Preservation tactics: I love pickles, but I don’t drink the sauce

We bring you echoes of the School of Dissolving – Expanding – Connecting Imagination.

Thank you to all of you who*have joined us for the second year in forming the School of Dissolving – Expanding – Connecting Imagination (School of Imagination). In the new year we look forward to gathering together again to tune in, imagine, create and critically reflect on our functioning in the arts (in its entirety) and the impact it has on our functioning and experience. In the new year we will continue to meet with working groups in different venues and test together what kind of experiencing and working together a given place allows and, conversely, what challenges and limits it poses for us. In the new year we will also develop the safe space of the group. We are also looking forward to two sessions in which the programme will be prepared for others by the participants. School of Imagination 2024!

From the reflections of the participants:
Preservation Tactics: I love pickles, but I don’t drink the lure

The thought of a sip of lye for a hangover turns my stomach inside out. I’ve recently started experimenting with making kombucha, and now I have two cuddly pancakes living in my house that call me Mom more than our cat. I feed them sweet tea, either green tea from the gentleman in the diner a block below, or black tea. I don’t know which is better yet.

It’s a delicate operation requiring proper timing, almost impossible for a poorly organized person with two schools and three jobs. Twice my brine has gone rancid. But when it works, I effervesce with joy and pour the drink into clean bottles of undrinkable Asian alcohol that tasted like sweet medicine (from the same bedside shop) for secondary fermentation along with ginger, orange juice and rosemary. All in all, it’s a nice symbiosis between the two pancakes and the bacteria of my gut. Everyone gets fed and the wallet stays at least half whole. Undrunk, flavored kombucha lives in the fridge.

The slimy patties do grow and divide into other, thinly translucent slimy patties, but otherwise it’s a repetitive, routine activity with room for only partial experimentation. More tea and less sugar. More sugar and less tea. Less rosemary.
Maintaining sterile conditions and routine is essential. If I overcook my pancakes or infect them, they die. The room for experimentation is limited. Some boundaries are unbreachable.

Preservation as such is probably as bad as the institution. Both represent a function within a complex system of relationships. Both are created or operated with a purpose and somehow materially manifest. I don’t think pickles are wrong per se: one must accept that a pickle is never equal to a fresh pickle, just plucked from the compost heap where Grandma planted it. But it must also be pointed out that pickles don’t try to do that. I think we can also agree that a fresh cucumber is never like a pickle.

The question of the function of all the elements that are shaped, survive, change or preserve thanks to institutions is more complex than the question of the existence of a pickle with a clear answer (if you love it, there is nothing to solve). It is impossible to essentialize institutions through identification with something exclusively mortifying and preserving, but it is probably necessary to observe when it becomes a kind of “preservation for preservation’s sake”, as when the bureaucratic apparatus becomes encrusted in kafkaesque instead of serving to deal with requests and help people in an efficient, transparent and fair way. The beats are preserved to be eaten at some point in the future. Why are institutions canning?

After all, preservation within institutions often has a funny, paradoxical nature. For example, the pursuit of a functional education society can manifest itself by defining a desire to offer education in a fair way that can be well reflected upon for feedback and that provides a basic breadth of information to people in development.
But when, in the course of the process of being institutions in this set way, it starts to become apparent that addressing these requirements, i.e. that the fair way put forward (the same for all) is actually unfair because not everyone has the same starting conditions and needs, that grades are not the best feedback tool, and that the basic breadth of information does not cover the need to fill in tax returns every year for the rest of one’s life, or the pressing questions of how to come to terms with one’s own identity, it is found that the effort that was initially driven by a vision of efficiency has led to the creation of a hard shell around a now outdated system.

Coming up with a solution is harder, but the reason is simple – the institution is not a pickle jar. When I pickle cucumbers, I roughly suspect that in a year’s time my tongue will be as excited about their sour crunch as it is now. When I’m pickling my kids in first grade, some would prophesy they’ll grow up to be singularities, and who knows what AI will be in the mood for.

Institutions, by their very nature, must constantly teeter on the edge; they oscillate between efficiency, organisation and permanence on the one hand, and momentum, individuality and openness on the other. All of this within a context that is fluid, and the temporal needs of individual actors within the complex network in which institutions play their role are radically different. A grant application has a different time dimension, a cleaning lady has a different time dimension, a school that has one day a year to go to the gallery has a different time dimension. These times cannot be unified, they can at most be blended or participated. Then we need to ask what the benefits of these institutions should be for the different actors with respect to their time dimensions. (And how much in which dimension that time is worth.)

Text: Eliška Jelínková

Photo: Eliška Jelínková

The project is realized with the support of the City of Prague, Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic and the Municipality of Prague 7 and the State Fund for Culture.