• TuscanChinese is a long-term project regarding agricultural, culinary and convivial practices of Chinese migrants living in the outskirt between Florence and Prato. The aim is to rethink, through the lens of migration, the Italian identity in a generative way.

  • TuscanChinese is based on disseminated and low-intensity interventions within the frame of the local community, interweaving different methodologies and mediums: lecture performances, food-based actions in public space involving Italian and Chinese communities (please see portfolio), seminars, written ethnographies (merged in the publication “TuscanChinese, food in transition”) and audio-visual narratives.

  • Since the economical crisis harshly hit the Chinese textile sector in Tuscany, many workers switched to self-subsistence agricultural activities. The majority of Chinese migrants come from the rural areas of the Zhejiang province: their agricultural skills are now re-activated and their traditional seeds transplanted in the heart of Tuscany. The Chinese farming, although perceived as a threat to the local identity by the Italian natives, is in fact revitalizing the Tuscan agriculture, impoverished, also in terms of bio-diversity, by decades of abandonment of the rural activities – except for those related with luxury products such as wine and olive oil. The growing Chinese farming is cracking the vitrified iconography of a region branded as a luxury product by the touristic industry and is reactivating the pre- industrial Tuscan anthropological landscape, once based on self-subsistent agriculture.

  • The aim of my project is to re-shape the local imagery and to question naturalized dichotomies such as local/global, autochthonous/allochthonous, native/foreign: Chinese farmers, however floating in the permanent crisis of the Diaspora, are paradoxically the keepers of the land, the unaware makers of future traditions and the pioneers of unexpected hybrid TuscanChinese identities.  

  • Since 2011 I engaged in a daily interaction with a family of Chinese farmers in Tuscany, exchanging knowledge with them regarding food and agriculture and translating the names of their vegetables, to finally access a full conviviality. The video TuscanChinese, documenting this interaction, was shared with the Italian community during a lecture performance in the Pecci Museum, in Prato: together with Chinese agricultures I lectured the audience about Chinese vegetables. 

 FIELDWORK NOTES 2011-2012 (from the publication “TuscanChinese, food in transition”)

 THE EURO-ASIAN BRASSICA RAPA (project in progress)

 THE DIASPORA COURGETTE 2013 (lecture performance)

In their journeys through centuries vegetables changed their features and qualities, adapting to different environments and food needs. One example is

the vegetable named by Linnaeus Brassica Rapa, domesticated in India in XV Century BC, that later spread in Europe in the form of a tuber (Turnip) and in China in the form of edible-leaves vegetables, named Barassica Rapa Chinensis (Bak Choy in Cantonese), which is now cultivated by Chinese farmers in Tuscany. A crucial element is the “colonisation” of the “real” by the procedure of mapping and naming. Still now, to designate these ancient vegetables, we universally use the Latin terms imposed in XVIII Century by the Sweedish scientist Linnaeus. In my research I’m questioning the neutrality and legitimacy of this unilateral universalism. 

Fieldwork notes, April 2012:

 “Images and Translations of vegetable names bought from a Chinese greengrocer here in Seano - These and many other vegetables can be bought from small greengrocers and minimarkets scattered between Prato and Florence, fragments of Wenzhou in the heart of Tuscany. Here the list:

1. 香菇  xiāng gu cài

2. 柚子 yòuzi, pomelo (called “wan ta” in wenzhounese)

3. 茄子 qiézi, elongated aubergines

4.  jiāng, ginger

5. 大蒜 dà suàn, garlic stalks
 yuán ròu, longan
菱角 líng jiăo, water caltrops 

Leone Contini

TuscanChinese, 2011-2014 

A performance-lecture linking the TuscanChinese agricultural practices and my Sicilian background. A long squash, named Cucuzza in Sicilian dialect, was the comfort food of my family, who migrated in Tuscany. But Cucuzza unfortunately disappeared from our table when our supplier, a Sicilian farmer migrated in Firenze, passed away. For many years our family tradition was interrupted, until the same squash was finally back in our daily life: but now it was named 蒲瓜 (Pú gu) and it was cultivated by Chinese migrants. The Chinese migration, usually perceived as a threat for “our” identity, was on the contrary able to re-activate a dormant family/regional ritual. The “Self” was re-activated by the “Other”, but now is a “new Self”, hybrid and inclusive. Here an article about a recent performance-lecture regarding cucuzza/pugua in Città dell'Arte, Biella: http://margavp.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/leone-contini-and-the-cucuzza/

