Foghíles in Sardo logudorese means ‘fireplaces’, important corners and symbols of Sardinian everyday life, both past and present. The fire is where families, friends, members of the community meet around to talk and share time, knowledge, experiences, a meal or just a glass of wine. Foghíles is a project about everyday rural life, experimentation and transmission of knowledge, in Semèstene, Mejlogu, Sardinia. Intertwined with the rhythm of seasons and the geography of the place, the collective experience is at the core of the project. Their meetings throughout the year have been moments of exchange, conviviality and new opportunities, involving both the local community and guest visitors. With almost three years of activities and ahead of their next autumn equinox celebrations this September, I interviewed Foghíles founders Po.Ps. Rurbana to find out more…
What are the reflections and experiences behind Foghíles?
Foghíles is a process, which is still in constant development and is directly linked with the context where it’s been taking shape. In Semèstene, where some of us have roots and ancestors, we’ve found a suitable space and time to focus the reflections that we’ve been carrying on since our studies in architecture, design and territorial sciences. During our academic years we often felt the need to rediscover and experiment with local techniques and practices. So, we self-organised a series of meetings about traditional know-hows and took part in many international workshops and festivals on self-construction. Our final dissertations were for us opportunities to rethink of new approaches to investigate the Mejlogu (the historical region where Semèstene is located) from many points of views – historical, environmental and social, and with the aim to identify its issues and potentials. We put all our ideas together and stated to reflect on things while spending more time in these places, to then finally take action.
What is the meaning of collectivity and how does it manifest in Foghíles? What is its relationship with this context and the wider rural Sardinian one?
Collectivity is about sharing short or long-term experiences, while recognising yourself in a place, an event, a meal, or a way to deal with different situations. The collectivity is made of people, whose number is not that important, there is not a minimum. It can be just a few people you can rely on, with whom to do something together and share a glass of wine to celebrate the end of a day of work.
During Foghíles the collectivity is made of a mix of locals and people who are here temporarily. In some cases, we can only host a maximum number of guests, due to space and logistical restrictions, but also in order to keep the meeting more intimate and enjoyable. Both parts, guests and residents, make the Foghíles community and both of them celebrate everything that happens here together, confirming how the intergenerational exchange between them is a cornerstone of the project. Semèstrene has a population of just over 100 people, but not everyone takes an active part in the events. A labour of engagement and recognition needs consistent work and presence in the area, as well as a full respect for the local pace and will. This is why it’s important that our meetings take place not only in September but also throughout the other seasons.
The temporality, the rhythm and the season are essential topics when talking about collectivity, hospitality and rural life in Sardinia. The collective spaces change from one season to another and adapts to the weather. It might be obvious, but the rural context is pretty sensitive to seasonal differences; it follows the hours of light in autumn, looks forward to the rain and then to the blossoming of spring essences, or adjusts to the available shadow under the summer sunshine.
Each time has its own places as well as each season has its own practices, and that needs to be celebrated collectively in order to not forget the memories and pass on new reflections.
What happened during the days in September? What have you observed during these first two editions of the autumn equinox celebrations?
The days in September are the celebration for the end/start of the year. We take them as our New Years, and we celebrate that accordingly. Su Cabidanni in Sardo (‘capodanno’ in Italian) means September, and it’s the end of the agricultural year and it coincides with the renewal of the land agreements and the new ploughing. We are not professional farmers, but we feel the need – and the duty in these places – to reaffirm the biological clock, that of the land.
From one September to the other the activities were different, but both followed the same format consisting of welcoming participants to experiment with local materials – recycled wood from local carpenters and local stone, to take part in culinary and domestic activities and life tales’ narrations. Each meal of the day, from the breakfast to the dinner, showed us how convivial moments have the power to make the collectivity. Music accompanied the evenings, alongside a glass of wine and chats in various languages, signs and shapes.
In the first edition, in September 2018, for 10 days we took a pretty flexible approach, adapting to the weather conditions and going with the general flow.
While we were re-considering some of the aspects of this first experiment and those of other follow-up meetings, we thought of the second edition, for which we decided to give a new meaning to some of the activities but also to be open to new ones. Some people from the local community came back with enthusiasm and some others decided to get involved for the first time, putting aside their personal frictions. Although some locals weren’t as willing to participate, maybe because they were either shy or just not that interested, the older members of the community recognised the importance of our September meeting. That meant a lot to us, it was like the approval of the Council of the Wise!
