Spiritual Flavours

By Laura Cuch

Frame from the film Spiritual Flavours (© Laura Cuch, 2016)

Frame from the film Spiritual Flavours (© Laura Cuch, 2016)

It is really exciting that a five-minute preview of the film Spiritual Flavours is going to be screened at the Utopia Fair at Somerset House 24th-26th June. The screening will consist of a show reel with films from various projects awarded by AHRC Connected Communities. I really look forward to seeing all the other films!

The film Spiritual Flavours is part of the collaborative arts project with the same name, in which members of different faith communities in the area of Ealing and Hanwell have been invited to contribute recipes that they relate to their spirituality and religious practices. Through interviews and cooking sessions, the project pays attention to affective relationships with food, as a vehicle to explore ideas about inheritance, tradition and belief. Alongside the film, these sessions are the basis of a forthcoming ‘multi-faith’ cookery photo book.

It is also really exciting that the new website for the project is now life:

www.spiritualflavours.com

Picture at the Shri Kanaga Thurkkai Amman Temple in Ealing (© Laura Cuch, 2015)

Picture at the Shri Kanaga Thurkkai Amman Temple in Ealing (© Laura Cuch, 2015)

The project Spiritual Flavours is part of my practice-led PhD with the provisional title ‘Food, Faith, Home: A visual exploration of religious and domestic material culture’, where I use photography and film to comparatively explore the relationship between home and religion, by paying attention to domestic material culture, in particular that which is related to food, cooking and eating. As part of Making Suburban Faith, my research is focused on seven different faith communities in West London.

In the film, biographical narratives and spiritual accounts from Betty, Aziz and Ossie (who belong to a Catholic church, a mosque and a liberal synagogue, respectively) are interwoven with the experiences of cooking in their homes. The chosen recipes thread the narratives of past, present and future aspirations, spirituality and the everyday.

Betty’s kitchen (© Laura Cuch, 2016)

Betty’s kitchen (© Laura Cuch, 2016)

Coming from a photography background, it has been such an amazing learning experience to start thinking and practicing research through the lens of moving image, alongside stills. This has involved thinking through how each different medium operates both in terms of engaging people in a creative process with a defined outcome and; considering the kinds of questions and issues that can be addressed.

One of the opportunities of filming, rather than just using photography, has been to explore the soundscapes of domestic cooking, alongside those of the religious sites that the participants regularly attend. Another opportunity has been to explore commonalities and differences between the participants through visual and sonic synchronies and asynchronies, as well as through the use of three split screen – perhaps there will be a possibility of translating the film into a multi-screen installation in the future.

Frame from the film Spiritual Flavours (© Laura Cuch, 2016)

Frame from the film Spiritual Flavours (© Laura Cuch, 2016)

The nature of the filming process has also placed great demands on the three participants in the film, Betty, Aziz and Ossie. I could have not imagined at the start of the project how generous, supportive and patient they have been: from the initial interviews; to having pictures taken of themselves and their homes; to being filmed within regular practices in their faith communities; to getting all the ingredients and everything ready for the cooking sessions; to surviving extra-long cooking sessions, which were paced through the slow rhythm of filmmaking and; to finally coming together to a one-day workshop where they watched film rushes, came up with a multi-faith recipe, and cooked and ate together. They clearly are the superstars of the film and I am ever so grateful for their involvement and generosity. Having got to know them individually first, it was such a special event when they met and shared their experiences of taking part in the film, whilst viewing the footage. They also shared their views on food, faith, home and Ealing, whilst cooking and eating together.

The sharing aspect that emerges with collectively preparing and eating food is at the heart of the Spiritual Flavours project, both in terms of how it allows to consider home as being distributed between the household and the places of worship (by means of food being shared and travelling back and forth between these spaces), as well as in terms of bringing people from different faith communities together.

A multi-faith dish cooked by the participants of the film Spiritual Flavours (© Laura Cuch, 2016)

A multi-faith dish cooked by the participants of the film Spiritual Flavours (© Laura Cuch, 2016)

There have been more people involved in the film. Thanks to the AHRC Connected Communities award I have had the privilege to collaborate with film editor Laura Belinky and cinematographer Theo Ribeiro, as well as the musician Joseph Rowe. I am immensely grateful to Laura and Theo for how much I have learned from them and for having supported this project in every possible way. They have shared their skills, their equipment, as well as their energy, passion and enthusiasm for filmmaking. In turn, Joseph has created a beautiful soundscape/musical piece with the sounds recorded during the cooking sessions, which constitutes the original soundtrack of the film. Bits of this musical piece are present in the five-minute introduction that will be showing at the Utopia Fair, but will appear more integrally in the longer final version of the film.

Also, Joanna Brinton has designed a beautiful poster for the project and three different postcards for the film. Please, come and get one at the Making Suburban Faith stall at the Utopia Fair. She has also liaised with Nick Sellek from Peckish Studio for the making of the Spiritual Flavours web and I look forward to her design of the forthcoming photo recipe book.

Betty sets the table at RC Church Our Lady & St Joseph in Hanwell (© Laura Cuch, 2016)

Betty sets the table at RC Church Our Lady & St Joseph in Hanwell (© Laura Cuch, 2016)

Finally, both my supervisors Dr Claire Dwyer and Dryden Goodwin have supported the production of this film in different ways, from providing creative ideas to buying the ingredients at the one-day workshop. I am immensely grateful the them too, as well as to the rest of the Making Suburban Faith team and to a long list of friends who have given me advise in what seemed quite a challenging first step from still to moving image.

I am really thrilled that in September my UCL Cross-Disciplinary Training Award will commence, which will allow me to spend a year in the Anthropology Department where I will attend the core course of the MA in in Ethnographic and Documentary Film, alongside some courses in material and visual culture.

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