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Dispatch: A Shared Dialogue


In the last of the dispatches from ‘Non-Western Technologies for the Good Life’ the artists-educators-gardeners Irina Botea Bucan and Jon Dean reflect on gardening as an act of care, the politics of food and the shared stories, recipes and experiences they encountered at The Experimental Station for Research on Art and Life.

Map of Casa Radesti and the garden by our two ten-year-old friends Jack and Paul. Photo: Irina Botea Bucan

Sometimes we talk together about food; our shared memories of communal bread making, corn flour and mamaliga. Other times we read in voice, talk, and listen to ideas about the soil and how de-modernization is a necessary companion to de-colonization. It always seems like we are talking from a garden, with our feet on a soil in need. Even when each of us are in our own rooms (for me) it smells like the garden at the Station, where the cardoon from Ana has just grown ‘gigantically’ in spite of all squashy odds, the tall and thick Jerusalem artichokes are still popping up everywhere, and the new Miyawaki Forest promises communal hope. I find warm hope and I am swamped in joy each time I go to the Station and we all garden together. We gathered around the oven (that Vasile built with us) with Hiwa who shared his mother’s recipe, walnut, pomegranate, rice and stories. We gathered inside the new greenhouse next to the enthusiastic papaya trees. We could not believe the warmth we felt inside.

In London, Jon and I found a tree full of mushrooms. A dry tree that gave its trunk to the mushrooms. This is the image that Charles Esche drew for us: ‘maybe it is time for the West to be the dry tree that gives its body to the South… to grow.’ I asked Charles about the new art institutions that are built on the destruction of factories and desperation of workers. He told me that it is the same old story, and they too need to de-colonize themselves.

A tree in London hosting mushrooms. Photo: Irina Botea Bucan

Applying Convivial Tools in No Particular Order

Food is political. Gardening is political. An imposition on the soil, and many times a necessity. I write from a garden. I belong to a garden that is connected to my grandparents; to their way of growing and taking care of the land, plants, trees and animals. Picking up the Colorado potato bugs behind my grandmother and grandfather. Opening up the corn and the dried beans together in a circle until the hands are burning, cooling them down in yellow-red cold corn grains, and listening to stories. Watching the white cabbage butterflies spread their wings, and understanding their short life-cycle.

Our garden at Casa Radesti in the summer. Photo: Jon Dean

In March 2020, the day before Bucharest ‘closed down’ due to Covid restrictions, Jon and I left with a trolley bag to live in an unfinished house in a village in Arges, Romania. After the joy and amazement of falling asleep on a wooden floor while watching flames in the ‘soba’ (wood burner) and breathing next to grass, trees, bees and a lizard family, I became obsessed with gardening. It only took two days to become obsessed. Times were so unsure, there were rumours of how all of the crops would fail, and as peoples’ work and travel was restricted, I felt that gardening and growing vegetables was an urgency. Later it became clearer to me that maybe it was also a personal necessity of exercising care. But what it brought to us was a deep and fast introduction into the village community. We started digging, Jon wanted to make raised beds, and since our garden is at the intersection of three main roads in the village, everybody gave us advice of where to, how to, and what to... plant. We listened to all of them, and especially to the positive encouragement of Nicu the Fisherman, who still has the best seeds, seedlings, and sweetest tomatoes in the village. We are now in the year of the acacia tree. Nicu the Fisherman and Doamna Cici told us that they have never seen the acacias ‘more-full of flowers’; to the point that you can barely see their leaves.

Valiana Aguilar agrees with Jon: food is political. If you control food, you control people. She tells us we should not call the deposits of seeds – seed banks – and that our bodies are not made in one generation. She teaches us. She tells us how they enriched the soil, how they keep the ancient seeds. Our soil is mainly clay. We add chisai, sand brought from the river, and ash from our wood burners. I hope for a future with Terra Preta and Biochar (Vandana Shiva); my friend Morag promised to teach me how to make it.

I plant to understand: They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds.

They first observed the plants and the soil when they were moved from one place to another (Clint Carroll). We started planting out of emergency but only after we had started to observe. We observed the four-year cycle of abundance. We now know better what to expect if the frost and snow falls in March or April, or even following a colder period in May. This year the abundance is here. A bank full of wild strawberries. The sour cherries almost form a Miyawaki Forest; we have not cut them and let them grow after our neighbour cut their sour cherry mother tree. Our old plum trees are full of small green plums. But one does not possess a tree, but rather lives near a tree or a garden. The very small apple tree now has seventy apples. I am not sure how many will survive. We dared to prune the tree this spring. Remember the wooden basket weaver’s lesson (Robin Wall Kimmerer): you must first ask a tree if it will allow you to cut it. But the forest needs some trees to be cut. Take only what you need and ask the acacia tree if she wants to give you some of her flowers. We have been waiting for the rain for a week now. The temporality of the Earth challenges the temporality of the West (Rolando Vázquez), instead of Life without a clock (a FB page of the people that moved from the cities to the countryside in Romania).


(…) all those of us who no longer want to be complicit with the silencing of popular knowledges and experiences by Eurocentric knowledge, sometimes performed even in the name of allegedly critical and progressive theory. (Escobar, Thinking-Feeling with the Earth)

Whose voice are we talking?
Whose dream are we dreaming?
Whose eyes are we seeing though?
(from conversations with Rolando and Ovidiu)

It is finally raining!!!!!!


A Reflective Wordplay on the Process of Looking from Diverse Locations and Perspectives:

Sometimes… we know what we know

Or at least that is a theory

Otherwise… we don’t know what we don’t know

And that is a practice

From here to there and occasionally back again

Ideas can circulate in fluctuating motion

Transformative movements could reconstruct a ladder’s steps

Reconfiguring dialogue and understanding

So that they then become plural rather than singular

It is evidently time to clean the windows

With or without a ladder


The views and opinions published here mirror the principles of academic freedom and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the L'Internationale confederation and its members.

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