You are invited to take a trip through different artistic works linked to food and its environments. In these projects, eating and cooking are a shared and communal thing: they talk about ritual and tradition. Food is linked to objects and utensils, products and ingredients, menus and customs, conversations and emotions, timing and gatherings, and of course the people at the table.
Previously in the blog we have addressed how modern architecture defined the space of the kitchen. The result was an efficient and technological kitchen, with modular cupboards and electrical appliances. In another article, we also deal with the introduction of more contemporary trends in the kitchens of the nineteen-seventies and eighties. These new fashions conceived cooking as a pleasant and communal activity. This was reflected in the enhancement of the space, which has become more and more of the core of the contemporary home.
But it was not only architecture to understand the relational potential of the acts of cooking and eating. So did art. In this article we present some proposals about cooking and eating made by artists. What do art see in the kitchen and what can architecture learn from it?
TOPOGRAPHIE ANÉCDOTÉE* DU HASARD, Daniel Spoerri, 1961.
This project is one of the best known works by the French Fluxus artist Daniel Spoerri. Captivating because of the beauty of Spoerri’s drawing, it stressed the processual and communicative condition of the architecture of the table and the design of plates and utensils.
In October 1961 Spoerri mapped a series of everyday objects on the table in his room at the Hotel Carcassone in Paris, where he lived at the time.
“In my room, number 13 on the fourth floor of the Hotel Carcassonne at 24 Rue Mouffetard… there’s a table that Vera painted blue one day, to surprise me. I wanted to know what could suggest or spontaneously awaken in me the objects that were on it when I described them; like Sherlock Holmes, who could solve crimes from a single object; or like historians … reconstruct an entire era from history’s most famous fixation, Pompeii. (…) this foldout contains an exact trace of a topography based on chance and disorder that I found on October 17, 1961 at 3:47 pm [on the table]. Each traced object is numbered, and the game I propose is to choose an outline of the map, and look in the leaflet for the text to which it refers, located under that same number”.
Spoerri drew the silhouette of the 80 objects on the table. He assigned a number to each object, and proceeded to describe them one by one, with a small text of a more objective nature and a narrative of the associations that each object evoked for him. What had happened to him in that room that morning was diffuse, different people had come in and out, had eaten on the table, had left remains. Spoerri was interested in letting himself be carried away by the twists and turns of memory. Since each object had a past for the writer (a bottle of milk was bought in a certain place, before the meal took place), it belonged to a family (that of the milk bottles), therefore it had more than one past (that of all the milk bottles that the author bought throughout his life); the bottle had its own memory and another typological one associated with a constancy or daily habit.
Two years earlier, Spoerri had begun to produce his snare-pictures, a type of assemblage in which he captured a group of objects, such as the remains of individuals’ meals, including plates, cutlery and glasses, all of which he fixed on a table or a table, which was then displayed on a wall. Topographie anecdotée du hasard (Anecdotal Topography of Chance) was a literary transcription of these works, which accompanied a solo exhibition presented in Paris in 1962. The result of Spoerri’s effort was a small archaeological and personal compendium of the objects present at a meeting around a breakfast table. The work reveals what lies beyond what is quantifiable. It reveals the memory that permeates things, the memory that traps us to the objects of our lives.
UNTITLED 1992 (FREE), Rikrit Tiravanija, 1992.
Argentinean-born Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija was recognized in the art world around the 1990s, when he began cooking in New York exhibition venues. Tiravanija was interested in creating conditions or situations that would allow relationships to develop between visitors.
The first time Tiravanija proposed the act of cooking and eating as an art object was in 1989 at the Untitled 1989 exhibition (…) at the Scott Hanson Gallery in New York. On this first occasion it was still a sensory and non-performative act: several pedestals at the entrance to the gallery showed different stages of the curry cooking process: the raw ingredients, on one of the pedestals, the curry cooking on another pedestal, and a third one that had the waste from the cooking process. Later in 1992 he intervened in the 303 Gallery in New York with Untitled 1992 (Free). The gallery was emptied of elements and all the spaces were made accessible. There he cooked in two pots, one red curry, the other green curry, which were served to the visitors together with the rice at lunchtime, for the whole duration of the exhibition.
“The gallery space became a meeting and resting place for many regular visitors to SoHo. [The name of the exhibition](Free) in this particular situation could mean the absence of context/content. From exhibiting to non-exhibiting a place/non-place. (Free) could also be understood as open – or simply as free”.
In a similar line, for the exhibition at Exit Art gallery in New York in 1993, whose theme was Fever, Tiravanija proposed the piece Untitled 1993 (The Cure), a healing space where visitors could rest and drink tea, a medicinal drink. The space was set up as a Buddhist shop, establishing therapeutic associations as well as cultural implications.
“In response to the context of Fever, I built a tea tent using a material with the color of the Buddhist monks’ habits: gold and orange. The dimensions of the tent were made to the specifications of the Japanese tea room. (…) Tea, being a drink with medicinal qualities (and for me with cultural significance) would become an antidote to ‘Fever’ and a space for rest, contemplation, etc.”
In both works of the Thai artist, materials and objects were reduced to a minimum. However, pots and pans, teapots, curry ingredientes, tea and water, remained important since they carried cultural codes.
The Thai artist’s work also had to do with cultural transfer and nomadism: “It happened that at one point, in a museum that had an Asian department, I came across many Thai antiques, Buddhas and ceramics. I was looking at these things and felt that something was missing. For example: Buddha is not an aesthetic object, he is an active being, I was very eager to take him out of the showcase and reuse him… (…) I wanted to recover the sense of culture, but not as a definition. I wanted to build my identity but through action. The idea of eating becomes the idea of exchange, of giving”.
AN ARCHITECTURE OF COOKING BASED ON ACTION AND MEMORY
Tiravanija approached his works as open spaces, outdoors “more like a kind of park or garden”, in the open air, “similar to a campsite”. People had a certain freedom. The senses were activated beyond sight: smell, taste, touch and hearing. They were multi-sensory experiences that were capable of capturing all the symbolic and relational charge of an act as significant as cooking and eating together. Daniel Spoerri sought to fix the remains of a shared space, the traces of an encounter. The chaotic and decomposed state of the table made evident time and organics as fundamental subjects of life.
Both works of art approach these collective activities by valuing indeterminate qualities such as tradition, ritual, everyday life, private and collective memory. These are aspects that affect all of us and that mark us individually and jointly. Any activity in life, but undoubtedly the act of eating, and eating and cooking together, goes beyond what is functional or necessary, from what is formally harmonious or technologically efficient, to what is emotional, common, what unites us.
Cover image: fragment of Snare-picture by Daniel Spoerri, taken by Fabio Omero.