es cena // scene in non-events

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Cooking leftovers, eating, and having conversation are amongst practices of everyday life that have been relegated as non-events. They lie in the moments that pass ‘in-between’ the sharper episodes that highlight human existence. Gap-fillers. Unless cooking and eating is within the context of a dinner feast, or a dining out experience; or if conversation is in the form of a well-organized ‘talk’, the practice of cooking what’s left has become as insignificant as making a conversation to ‘kill time’. Yet the light bulb that sparked this project occured while I was slicing an onion. Too much of it, said one of my Italian flatmates. I was attempting to make a pomodoro sauce, and according to my flatmate’s horrified eyes, she said it was too much onion. What happened there was cultural memory and identity clashing with the ephemeral, cotidian and precarious.

There can be knowledge in the in-between that many people are taking for granted. According to Michel de Certeau, “‘we know poorly of the types of operations at stake in ordinary practices, their registers and their combinations, because our instruments of analysis, modelling and formalisation were constructed for other objects and with other aims.” (de Certeau et al 1998: 256)

This is a sociological study that aims to identify multiple realities of “crisis” in Madrid through the lens of uncanny encounters of the everyday as it is experienced by the inhabitants of the city. Departing from Joseph Kosuth’s concept, I implicate myself as an “artist as anthropologist”, hoping to create situations where the ‘consumer’ can become the firsthand ‘experts’ and and domestic mode sof consumption as the primary site of investigation. With a little added ‘spice, I become involved as a facilitator of situations, by contaminating the private lives of what is traditionally regarded as the ‘tax paying public’, and in the process, put the issue of crisis in their own hands, and in their own mouths. As a means of approaching this practice-led investigation, I ask to be invited into the household of different families in Madrid. Armed with my traveling spice kit, I interact with the family and their food ‘leftovers’, and prepare an Asian-derived dish out of the found food ingredients from the families’ fridge and pantries. It is an invitation for me to enter people’s domestic and private life, to explore the possibilities of creating something new out of what is stored in the fridge, and make a re-mix of the ‘local ingredients’, my spices and my own personal cultural memory as a learned cook. That in the midst of improvisation where the process has no certain outcome, an accident could happen, and innovation might emerge from an unlikely encounter. The idea is to create a ‘happy’ crisis situation, an induced game of emergency, where food, bodies and memories become pieces of a collaborative experience. After all, many recipes that have been assigned as world and national heritages, such as risotto, paella and patatas bravas began as improvised concoctions of leftovers in times of crises, lack or states of emergencies.

Arriving in Spain, I felt the strong influence that the polemic of crisis had on people. It was, and still is, both felt and imagined in their realities, and is fast etching itself as a time-marked cultural memory. Therefore, as an investigative response from the perspective of an optimist, I will turn to ‘what is left’ and ‘what is there’ in order to create something in a ‘micro-crisis’ that we will produce at home. The macrohistory of national crisis shall be confronted within micro-narratives of dinner conversations. New encounters, old and found objects, a re-mix of Spanish table manners and eating habits and Asian cooking sensibilities. I am the displaced cook, and I create in the houses a reterritorialized ‘dining out’ experience. My short presence in the house would disrupt the ordinary rhythm of domestic life, and through this disruption, there is a chance for a creative tension to emerge. What would the dinner conversation be like? How could we concoct ideas and actions to fight the crisis, both real and imagined?

From these small situations of crises, it is not only to generate micro-narratives of crisis as a cultural memory, but on a more profound level, I would like to see in how far domestic lives and everyday social practices reveal patterns of consumption that could deterritorialize the crisis problem not just as a macro-economic concern in global capitalist terms but as something that could also be located in everyday lives. The dishes that will be prepared as well as the conversations that would be generated will be recorded and documented to create an ‘anti-crisis’ recipe book and will be the basis of a happening / performance.

Pepe’s traveling spice kit:

The spices are a collection of some of the Asian spices that I have learned to use, as I self-studied to cook when I started living in Europe. It points to a cultural memory of colonization, when this western enterprise began to head ‘east’, in search of spices.

suka (sugar cane vinegar)
salsang mani (peanut sauce)
patis (fish sauce)
toyo (soy sauce)
masala (curry spice)
gata (coconut milk)
sili (chili)
luyang dilaw (turmeric)
paminta (black pepper)
ketsap tamis (banana ketchup)
luya (ginger)

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