Kaajal Modi

Image courtesy Kaajal Modi

Kaajal Modi is an artist and multidisciplinary designer with a background in community food activism, participatory design for social contexts and graphics & illustration. She is currently completing a practice-based PhD in sustainable food futures, supervised across the Digital Cultures Research Centre and the Science Communication Unit at UWE, Bristol. Through her research practice she speculates just and sustainable climate futures in collaboration with diverse communities (human, ecological, microbial).  

For the Radio Arts Catalyst residency, Kajaal worked with research outcomes and materials from a previous research residency to develop a multi-layered sound experience that can be listened to in your own kitchen while you cook.

Project Update – February 2021

Listen > Kitchen Cultures

Artist Kaajal Modi is cooking up a sound experience, Kitchen Cultures, to be listened to at home, while you are cooking. The recipes that are populating the sound piece have been previously developed in collaboration with a zero-waste chef and six migrant women+ of colour interested in food preservation. The artist is immersing herself into the sounds of the kitchen, its livelihood and social dimension, while also tuning in to the microbiopolitics of processes like fermentation and digestion.  

Project Excerpts

“I’ve grown up surrounded by women and femme people in my community whose knowledge and agency was so overlooked, but they knew so much, and did so much. They knew about care, about food, about magic and about science and about the world in microcosm. What’s cooking if not kitchen science? It’s also kitchen magic, or it seemed that way to me as a child, and as I grow older that’s just becoming more self-evident. The sizzle, the specific order and amounts of spices, the ritual of stirring just the right number of times in the right direction, all done by feel and eye and according to rules I still do not entirely understand, all feel like witchcraft.

My surprise, and joy, and enchantment in finding out that my food can be alive as I eat it, that it stays that way, that it lives in me, and beyond me was like being awakened. My body is a landscape; it lives beyond what others would inscribe on it. My body is a temple, it contains thousands all praying to different gods, getting all muddled up in each other. Cross-contaminated, cross-pollinated, complicit. Monstrous. Promiscuous. Impure. I’ve never cared for purity, in my experience purity creates the other kind of monsters.

Cultural anthropologist Heather Paxson teaches us that microbiopolitics is a way to become post-Pasteurian, not as a way to uncritically love microbes (although I do), but as a way to understand and work with them on their own terms. I wonder how much my love of microbes stems from knowing they just are, and that they want nothing else, other than to simply be, but that they’re forced to change and to adapt to their context. Isn’t that anthropocentric of me? It reminds how I’ve had to learn to adapt to my environment, how much I’m shaped by what is around me, by what other people need from me and the spaces that I have had to fit into. There’s nothing (bio-)essential about bacteria, except that they’re essential to all of our survival and isn’t that beautiful?

This project, kitchen cultures, asked eight women of colour to think about their(/our) journeys, about migration and colonisation, about displacement and diaspora, through our kitchen practices. I wanted to explore our relationships to food and our relationships to the other organisms in our environment (including the other humans) through a practice rooted in care. Many of us come from cultures in which we consider non humans (rivers, rocks, trees, fish) to be part of our communities. Many of us have been historically excluded from the category of human.

The stories that emerged were interspecies, intergenerational, intercultural; messy, complex, contaminated. They are multi-species muddles that preclude simplification and simplistic moral binaries. I wanted to tell all of these in relation to each other, as a way to create imperfect cultural encounters between species, in a way that valued the voices, the knowledge and the agency of them all. I wanted to recover the blasted landscapes that are the legacies of capitalism and colonialism as places to flourish. I’m not sure I succeeded. These stories still do not talk to each other, and reshape each other, and I wonder if I can create a conversation between them here? I hope this is a space in which – using the conversations, recipes, kitchen sounds, and fermentation feedback I ended up with – I can create an audio piece that is multi-sensory, multi-species, cross-contaminated and decolonised.” — Kajaal Modi, 2021