On hosting and guesting – Aftercare to a residency experience
A letter to Alpenhof and Bibliothek Andreas Züst care-takers
Dear Flavia, Laura & Dominic,
I arrived here as a guest, getting to know a position which is usually uncommon to me. And instead of embracing it, I thought that occupying this middle point – between being a guest and usually performing the role of the host – could be fertile and productive.
Usually, within Robida, we tend to avoid the binarism of guest and host, which is potentially problematic. 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-dwellers. 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.
But the context of this specific residency is quite different from Robida’s one: Alpenhof is a hotel and the space itself, with the single rooms, the entrance, the bar, the kitchen speaks clearly of this binarism. While the fact that you are using it as your own house too, again questions its spatial clarity. I actually grew up in a space like this: the restaurant of my grandparents, where the living room was the bar and the kitchen of the restaurant, with its sterile furniture, was their home kitchen. I don’t know if this way of living made more the restaurant a house or the house a restaurant: if hosting clients would be almost as hosting friends at your own house or if living in the restaurant would be closer to never leaving your work space. Probably it was both.
The first day of my residency here I wrote down: Tabea spoke about errata. I spoke about reading as finding unexpected things by change, as collecting things that sediment in a fertile humus, reading as composting. Comp(h)osting. Interlacing hosting and composting – it’s about temporality, let encounters, conversations, events sediment, stay, be in contact with other remains, become a meshwork of elements which decompose to create humus to host again. Does this relation about composting and hosting speak only about finding a time for letting things, meetings, conversations deposit – does it only speak of a slower temporality, of a time dedicated to waiting for the transformation of the material. To compost means also to accumulate in a place…
It is so beautiful and precious to see how an idea comes to life while writing. This word, comp(h)osting, came up the first day and followed me toward the whole month here. I explored it’s potentialities through reading about hospitality and about composting, searching in the library images and traces which could be somehow connected to these two topics, writing down lists of verbs related to one or the other term, defining and re-defining why this term could be productive. One I noted down that usual literature about residencies focuses on artists and their experiences, less frequently on hosts. Another time I wrote that: comp(h)osting means relating the host to the transformative essence of the compost. Once I tried to trace back why I was thinking of composts: the reflection on compost came in relation to the fertile accumulation I am carrying on with my readings from which I don’t demand anything immediately.
Thinking my reading material as compost material brought me back to the library: can the metaphor of the compost be applied also to libraries – at the end they are also a layered accumulation of materials made to produce something, made to sediment in people’s mind and fertilize it! How can we through the library reflect on which type of residency and cultural project to develop?
There was a moment in which the metaphor of composting in relation to hosting became less interesting as the interpretation of residencies as composts, where materials, thoughts and people come together and arrive to unexpected results, but rather as the compost as something that comes after the residency. What are the scraps we want to collect at the end, accumulate somewhere and give time to become fertile (the other question is fertile for what? What would be the purpose of this rich soil?). What is the aftercare needed for residencies? Beside thinking of residencies as interesting for the artists, we can ask ourselves which scraps they leave behind and how can these remains be combined – what methodologies do we need to do so – to enrich our soils. What would we as guests give back and what would we leave behind? It’s interesting: for the host, the verb exists (to host) and for the guest not – defining the guest as a passive character. What would it mean for a guest to guest?
On a Monday morning, after breakfast, I facilitated a small workshop for the hosts and guests of the library. We sat around the big table and, with the help of the books which belonged to Andreas Züst, we explored the terms guest, host, comp(h)ost. The trace of this small gathering are short texts and three lists of verbs:
To compost: to accumulate, to layer, to decompose, to fertilize, to ferment, to collect, to throw, to transform, to maintain, to wait, to care, to nourish, to repurpose, to slow down, to sediment, to pile, to re-use, to combine, to collaborate.
To host: to care, to assist, to dwell, to accommodate, to share, to listen, to help, to introduce, to open, to explain, to let in, to facilitate, to guide, to stimulate, to nourish, to accompany, to wait, to organize, to encourage.
To guest: to allow, to adapt, to help, to listen, to question, to contribute, to share, to collaborate, to change, to encounter, to meet, to dwell, to ask, to inhabit, to feel, to thank, to adopt, to follow, to consider, to propose, to rest, to receive, to trust, to return.
Text: Vida Rucli