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pallavi sen

february 5, 2018

crown heights, brooklyn ↔ richmond, virginia
via phone call

Adele: Hi! What are you doing right now?
Pallavi: I made some rice day before yesterday and I’m just tempering it with cumin and oil and chilies. I don’t have a microwave so I’m just making a slightly more seasoned rice. It has to be hot, you know, because I’m going to eat it with yogurt. It has to be cold yogurt on hot rice. So, I’m at home. I took the day off from work. I’m evaluating how I should live my life. Yeah, that’s what I’m doing.
Adele: Cool! That sounds delicious and nice and I wish I could be cooking with you!
Pallavi: I know! Oh well, very soon.
Adele: I know, very soon. How are you feeling about your publication?
Pallavi: I have a lot of feelings about it because I feel that like, who am I to say anything at all? I think I have pretty solid imposter syndrome where I feel like I’m actually a really dumb person, that I’m not smart and I’m actually really dumb.
Adele: Well, that’s radically not true.
Pallavi: No, but I feel that in a very solid way, that I’m dumb and I don’t know how to speak properly or how to write properly. I don’t know how to frame my sentences. I’m a bad whatever—bad writer, bad this, that. And then, who am I to tell anybody anything? And that what I’m writing is never going to sound as good at the things I’ve read. So that’s one part of it. It’s pretty audacious, I think, to like, write stuff up and put it in book form and think that anybody needs to read it. But that’s what I’m doing. And the other part that I feel strongly about is that, you know, I just feel like it’s my responsibility to do this because the trash in this world is so overwhelming. I see it everywhere. It’s everywhere. I feel like the developed world is the one responsible for the bigger problems, not the people who are suffering. So I know it’s both things but I’m mostly realizing that my voice has value. I think that’s where I am.
Adele: Yeah. What’s the timeline for the book?
Pallavi: The final draft has to be ready for tonight [laughs]. It doesn’t have any illustrations in it yet. Those have to be done now, like, this week, or it has to be something that I get from the internet, not stuff I’ve drawn, because maybe that will be faster. I’m trying to think of this as a long-term project. This is the first time I’m doing this and maybe there will be another edition which will be better in different ways, so I’m not trying to feel like I should do everything at the same time.
Adele: Yeah, I think that’s a good way to be. I like when the urgency of a project reveals other solutions or ways of illustrating it that you wouldn’t have ever thought of before. That can be really exciting. Oh, tell me about your plates!

Pallavi: I’m making these porcelain plates. I’m actually thinking about like, what are things that I can produce and what kind of effect do they have on the world. Maybe in the future, ceramic is something that I have to stop using, or only do firings in an old-fashioned firing of clay. For now, I’m doing this set of plates that I’ve wanted to make. I was thinking about it a long time ago, about how it would be nice, when documenting LUNCHY! projects, to have it be on utensils that I’ve made. You know, this whole thing came about because of environmental concerns—concern is putting it so mildly—but also because I found that there was a time when I was spending so much of my time cooking that I wanted it to be a legitimate extension of my work. I thought, ‘oh, if I make all the things that the food is going on, if I make the textile underneath it or if the plate is made by me, then this is legitimately my work.’ Which is, of course, a false way of thinking about that.
Adele: Why is it false?
Pallavi: It’s false because…what is it saying that art-making is only these materials? If you’re working in this, this, or this material?
Adele: Right.
Pallavi: But at the same time, I don’t think everybody’s an artist, you know?
Adele: Yes.
Pallavi: I don’t know where in the grey area I sit. I feel like I can make an art practice out of any action I do. But then--I don’t like it when people make it seem like art is no effort at all, as if anyone can do it.
Adele: Right.
Pallavi: That’s why I thought, when I started this, that it would be something that would make it directly in the art world, in the way that the art world recognizes art objects. That was how I was thinking about it like a year ago or two years ago. But then with Roz, we saw each other at this job thing and she was telling me about your show, and I was talking to her about food. She was like, “oh, maybe we can serve dinner.” And two or three weeks ago she asked, “what are you thinking about in terms of utensils?” And I was like, ‘oh, maybe I can just make them.’
Adele: I love that and I love that you create everything. I think that when you’ve invested in creating every aspect of the experience it really makes it all more meaningful and mindful. All of a sudden, you’re doing this exercise where you put mindfulness into every piece and every action which is really beautiful.
Pallavi: Well, I hope so!
Adele: Yes! It helps you counter these ideas that you can just be like, a fair-weather environmentalist. Like, ‘oh, it’s nice today so I will ride my bike today.’ Actually no, you can’t just pick and choose these stages where you express certain principles, you have to have a little more commitment to it and I like that a lot.
Pallavi: Oh yeah. Yesterday, we were having this discussion at work and somebody was saying it was like, too much how much we have to care about. I just don’t think it is too much and I think that if we are overwhelmed, that is the correct response to the kinds of problems that we are facing right now. It does seem like a lot and it is overwhelming. And unless we feel overwhelmed and that it is out of control, then there isn’t going to be the action that we need, you know? If it just kind of feels like it’s only alarming part of the time, or you only feel like taking action part of the time, then there’s not going to be anything.
Adele: Right, I agree.

