Renée O’Drobinak

Get to know SqW:Lab 2024 fellow – today we speak to Renée O’Drobinak

Where can you be found?

Usually amidst the South London hills, or charging about in Farringdon, central London.

Tell us about a creative action you have taken this week.

I made a convincing argument about curating my employer’s new shopfront through the lens of relational aesthetics; it encouraged our leadership to think about how the brand ‘performs’ the business’ values.

What does ‘home’ mean to you? 

It’s in Japan. I can probably hear a barrage of tripe gurgling out of Japanese daytime TV, and I can smell mom’s miso soup. Or alternatively, it’s the cold wooden hallway of my grandparents’ house. That annoying clock that bongs every hour is doing its thing again.

What was the last thing you cooked?

A vegetable tray bake with mozzarella and cheddar. It was desperately mediocre – it needed more cheese.

Tell us about 2 of your most subtle influences.

I have an American grandmother who I sadly lost recently. We couldn’t be more different – she, a Southern belle, a mother of five and a pro-life activist who was loved by all. Me, a decidedly child-free, pro-choice mongrel from the Far East and essentially a Marmite jar of a human being. But there’s a particular ‘mom voice’ that I do when I’m essentially scolding someone and trying to sound friendly at the same time. I sound like a facsimile of my grandmother. That’s one.

The second one is the humble zakka-ya. It’s a Japanese term for a particularly Asian breed of lifestyle shops, but it’s more akin to a knick-knack shop than a Conran shop. Think cheap Japandi design and pragmatic household items. I feel like its aesthetic influence – and a sense that nice things should be accessible – never escaped me.

Please share your thoughts / a few words about your expectations of the project.

I’ve had three lives as an inadvertent publicist. Firstly as an engagement-led contemporary performance artist. Secondly as a comms lead for a number of architecture practices. And thirdly, as a hyper-niche social media act as a sort-of batch-cook guru. You can say I’ve spent a considerable chunk of my life talking.

It’s going to be inevitable that my contribution to the fellowship will involve some form of publicity: either in the more commercial sense of the term, or its many subversive cousins. Likely a bit of both.

So I spend a lot of time thinking about people and their environment. It’s to be expected when, arguably, my only respite from architecture and the people working in it is my commute and the toilet (I work for architects and I married an architect). My biggest gripe in my architecture comms career is the accepted culture of how buildings and places are talked about. Much like contemporary art, it’s largely incomprehensible to the uninitiated, reeks of arrogance and has a dogged reluctance to open up its otherwise rich discourse to a wider range of people. Not sure what I mean? Google ‘arty bollocks generator’.

I sense this is starting to change, much like how our ideas about ‘who is a given place for, and who is invited’ are changing. Just think of the Edward Colston statue’s new Bristolian home.

Strangely, in the middle of all of this is food. My husband is passionate about food, and he led me into a rabbit hole of expanding my cooking repertoire into global cuisines that I previously never dared to try. A language of our married life, if you will. It’s also a bridge. Food is one of the few vehicles in which I can connect with disparate family members from abroad who I would otherwise struggle to relate with. It’s a language of its own. Cooking used to be a time-sucking chore for me. Now it’s a part of my vocabulary.

Consider, then, where we’ll be – Mumbai. From a cursory look, a vibrant city with discernible colonial influences within its buildings. A cuisine which I’m sure I’ve had many a bastardised incarnation of, considering where I live. A place where I speak the language, but also don’t. All within a country I’ve never had a chance to visit. My father has been on business a few times. He had some interesting stories to tell.

I’m sure there will be a lot of conversation – through all of these mediums.


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