THE EXISTENCE AS AN ART PROJECT: THE DOMESTIC TIME
Mar García Ranedo.
The broad lines of this paper is to analyse those artistic practices, through
actions and performances, which are no longer a mere reproduction or symbolic
interpretation of our existential reality if not to propose a discourse on the
conflict between genre, domestic spaces, habits and their representation. It
consists of four parts: 1) “Introduction” in which we expound the importance to
understand the approach to art as an encounter with multiple readings and
interpretations. 2) The eating action and its relation with the time and the forms
of sociability. 3) The kitchen as a space that invites to shift the social unit to the
vital collective, especially in the area of gender, and the natural nourishment is
transformed in social food. 4) The process to lay down the table is a set of
ordering that relocates diners in the manner of a forum on which grounds and
causes are based on in a ritual and episodic way.
Key-words: kitchen, food, table, genre, sociability, performance.
Since the first decades of the twentieth century and under the legacy of the
avant-garde, artists have always sought to get a confluence space for the
relationship between art and life. The loss of the aura and, therefore, the
dismantling of the aesthetic value of the artwork was a significant change in the
role of art and affected the status of the artist who became a producer.
Moreover, the emerging visual culture shifted the focus on the development of
mediation, the new mass media changed the reception modes and the
condition of the viewer. Artists analysed practices based on the idea of bringing
the perception to the social process into art, and spectatorship and audiences
began to have an active participation. All these events caused an alteration
providing evolutionary advancement of new art forms. The image, as a visual
document of memory, became the credible witness of the fragmentary nature of
Nowadays the global course of the events is, naturally, non-linear and diffluent.
Events and their consequences have not always the same impact or can not be
described in the same way in all contexts, therefore, there are many linkages as
variables, and all the possible conjugations will define different pasts, which
themselves will vary as our present is modified. This is what Walter Benjamin
denominates Jeizizeit: The time right now (Benjamin, 1940), to refer to the
potential of meanings and interpretations of the works in their encounter with
the present time. In the art system, these meaning transformations are specially
evident in the discursive field where it reflects on the genre concept.
Throughout history women had to creatively resort to paradox, controversy and
ambiguity to represent and display an idea of the feminine far from that one!way
direction the history has traditionally associated her. The reason why there is
not a correlation between the reality that happened and how it has been
reported are mainly two. On one side, this is due to the fact that the economical
and social structures that govern our system are mainly patriarchal. On the
other side, the history of art and the history of the museum had been made up
as a succession of events, which although were disparate and unlike to the real
ones, they shaped the history in one whole, in one consistent whole itself that
dissents from the fragmentary nature of the social reality. On top of this, from
the most recent decades the museum has been built up as a place linked to the
touristic and entertainment businesses. Taking into account this consideration,
any critical approximation that analyses or questions the social system where
the representation of the feminine genre or any issue related to the women role
disagree from the established codes are for sure excluded of cogitation.
Consequently, it is first necessary to understand the approach to the art works
as an approximation or an encounter with multiple readings and interpretations
(Pollock, 2006). Also, it is essential to explore them as a build up construction
system or as aesthetic and cultural artefacts able to associate ideas, suggest
debates, interact with, stimulate and create consciousness. The discourse is set
form this point of view since paradoxical and problematic situations are hidden
behind regular, common day to day human relations in the domestic scope and
the genre: the eating action, the kitchen and the table.
1. The eating action.
It could be established metaphorical relations based on the time concept
between the food digestion process and the social slowness to ”digest” any
issue related to genre. The fact remains that food offers a wide setting for the
analysis of codes of conduct and paradigms of behaviour that are established
between people. It could be even said that we eat quicker or slower depending
on the social context we are and on the people we share this moment with.
Despite we are aware of the consequences of swallowing quicker or slower in
the digestive process, and how it affects the sensations our bodies experiment,
the fact of nourishment is not just an exclusively biological process but a fact for
deeply social interaction.
The video titled Slow Food shows (Cesare Pietroiusti
, 2005) how long it takes
different people to eat the same dish revealing how much of individual and how
much of social interaction confluence paradoxically in the same act. The time
concept also has an indirect influence in the type of food digested forcing to
distinguish between “slow food” and “eat slowly“. From babyhood we are taught
the importance of regular meals and appropriate elapse time between them
becoming a family rule at home. But not only the meal schedules must be
established and respected, also the meeting time and place and how long it
takes. So that, the biological and physiological clock that marks our healthy diet
operates under social skills. The act of eating in groups and out of the
household scope could be understood as an instrument of social cohesion. The
rhythm of the current lifestyle and the lack of time drive us to eat rapidly and
dispense the unexcused meeting of having lunch together. In fact, it is
becoming usual in some restaurants and bars to offer the possibility to eat in
shared tables without the need to interact with others diners.