And what happened afterwards?
The first meeting in September helped to make a key goal clearer: carry on living in the village throughout all seasons. We realised that a project like this cannot be just like an end of summer kind of event. By holding the responsibility and willingness to continue it, we’ve been trying to shape our lives to these places, while at the same time still working on other projects away. We decided to settle here in Semèstene as much as possible, living the everyday home life and also keeping the house open for meetings and collaborations both within Sardinia and beyond.
Can you expand on the idea of re-appropriation vs museification of know-hows? Maybe I’m wrong, but I have the impression that these have to do on one side with some specifics dynamics within Sardinia, but on the other are also applicable to other contexts (such as for example other islands and rural places), where somehow there is a risk to be performing your own identity…
To go beyond the museification of places and know-hows has been our motto since the beginning, and it’s at the core of our manifesto. It’s about addressing needs through what is around us, by discovering and experimenting a current use of those practices linked with the territory, the home living, rituals and circumstances. There is no need to build displays or look at things through the museum’s lens, and it’s neither about making up a story nor an archaic narrative. We believe that Foghíles can be a tool to talk about things on the basis of everyday experiences, which is directly linked with that essential relationship between the local community and the temporary one. That goes way beyond any touristic narrative.
The relationship with Mejlogu and Semèstene is a key aspect of Foghíles. Do you think that the project could develop into a model adaptable to other places, villages in Sardinia, or other rural contexts?
Each context is special. As we know Sardinia is an island-continent with many different environments, biddas, cultures, festivities, traditions and languages. Each place can be re-read based on what is there. The contemporary world offers us a lot of possibilities, including misunderstandings and combinations that sit alongside the signs of ancestors’ identity. So, the process and the end results will depend on what you can find and your ability to interact with and then re-interpret what is around.
To conquer this ‘model’, or approach, and translate it into a business idea to do with tourism, social impact, cultural project, etc…, all concepts that come from business, could be good. However, we believe that this idea is not enough. It has to be led by an ethics that is rooted within the context and it’s only possible when is based on time and experience. Yet Foghíles still needs to spend more energies to keep the relationship with the context going, to root it and develop it with time.
As for the celebration of seasons, we didn’t reinvent the wheel. Solstices and equinoxes have always been celebrated by humans because of their relationships with the lifecycles of stars. Each community and cult have just reinterpreted them. It’s up to the people to see the current needs and recognise themselves in these celebrations and local experimental practices, in order to re-discover the central role of the territory.
Moving on to talk about the way you’re organised. How are you structured and how does the project function from an operational point of view (including its financial side)?
The coming of the new season is what guides our meetings, our choices of location and the logistics for the next activity. We are a group with a mix of interests, and we all share the same attitude which guests, volunteers and visitors are welcomed to join in and always leave a mark. Until now, each meeting has been completely self-funded and made possible thanks to many contributors. If someone believes in the project, they spend their time and experience for it; they live with us, even for short periods of time, and share in the different practices at home and in the fields.
The participation fees for the meetings, the donations and the money from the community dinners, they all go into our shared pot, which we open to fund the celebration days in September. It’s a small budget, but it allows us to make the most of what we have available. At times we also need to borrow money and rely on the support of friends, especially to gather materials or some specific tools.
What is your vision for the future of Foghíles? Are you thinking of other formats for it, such as for example a paper or a digital one?
We’re going to work on alternative economic livelihoods that can support the meanings which the project is based upon. We’re looking to continue improving our presence here as well as opening up to new opportunities of dialogue with a broader context and in relation to themes such as territorial responsibility and other more radical social matters. Local and everyday actions are important, and so is a narrative. For this reason, we would like to publish a series of small books where to delve into some reflections through texts and images. They’ll be published on a seasonal basis and will talk about Foghíles’ transitions, how things and needs have evolved throughout the years. For the nearer future, we’re planning to make a film, a perfect narrative tool, which we’ve felt the need of in order to express our sensations. Everything will come at the right time and will be an integral part of that experimental process across many fields, which is something that we like a lot.