Let’s see, one last question: how do you define LUNCHY! now, in February 2018?
Pallavi: Yeah! It’s funny, the last time you asked me questions with a recorder was this time last year almost, and I was thinking about a very different boy then and how many boys have come and gone since then. Well, not many, just a few. But I was thinking about how different that time was. So how do I think of LUNCHY! now? I never thought that anybody else would ever take LUNCHY! seriously, you know, because it has such a funny name, first of all. I guess it was funny and exciting that way but now I think of it more as an early project in possibly bigger projects that I’m going to do around food. And maybe this is like my—oh my god, my floor, my kitchen floor has little cockroaches on it! Okay.
Adele: Oh my god!
Pallavi: It’s a cockroach problem! My roommate was commenting about our cockroach problem and I just looked under my foot and I was like, oh my god what’s under my foot?! And it was a little dead cockroach!
Adele: Ewww!
Pallavi: I know, it’s gross.
Adele: So you live in New York now.
Pallavi: [laughs] I know, I know. Now I have all these cockroach issues. So, yes, I think that now LUNCHY! is definitely something that’s a part of how I feel like I need to live my life. And I think it’s going to be bigger than my daily meals. I think about it more in terms of all the things that I was afraid of. Like, I was afraid of realizing that my impact on the environment means that I have to change a lot of things about the way that I live. That’s very scary because a lot of what I know how to do comes from the same world that has made all the problems. So you know, it means curbing my cell phone usage. It means not using Instagram that much. It means a lot of things that I’m not ready to do. So now when I think about LUNCHY!, I guess I really believe in all of this. It can’t be just this thing that I do when I cook, it has to be this way that I have to live.
Adele: Yeah, it extends into your clothes, your mattress-making.
Pallavi: Yeah, so now I think of it as one project in a bigger long-term project. Well, I can’t say 10 years, I can’t give myself that much time, it has to be a shorter amount of time, where I can gradually go off in a lot of ways that I have known how to live and change my life. And that’s really terrifying. So yeah, that’s what I feel about it. It’s also made me feel more brave about voicing my thoughts on other issues that are related to culture or are relating to using another person’s culture.
Adele: Cool.
Pallavi: Yeah, and not just another person’s food culture but their cultural practices as well.
Adele: Are these things that you talk about in the LUNCHY! book?
Pallavi: I talk about it briefly, but it still goes back to the food. Most of the book is centered around the manifesto. It actually really doesn’t have a lot of recipes. It only has about 10-15 recipes. It’s more about thinking about food as a way of thinking about how maybe we can start designing our new life in a different world. You know, recipes can be found anywhere now and the point is not that but really feeling like you should cook your own food using a few staples that you can replicate.
Right now, I love eating rice balls but I really have to think about that. Who’s food am I borrowing? Who’s food is it? What am I calling it? What am I making? If someone asks me what I ate, what do I say I ate? I don’t want to become a part of a broader culture that just eats someone else’s food and calls it one thing when you actually didn’t eat that, you ate some version of it. It’s important to acknowledge that food comes from a person, because then you acknowledge the position that you are in where you can sample different foods. Otherwise, if you don’t acknowledge that, you’re thinking that you’re a native or something. Or that you have native access somehow. Without even having a single Japanese friend, for example.
Adele: Right. And it exoticizes it in a way that can be harmful.
Pallavi: That’s something that I think is very important because even in India, where I grew up, a lot of the breakfast foods that I eat are from the south of India and from the western coast of India and they’re not really native to my home. But I also grew up in Delhi, which is a very multicultural city, so I eat a lot of foods from different cuisines and there is more of an even give and take. It’s not as exploitative because we are on the same platform. It’s kind of like borrowing art concepts within the same city or within the same group of people. That’s something I think about.

And I actually don’t know what the right answer is when it comes to that but I think that acknowledgement is probably the most important thing because when you acknowledge that, then you are at least entering a stream of thought that can help you use that in other areas where you’re able to buy things as well, things beyond food, like the language you use or what words you want to incorporate into the language you use.
Adele: Yeah, totally! Oh my gosh I’m so excited to see you! I can’t believe it’s only 10 days. How are you publishing?
Pallavi: Through GenderFail, through Brett.
Adele: Beautiful.
Pallavi: Yeah! I’m really excited and it’s a huge relief that to me that this can be a work in progress and not a final project. You know, it’s not as satisfying working on this as it is working on a visual project. I have dragged my feet so much more because I am not a writer. I like writing little things. But I don’t like writing writing writing writing. I get very annoyed with the way that I sound, you know? I’m happy to think of this as one in a series of things. I’m so excited to see you.
Adele: Yeah, me too. Do you have any visions for the space [for the opening]?
Pallavi: Um, maybe sawhorses? Or table legs? I think that’s my one vision. But you can talk to Roz about that.
Adele: You want table legs but not table tops?
Pallavi: No, no, sawhorses as table legs! If that’s a possibility. I’m just a big fan of sawhorses as table legs. But anyway, that’s all.
Adele: Okay.
Pallavi: I’m just happy to see what Roz does with all the placemats and tablecloths, and how my work can fit into that. I just feel very open right now.