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This accelerated rhythm of contemporary lifestyle could be the starting point for
Cesare Pietroiusti’s performances called Extreme Slowness Workshops in
which strangers are submitted to share a table without having to respect any
preconceived rule, just to feed themselves no worrying at all about time. In that
way, the slow motion of the diners leads them from eating to tasting and even to
enjoying every single bite. Curiously, in between them it is generated a space
for interaction in which everyone acquires a determinate role or behaviour; that
is to say, spontaneous social connections are generated, completing what could
be called social interaction process around the table.
Food does not only nourish our bodies, it also bonds the natural into social at
mealtime. In certain way, the individual can be defined as a biosocial (Murcott,
1983) being dependent on a main entity, the economy that governs what and
how much food we eat. The work of the artist Ben Kinmont explores what he
denominates ways of heterogeneous socialization to refer as how mealtime can
take different forms to the traditional ones and become a deeply creative and
artistic event. Through the performance work An Exhibition in your mouth
traditional relational modes of a meal take unrecognizable forms. Kimons
questions the traditional format of the exhibition to transform it in a relational
form being the eating action the mediation in which food acquires the status of
artwork for it has been conceived by an artist. In collaboration with some
professional chef friends he introduces in the restaurant menus different dishes:
a futurist cheese starter inspired in the cubic forms of Sol Lewitt, a cucumber
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salad of Louise Bourgueois, a steak tartare of Marcel Duchamp and a Basque
Bass of Gordon Matta-Clak’s, etc.
The project Food (Matta-Clark and Goodden, 1972) is another example to
introduce in an artistic and creative sphere other forms of heterogeneous
sociability that highlights the dimension of food as a universal medium for
expressing hospitality and to generate social cohesion. Food was an active and
dynamic spot conceived as a restaurant, as a gathering place and at the same
time, a business and a performance art piece. Shortly after to open, the place
became an integral part of New York´s Soho artistic scenario, creating a social
network with significant relationships and opportunities to think and work
outside the institutionalized art. Food acted as a sort of art philanthropist
employing many artists as cooks, waiters or dishwashers and thus provided
economic support for them to carry out their artworks. This project was also a
way to explore the fascination for food consumption and the transformation of
aliments. Gordon Matta-Clark was very critical with the lifestyle shown by the
mass media and publicity representing the American lifestyle through luxury
kitchens fully equipped with sophisticated and electronic appliances. To show
his disagreement and to leave proof of it, he got in his work rid of the material
sophistication and transferred this value to the performance of creating every
dish; in his words: The whole event were a live piece. In like manner, devised a
metaphor alluding to the waste generated in the city introducing bony dishes in
the restaurant menu. In Matta Bones Dinner dish, the remaining bones after a
meal were scrubbed and strung together creating a gift that guests could wear
In our culture code, eating is a regular, everyday act established from the
specific and repetitive rituals of the domesticity. From childhood, the domestic
context is the key for the vital construction process of our individual social
identity. This ethical and responsible thought recognizes the independent
constructive nature of every individual (as every individual is related to other
people and is affected for the people that live with). So that, the individual is not
self-sufficient, and no fully responsible of his self and consequently these
primary domestic relations will define the future ethical principles with other
fellows. In the Kitchen, as a family gathering place, the genre codes differ
demanding different domestic role for both female and male sex, as it is for
example to clear the table, an everyday duty that is spontaneously repeated
every other generation.
3. The Kitchen.
At first instance, the word kitchen could sound absolutely familiar and usual but
it encloses a concept with a much bigger connotation capacity than a denotative
one as we are used to. In the course of the first part of the XX century the
kitchen was considered a techno scientific artefact for the technological
leadership of global power. It is remarkable that the kitchen is a male
conception for the use of the female. In that way, women acquired a false
ascription to modernity but just in the domestic field, in a private scope. The
public impact of the technological kitchen or the haute cuisine is one more time
reserved to men. Therefore the kitchen has intervened in the psychological
sphere since forever. And this linkage to the feminine is stronger as it becomes
The cliché of the feminine condition is developed from the kitchen as place of
domesticity. Not only because it is an extension of the nourishment maternal
function of feeding the baby from birth, also because every electrical appliance
and tool of this environment are literally understood when the user is a woman.
In a paradoxical language, the video titled The Semiotic of the Kitchen (Rosler
1975) demonstrates in alphabetical order the use of different kitchen tools with
anger and frustration, using extreme gestures and noises full of sarcasm and
irony. Rosler in a cool tone connotes the rage for being trampled on a space
presumably assigned by genre that she denounces in her own words: when a
woman speaks, she names her own oppression.
This symbolic work ritual, the elaboration of food, has been mythologized by the
maternal figure. The house is definitely the gathering place for the diners, for
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the people who share the table. Not for nothing, after the 2
world war women
turns back to the house life as the nuclear figure of the family home. In that
way, there was a tentative to soften the bonds of domesticity through
campaigns that magnified the woman social function making the kitchen the key
place for self realization due to the technological power conferred by the use of
modern electrical appliances. The policies around the technological
development were so relevant as the tensions hold during the Cold War to get
the spatial hegemony. The industrial leadership of General Electric provided the
backdrop for the most relevant debate between the American vice president
Robert Nixon and the soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev.
