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Mossutställningar, a flexible platform that produces all sorts of artistic projects, presents a performance in Stockholm, bringing together food, cooking and art. Two artists and some chefs working around the idea of catastrophe.
One performance, one Friday evening. The very same Friday that an urban festival begins. Today, Saint Etienne, The Go! Team and Arcade Fire, amongst others, are playing. The performance is titled Cooking Catastrophes. To choose to go to the performance means that any comparisons will be harsh, it will have to be extremely good to be on a par. It means that there is a will to believe that one can see high voltage things in the art world. It’s not always so.
The run up is good. Not much information about what is going to happen, you have to sign up by email, as there are a limited number of spaces for the public. The place where the performance will take place is sufficiently weird that it generates an interesting situation: it is some form of slightly run-down restaurant/party venue in a problematic micro-district on top of a hill. Evidently far from any artistic space. A micro-district means 6 blocks, a pizzeria full of alcoholics, an old lift that connects with the nearest metro, a place of assistance for immigrants and a wood. A point in its favour. There is always something surrealist about taking people from the art world out of their usual haunts interesting questions arise, almost like therapy. Although not of the group kind though sometimes it would be opportune.
In the newspaper there was a brief note about the performance. Not much to understand. It mentioned that luxury chefs would be working with the idea of catastrophe in a performance. That it appears in the newspaper means that there is a good press release behind it. It also means that in this country the cultural supplements of the newspapers are twenty pages long and are published every day.
On arriving at the place the bad vibes begin. No doubt this is intended. Rows of plastic chairs and a few small photographs of natural disasters hanging on the wall. Sinking tankers, and of course, the twin towers. It doesn’t start promptly but the public is very expectant. And orderly. Now it starts. The artists, Eva Meyer-Keller and Sybille Müller present it. They talk of a general rehearsal and at the same time, oh no, it’s the premiere! They also say that one of the chefs is ill and they are going to take his place. In front of the chairs, close by, there are a few tables laid out with half prepared dishes. All fairly low-tech, here a few mountains made of chocolate but with newspaper underneath, here a black coloured surface and here a crystal glass.
It actually begins, and there is a suggestion that there was something in what went before and now we will find out. I’ve come having eaten and this helps. I suspect that a high percentage of the public haven’t had any supper, having made the direct calculation luxury chefs + performance + select public + opening = free food. Not good. If you haven’t eaten, and they come at you with little games with food it is not very amusing, on the contrary, it just constantly reminds you that you haven’t had any supper. As the performance proceeds, it dawns on more and more people that they aren’t going to eat much, if anything at all.
The performance itself. Different dishes are “offered” to the public. They are “cooked” there in situ. A gelatinous layer is converted into a road with trees and the like, which, immediately afterwards, wobbles as the chefs move the table. A few blocks of bread, voila, the twin towers and some little airplanes also made of bread, speeding towards them and then, a barrage of shots. Little fruits fall onto a surface of squid ink and everything becomes totally black. At the mountain of chocolate, they first throw chocolate ice cream and then lukewarm water, as if acid rain and the landscape crumbles. Facile, very facile! One asks where is the haute cuisine, the conceptual processing of the materials. One questions the need for representation and illustration. One imagines boys and girls in a cooking class doing silly things, looking to cause a giggle or something similar. Ok, so Ferran Adriá has been in Documenta. Not to mention the relation of food and the act of eating, with for example Jana Sterbak, Allan Kaprow, Miralda, Judy Chicago, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Martha Rosler, Paul McCarthy and other names that pass through your head while the “chefs” move from station to station.
At the same time, a voice tells stories. About what a bad state the climate is in and mass consumerism. A neutral voice. It is hard to work out if there is a desire to moralise, a hint of irony, if we have discovered the wheel or if this really is the subject. It’s good to play, it is not necessary to justify it saying how bad things are, we’d already realised. At the same time, one of the artists is also moving around with a video camera. What is filmed is projected onto a screen. Every now and again, she says, “stop!” and the image freezes. Now here’s something interesting, in the midst of a performance, the gaze focuses on something and stays there for a while. The chefs carry on working but the public’s attention at that moment will be converted into an image. The cup will fill with water and, slowly, a black and viscose substance will fall into it. The images projected become something abstract, something physical. We see the trick, it is in front of us, but at that moment it doesn’t matter.
Afterwards, the public, who are given knives and forks, launch into tasting the food. Hunger. We discuss the place, that isn’t suitable for the presentation of this performance, but at the same time is almost the best bit. We talk about the fact of placing so many people from the art world in a place that isn’t “theirs” and how well we all behave, how nobody complains. And hey in the middle of the performance there has been an authentic catastrophe: a bowl of soup has accidentally fallen spilling on to some of the audience. It was a good moment. Afterwards we meet up with the others who were at the festival. Saint Etienne at four o’clock in the afternoon doesn’t work. Arcade Fire seems to have gone down well. We end up talking about the state of the council of Reykjavík and if the Best Party are going to put themselves up for the general elections or not, they haven’t decided yet. Reality, today, where unforeseen and interesting things happen.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)