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Interviewed by Gözde Filinta

Thinking Alone Is Criminal: Artist Maya Minder

February 12, 2020

 

Gözde Filinta: Could you tell us more about your work and journey as an artist?

Maya Minder: I work at the intersection of culinary, fermentation, bacteria, art, and science. I studied art history at the University of Zurich and continued MA Fine Arts at Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK), practicing mostly performance art there. I worked as an initiator and organizer in off-spaces and curatorial projects. I have practiced performance art for a long time, which might be the reason for my consistency in creating immaterial art; most of my works are non-physical, temporary. I work with micro-organisms, and the living organism has an expiration date.

My culinary knowledge was always there but came after. I started to apply the things I love into my practice, started to cook and produce food, and found a new relational method to combine my experience into art. I do commercial work as well as being a cooking artisan, holding workshops in culinary, and when I organize these workshops, I do the administration work along with the creative. I am self-made. It is challenging to divide my artistic practice from my curatorial or commercial work.

Until I joined Hackteria, I never considered myself a biohacker but naturally became one through my practice of fermentation. Hackteria is a loose network of artists, scientists, and hackers all working at the intersection of art and science. It is a community-based platform that empowers citizens in opening up the fields of science and technologies. We use GitHub, blogs, forums, and create gatherings to communicate outside the mainstream art and academic fields. Through the possibilities given in the digital age, people empower themselves by learning on a DIY approach in various areas of life science, the digital realm, and new media. This approach is useful to attain extensive knowledge in a specific field, which is, later on, shared openly—for distributing new forms of technology and science.

GF:What is your working method?

MM: I always try to find ways to collaborate. To create something big in the 21st century, we have to work in multitudes. Throughout my journey, I saw the significant result of the fluidity of collectives and one’s ability to adapt and change between different communities. I realized that I can act more freely as my works expand when I come together with a community for some time. I also learned when to take distance and accept it’s time to get out and work with another collective. I believe thinking alone is criminal, and to perform broader and do more, we have to think in collectives and be able to be fluid to shift between ideas and stay open to share practices, knowledge, and acknowledgement. I take part in many collectives and associations: bio-hacking Hackteria, Badlab, Humus Sapiens, SGMK, etc.

Through the fermentation practice, I meet other fermentation practitioners, and I’m very inspired by how a broader topic is covered by different localities. For example, within Hackteria, all the participants work around similar issues but bring along their geography, culture, and history. I’m fascinated to discover the hidden local aspect of a universal topic. For me, the different cultures, the exchange with other worlds, the bacteria, yeasts, and fungi are something multi-diverse. There is a lot of inspiration in it, and it would be deadly boring if I only worked within one field.

GF:Could you explain more about your activism?

MM: People say I’m an activist because of my involvement in the slow food movement, and our collective Humus Sapiens. Humus Sapiens is an activist project in which we focus on soil ecologies and the communication between scientists and farmers. I always come back to emphasizing food, because I believe food embraces many aspects of society. Food is an everyday action that contains our history and culture. It is a democracy. It is a starting point where you can grasp the mindsets of people. In my work, I try to put seeds into people’s minds through the food I prepare. When diverse people attend my workshops, I feel excellent about reaching a broader audience. We gather around the food as I try to display various perspectives for the food we prepare, shifting ideas.

I believe that to change a system, one has to act within the system, encountering it. Maybe that is the aspect I take, where I feel I reach more minds, the closer I am to the society. In my work, I appreciate multiple opinions and an exchange of ideas for common and collective knowledge production.

GF:What are your thoughts about the Zurich art scene?

MM: I have been living and working for many years in Zurich, and have also taken part in art scenes from Germany, Australia, Italy, the Balkans, India, and Indonesia. Compared to these art scenes, it can easily be said that regarding the closeness to the international established galleries in Zurich, the local art scene and its institutions are oriented towards high art. I think Switzerland, in general, has a problem with using and accepting popular culture practice into high art, since life here is closely linked to money, wealth, and affiliation problems.

Since the 1980s, artists have worked at the intersection of biology, science, climate change, and art, and it has been present all over other places on Earth. I have been recognized in the international sphere as a bio artist. However, Switzerland is falling behind this recognition. The interdisciplinary art forms, especially the ones that bring together science and art, have only recently started to be recognized in Switzerland.

I visited and participated in various meetings such as Transmediale and ars electronica, ISEA, FeMeeting, and I was amazed by how many big names were present, working in bio art. These big names and projects like Symbiotica, Critical Art Ensemble, Kathy High, Center for PostNatural History, or the Free Art and Technology Lab (F.A.T. Lab) have worked in biology and new media for more than 30 years, there is so much more to explore. Climate crises, environmental issues, hacking, and activism have been a source of inspiration not only since the protests in 2019 but long before.

These movements gave birth to many innovative ideas where artists unwound themselves from academic and high-art practices to working interdisciplinarily in science or activism. To tell you the truth, for me, academic or high art is a practice of self-celebrating, intellectual ejaculation, too lazy to move out of its fluffy pampered comfort zone.

Still, this interdisciplinary approach of science and art has been a mind-elevating pool of inspiration for me, and it seems like Swiss art institutions are starting to acknowledge it as a potential field, ready to explore. Besides, ZHdK appears to be following this, creating interdisciplinary meeting points, which I appreciate. These efforts provide paths for fruitful collaborations that do not think alone.

BadLab at BigBiennale, Geneva, 2019. Photo: ©LisaBiedlingmaier

Hackteria, Crispr Chäsli, Workshop on genediting and cheese making, Food Culture Days, 2018. Photo: Marie Capesius

Maya Minder (CH/KR, *1983 Artist), Fermentista and Organizer. Lives and works in Zurich. Several exhibitions in local and global spheres. Pro Helve- tia, Werkbeitrag 2018 + 2020, nominated for the KADIST AWARD 2017, Part of the Klöntal Triennale 2017. Several grants and support from Migros Kulturprozent, Pro Helvetia, Gubler Hablützel Stif- tung and Gerbert Rüf Stiftung for projects she co-curated. She studied art history at the Univer- sity of Zurich and helds a MA Fine Arts Degree from the Zurich University of Arts.

Gözde Filinta is a curatorial researcher, and writer based in Zurich. She has taken part in multiple art projects since 2012 in various roles. Currently, she is working on her research on multispecies survival in the Anthropocene and the use of art narratives. Along with her research articles, she writes about contemporary art in relation to her research area. She continues working on her curatorial projects in Zurich and Istanbul, and genuinely interested in urgent global issues, interspecies relation, and non-human in artistic expressions and narratives. She finalized the Postgraduate Programme in Curating, MAS, ZHdK in 2020.

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