In that domestic context, making the food daily and the routine of laying down
the table are two housewifery actions that becomes daily rituals. The food ritual
is revealed as a system perfectly structured and as a social value maker
organizer (Simmel, 1997) and the basic idea, even evidence, of relating taste
and education or taste and culture (Bourdieu, 1986) is full of paradoxes that
alters the lineal course of any tautology. It has been analysed how the act of
eating involves customs and rules that defines behaviours and establishes
differences, just like it locates codes and modes of cohabitation and structured
it as an event for socialization. Besides, the process of laying down the table
speaks of a system that sets a hierarchy and preplaces the diners in a way of a
forum were the causes and the happenings are sustained at the same time as
the taste in an episodic and ordinary way.
Nevertheless, from the domestic context this ritual is considered a place of
resistance, a social build up structure, and therefore cultural, a historically genre
exclusion area, characterized for an ethic of violence. The food and the table
ceremony, in which the feminine representation is cultural and symbolically
constructed, it is paradoxically at the same time a momentum for hegemonic
androcentric power offering a limited vision of everything concerning genre
values. A habitat that women feel as owned as oppressive since it splits women
and men behaviour and emphasizes the roles that throughout history has been
attributed to genre.
4. The table
The video At the Table, (García Ranedo
, 2008) retakes this key introducing the
cooking process as a nuclear and generational fact and as a creative process in
which the artist has to reconcile with other centrifugal housework that can not
be separated from the production demands of her artwork.
García Ranedo finds a common place for life and art where she explores the
relationships between family life, the individual consciousness as woman and
artist and the sociocultural realities. This situation allows the artist to deal, with
optimistic rationalism, with the conciliation between family life and working life.
There is no doubt about the performance as a crop field for women´s discursive
subjects. Reviewing the history of the performance, there is a revitalisation on
the 60´s and 70´s by artists working on feminist goals despite women were
largely ignored in the contemporary art scenario. In 1982, Rudy Fuchs, director
of Documenta VII in Kassel disregarded video since video creation was a
discipline associated to women and therefore it was not considered real art.
Since there is a natural coexistence of experiential and existential formulas in
women’s artistic activities, video art and more specifically the video
performance, resulted in a period an appropriate and common Kinetic support
to the employment of women. This mindset is reflected in the same way in the
professional kitchen world in which women are cooks and men chefs.
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Retaking the video At the table, the camera discovers a set of skills and
knowledge learned and transferred on from generation to generation (Certeau,
1984). Here is where the breeding and socialization are reflected in the
generational transmission of routines and manners as a vital mechanism for
creating the social identity of a person (Elias, 1994). This formulations are built
from the idea of creating a space of critical resistance from the domestic,
around the table as a symbol, at a time when the speech concerning the
behaviour close to the eschatological (burping, spitting, chewing with the mouth
open, vomiting or other more extreme) have been trivialized by the decay of the
integrating traditional family and the appearance of the single parent one.
However, the eschatological furore on the table dismantles the behavioural
habits pursued by the rules of good manners, once they are deregulated
become vulgar, resounding, gobbled, nauseating and disgusting. Eat and chew
with your mouth open, removed the food in the mouth with the hands, rummage
the denture with the fingertips looking for food scarps, could be questionable
and reprehensible habits that indicate an unstructured behaviour in the
Other practises translated as games of seduction under the table would lead us
to discern the boundaries between public and private in a context where even
forcing to be voyeurs and accomplices, we are socially coerced and not
apparently affected. Let’s say that the table symbolizes the horizon line in which
the above half ascribe good manners, and the below half would be linked to
uninhibited manners or to where experiences attributed to the realm of the
private are practised, after all, in public. Twisted tricks that show a cult of
voyeurism. This type of disapproved behaviour at a table is shown in Undertone
, 1972). The artist is seated at the end of the board, with both
arms hidden beneath it and facing the camera, the viewer, while looking down
narrates the fantasies as if someone else where below it.
According to Freud women are not voyeurs neither fetishist since their
childhood psychosexual construction operates differently than in men !without
the fear of castration of the first approach of the sexual encounter between man
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and woman". Ultimately and returning to the video titled At the Table and to
the work of Acconci Undertone and maintaining that any demonstration or
artistic artefact is, among other definitions, conversational, we find that the key
of this this essay is the possibility of building subjectivities from a place that has
been observed through the eyes of a white heterosexual male.
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• Elias, N. (1994). The Civilizing Process: The history of manners and
state formation and civilization. (Edmund Jephcott, Trans.). Oxford:
• Matta-Clark, Gordon (1972). Food. (Contributors: Catherine Morris,
Markus Müller, Westfälisches Landesmuseum für kunst und
Kulturgeschichte (Münster, Westfalen), White Columns (New York)).
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• Murcott, A. (1983), The sociology of Food and Eating. Aldershot: Gower.
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