Whilst the framing of this journal issue invites us to think within, not without, the institution—asking us not to abandon it—we’d like to start from the provocation of abandoning the institution proper. What is possible in its wake? We see feminism(s) as an instituent practice: adaptive, porous, capable of making many worlds. Whilst many formal institutions speak of feminist practice and programme around it, their foundation as colonial and patriarchal infrastructures of the state is hard to dismantle, and we’ve witnessed too many peers and colleagues for whom attempting to change things from the inside led to burnout and other long-term mental health concerns. It’s not that institutional forms and infrastructures cannot be feminist (or equitable, sustainable, anti-racist), but that the ones we have are not fit for purpose. Rather than instituting feminism—fixing it in time, formalising it—we’d rather speak of feminist instituting as an ongoing praxis, something to live by and build with.
We founded la Sala in late 2019: a small space in a market in Nottingham with a kitchen and a table, and a growing space. Sala in Spanish literally means “room where life takes place”, and this is precisely what we wanted to generate: a room where life is cultivated and fostered, where we can spend time together talking, cooking, and plotting, inviting others to join us. Thinking-with the feminist idea of the urgency to put life at the centre, we wanted to institute something that not only reflects and theorises about this principal, but also embodies it. After a decade of curating projects and working in various institutions internationally, we came together to start a space that wouldn't only focus on the representational aspects of art and discourse but also on how to put into practice the values and theories that we were advocating for. To begin to build an organisation, an organism, that would truly centre the act of living, and living well.
How do we build a slow, careful institution? Can an institution foster biodiversity? Is it possible to establish a more sustainable practice and perpetuate it in the long term? How can we operate in a way that is generative rather than extractive, both to the planet and ourselves? These are some of the initial questions we were concerned with when starting la Sala. We believe, as Silvia Federici often says, that significant transformation only happens in collective spaces where support infrastructures are generated. We, too, felt an urgency to have a place to gather, a base from which to build community when so much is being cut and dismantled. la Sala was built on these premises.
Throughout 2020, we took the process of fermenting as a methodology, exploring the time, care, and conditions needed to grow an ecofeminist art institution—one which is generative, sensitive to locality, and responsive to conditions of planetary and human exhaustion. Fermenting was a starting point to think through the cultural institution of the present. What can contemporary art learn from food growers, producers, and collectives? How do we value this work of sustaining and sustainability—in relation to reproductive labour and care work?
Our first year of programming, Fermenting Institutions, Thinking Beans, has consisted of conversations, growing food, looking after the soil, and cohabiting with other species and multitudes. We’ve begun to work with artists in small ways—Sofia Niazi, Inês Neto dos Santos, Rosalie Schweiker, Calipso Press, and Mercedes Villalba—initiating projects that will continue and evolve through time. Primarily, we’ve taken slow steps towards thinking about how we might work together. In order to begin well, and so as not to replicate the structures and conditions of the institutions we’ve encountered, we drafted a working code of practice at the start of our collaboration. This will shift as we do, but it offers some coordinates to hold ourselves to. The rest of this text will be structured around a few of these statements, as some short suggestions for feminist instituting in practice.
our internal workings are as important as our public programmes
we consider care work as work
In the current climate(s), we are exhausted. There is no lack of art which speaks to the urgent issues of our time: climate, conflict, rising fascism, the need to find ways to live and work towards sustainable futures. But whilst this exists in the realm of programming, we are neglecting to address the position from which we speak as art workers. We are dreaming of an institution that applies the same thought, the same rigour and criticality, with which it forms its artistic programmes, to the organisation itself: its modes of instituting, its management, its working culture, with a view to modelling the art institution as a figure of that which we would wish to institute in the world.
In 2017, Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez made a case “For Slow Institutions,” with a call to curators to “imagine new ecologies of care as a continuous practice of support [...] to radically open up our institutional borders and show how these work—or don’t—in order to render our organizations palpable, audible, sentient, soft, porous, and above all, decolonial and anti-patriarchal.” In thinking how a slow institution could be built in real terms, these ecologies of care could be understood twofold: a practice of care internal to the organisation (which takes a feminist approach to work, reconsidering structure and policy); and quite directly, a practice of care for our place in the wider ecology.
Over the past year, care has come to the forefront; as Johanna Hedva writes, this is “what happens when care insists on itself [...] when it takes up space and money and labour and energy.” Almost every exhibition or programme is talking about care, but still not engaging with its reality and the many violences it covers, from the poor treatment of domestic and other care workers, the discrepancies in how care is provided to different communities, to the structural inequalities within our institutions. It’s hard to hold onto a word that is often used to obfuscate realities. But care we must. We hold close the definition of care written by Joan Tronto and Bernice Fisher, as “a species activity that includes everything that we do to maintain, continue, and repair our ‘world’ so that we can live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, our selves, and our environment, all of which we seek to interweave in a complex, life-sustaining web.” In this sense, it’s vital, and a feminist praxis: working to maintain, continue, and repair our world.
our approach to feminism is also ecological and intersectional
we commit to being sustainable, to the planet and also to our bodies
For us there’s no real feminism that isn’t also ecological and intersectional. We hope that this will become ingrained in the very concept of feminist praxis, but for now it needs to be stated continuously, as a form of commitment. As well as being anti-racist, inclusive, and accessible this also means the inclusion of all who identify as women.
We work from a position of ecofeminism—foregrounding practices of care in, as Maria Puig de la Bellacasa writes, more than human worlds. Ecofeminism defends interdependence between all beings on the planet, including water, air, and soil. We can’t survive without these relationships, and we are fully dependent on them: we are vulnerable beings with finite bodies, and we need other humans and more-than-human beings to live. Historically, capitalism has imposed a linear productive system that defends the infinite exploitation of the material resources of the planet, including human bodies.
