butter, two different groups of people were gathered at different times, and after the digging, they were connected in some, of course, non-physical way. But they were connected by the same little thing. Even when we sat down on the cold floor of that terrace and spread the butter together, each on a piece of bread, we knew how long it took for the butter to become what it is. And we knew how long it takes for a community to become a real community that eats, shares and lives this land together.
Philipp read the poem All Bread by Margaret Atwood at the place of this reverse-funeral.
Give it a listen:
The text was first published in Slovenian in the weekly Novi Matajur, as part of the On Small Things column.