Fieldwork notes, January 2011:

Xiao bai cài, bok choy or qing cài?[...] I interview a Chinese farmer; he shows me his vegetable garden. I notice a vegetable, which doesn’t have a name in Italian (he tells me that it doesn’t exist in Italy). I insist on knowing its Chinese name. Back home I listen to the audio-recording, and on the Internet I look up the transcription of that fleeting sound - something like shao bai tzai. The search engine suggests xiao bai cai - Google seems to have corrected my mistake in transcribing phonetically - I eventually end up in a discussion forum: “What is xiao bai cai? bai cai is the Mandarin spelling/pronunciation of bok choi, which is Cantonese. Xiao means little. Thus it can be translated as “little bok choi”, which could mean the smaller version of bok choi, a leafy vegetable with bright white stalks and dark spinach-green leaves [...] Another farmer call it qing cài”.


Fieldwork notes, March 2011:

"Ideogram, phonetic transcription and stylised drawing: Xue Kong’s list of the ingredients needed to make Huo guo is, to me, a rudimentary illustrated dictionary, essential to link signifiers and meanings, and to make sense of the mishmash of Mandarin Chinese, Wenzhounese dialect and biodiversity.

Huo guo, literally “fire pot”, is translatable into English as “hot pot”. It is a very popular, but not typically Wenzhounese cooking technique. It is characterised by a strong convivial aspect: a broth which boils in a pot in the middle of the table; everyone cooks his own meal in the “fire pot” choosing raw ingredients from serving dishes, immersing them in the boiling broth and then fishing them out with a perforated spoon. It makes for slow eating and a long social occasion".

"The Rosetta Stone and xian gu cài [...] 小白菜, the little cabbage is therefore different from the Chinese cabbage 白菜. [...] I can’t translate a lot of vegetable names - the use of dialects complicates things making it difficult to find them on the web. I consult my Rosetta Stone. The second vegetable drawn by Xue Kong is clearly the one I saw in the vegetable garden - and which is everywhere on the market stalls - but its translation is not xiao bai cài (as suggested by Google), but xian gu cài, whose corresponding character is 香菇 - the same for “mushroom” - followed by , “vegetable”. After a discussion with Chinese (but not Wenzhounese) friends, we reached the conclusion that 香菇菜could be translated as mushroom-vegetable; this combination (mushroom + vegetable), rather frequent in Wenzhounese cooking, could have given the vegetable its name". 


Feed your Head, Prato 2011 

Chronicle of a Tuscan-Chinese cooking class.

Despite the fact that the city of Prato is hosting the largest Chinese community in Italy, the concept of multiculturalism is not part of people imagery, nor vocabulary. Italian and Chinese people shared the same public space in the last 20 years, while having completely parallel existences and ignoring each other.
The project was the occasion for a culinary “clash” between the two communities, the surreal component consisting in the fact that the cooking action was hosted in one of the most ancient wineries in the region, regarded in the local imagery as the “temple” of the domestic Italian quality and pure identity.

This sort of “cooking class” surprisingly worked very well.
At some point the Chinese dumpling melted together with the Italian ravioli. In the second picture the gradual shift from the traditional jiaozi to the Tuscn-Chinese hybrid. The Tuscan-Chinese dumpling was later posted on Wikipedia. Now is part of a culinary common heritage. 

Uncontrolled Denominations, London 2014 

"Guest artist Leone Contini makes art that plumbs theironies and predicaments of Prato, Tuscany — one of the most stereotyped environs in contemporary Europe— where one-fifth of the population are factory workers from Zhejiang, China. These Chinese migrants have transformed local agriculture amid precarious conditions, de-controlling — and revitalizing — the idea of Tuscany. Contini will present recent work on displacement, transcultural horticulture, and imagining communities, as well as emblematic foodstuffs: Carmignano Jiaozian Italian ravioli with Chinese fillings"

Delfina Foundation, London, January 2014
Michael C. Vazquez.