As well as the space, we also have an allotment, a rented plot of land on which we cultivate and grow. This relationship is crucial for us, as it reminds us of the interdependence that forms the ecosystem where we live (and work). Thinking of how to define or better understand this holistic approach to practice, we started looking at permaculture as a methodology; looking at different ways to create a system that connects and includes both sides of la Sala. We look at the three main ethical principles of permaculture as a basis for our thinking and doing, more urgent than ever in a time of climate emergency. These are: earth care, people care, and fair share. These concerns feed into every aspect of our work, from transparent budgeting and fair pay systems, to seasonal programming and taking care of the soil, to building an organisation that is safe, accessible, and supportive.
Whilst sustainability has become something of a marketised term, to us it has strength in its multiple meanings: how can the institution sustain itself and its workers, whilst at the same time sustaining its environment, with a net positive ecological impact? An institution is an ecosystem, “a community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment, interacting as a system.” From maintenance staff to administrative protocols, to the building itself. In order for this to be sustainable, it needs to ensure that all capacities and needs are balanced and cared for, acknowledging interdependence between all within it.
we work around the kitchen table
Kitchens are one of the main centres where reproductive labour takes place: a space from which we sustain and perpetuate life. They have historically been a space of struggle for feminist movements, as they symbolise both inequality and invisible exploitation in relation to the feminisation of care and reproductive labour. As Silvia Federici says, “The kitchen is the beginning of the assembly line,” as the work it holds is essential for the perpetuation and functioning of the capitalist system. The kitchen table is at the heart of la Sala, and it’s where most things happen. We wanted to reclaim the kitchen table in all its complexity. At the table, life is sustained and cared for, but it can also be a space to be unproductive, a space for assembly, and a symbol of feminist resistance.
We’ve both independently worked on projects which brought kitchens into art organisations, whether for programming around, or as a resource for staff who were missing a staff room. The kitchen is all of these things, a space for work and for ideas, a space for rest and for shared experiences. It’s often where the invisible work of preparing and hosting happens, and we prefer when this is visible, noisy, and shared among all. It connects us, through food, to our growing practice. Whilst we are continually learning what it means to care for one another as co-workers, we both care naturally in the kitchen, with slow cooked beans and peas or bread and sweet things.
It also shapes how we welcome people, offering something familiar. We always liked the idea that when you come to la Sala you’re immediately part of it, cooking or fermenting with us. Thinking of this as a methodological approach, we always reference our friends at El Mato Tinto permaculture farm in Tenerife. They begin each meeting on the farm with physical contact with the soil. They call it toma de tierra, which means “earthing or grounding” and is literally to come into contact with the ground by touching, stirring, appreciating the soil. To centre our work at the table is always to make room for work to be interrupted. This kind of practice helps us to centre slowness (against the pull of hyperproductivity). Straight away, things get unprofessional—which is exactly how we want to be working.
we will always be transparent about budgets
we will always be open to non-monetary forms of exchange and of value
We believe that publicly (and privately) funded institutions should be transparent about the ways they make and spend money. This serves both to open up the institution (making its internal functions and infrastructure more visible) and to allow staff to understand how and why monetary decisions are made. It means that salary discrepancies cannot be hidden, and staff at all levels can more readily understand what’s possible. There’s a lot of work to be done to find useful and clear ways to share this information. Whilst la Sala is small, we believe it’s important for us, too, to be transparent about this kind of information, and we’ve made a commitment to do so once we are in receipt of public funding—but we’re still learning how best to do so.
We make sure to offer non-monetary forms of exchange, whilst we’re searching for a truly functioning circular economy, one that eliminates waste and creates a closed-loop system. In order to build a regenerative approach (in opposition to the linear economy system), it’s imperative to use all of our existing resources—so many of these are not monetary.
In being transparent about finances, and in aiming to make a small project like la Sala sustainable, it’s perhaps also useful to address the discrepancies in pay which we encounter. To navigate an unpaid invitation like this, for example, from a project we are happy to support, we have made use of fragments of writing from existing texts we've co-authored (including the essay “Institutions as Ecosystems,” published in Who's Art For? Art Workers Against Exploitation (Milan: postmedia books, 2019)) in a new framework and with added content. We always aim to be open about money, to say no when we can’t agree in good conscience, and to find strategies which value our own and others’ time.
Finally, we will always be responsive, and will be formed by those who become part of la sala la sala is always in reference to others, and we thank those who have laid the groundwork.
Written by Alba Colomo and Lucy Lopez, who initiated la Sala together in late 2019. Alba Colomo is a cultural worker currently researching the potential of permaculture as a methodology for curatorial practice and art institutions. Lucy Lopez is a curator and writer. She is currently writing up her PhD, Instituting with Care, and editing a book of the same title.
 Silvia Federici, Keynote Talk at Nottingham Contemporary, UK, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9fzdK_EoGk&ab_channel=NottinghamContemporary.
 Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez, “For Slow Institutions,” e-flux 85 (October 2017). Available at: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/85/155520/for-slow-institutions/.
 Johanna Hedva, “Get Well Soon!” (2020), https://getwellsoon.labr.io/.
 Bernice Fisher and Joan C. Tronto, “Toward a Feminist Theory of Care,” in Circles of Care: Work and Identity in Women’s Lives, eds. Emily K. Abel and Margaret K. Nelson (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1990).
 Silvia Federici, Interview by Manel Ros, 12 November 2012, https://rebelion.org/la-cadena-de-montaje-empieza-en-la-cocina-en-el-lavabo-en-nuestros-cuerpos-2/.