Rotating Kitchen - exhibition Eat Art, Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf
Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire
“Bad cooks – and the utter lack of reason in the kitchen – have delayed human development longest and impaired it most.” Friedrich Nietzsche
“If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Harry S. Truman
The kitchen is becoming an increasingly important part of our homes. Architects' ideas of how modern flats should be designed and the increasing number of cooking shows on television in the last years seem to have triggered the transformation of the kitchen from a practical place to a central social space it now is in many modern homes.
Originally, the kitchen was like a microcosm in our houses, a practical place where things were being produced, where food was being prepared. The kitchen used to be a working space more than a living space. Nowadays both uses are combined in spacious and loft-like flats with open kitchens. The distance between the cook and his family and guests is minimised by the fluidity with which the living room transforms into kitchen space and dining room. The term "naked chef", as coined by Jamie Oliver – one of the first TV cooks to have implemented "fusion cooking" in everyday cooking –, is well in place for these new homes: the cook performs before the eyes of all those present, be it family, friends or people that visit for the first time.
It is not by chance that the terms "cook", "cooking" and "kitchen" since long have been used metaphorically. To cook is to create and cooking needs inventiveness as much as it needs discipline. A cook is in the kitchen what a captain is on the bridge of a ship. The above quotes from Nietzsche and Truman of course do not refer to the kitchens we all have in our homes, but to the world outside of this kitchen. The world as a kitchen, where ingredients become food, which is being cooked up, heated, kept in the fridge, reheated, deep-frozen, put in the microwave, thrown away, left to rot... Artist Zeger Reyers must have thought that to visualise the world as a metaphorical kitchen, one must transform the kitchen back into a microcosm, into a world in itself, like he did for his work Rotating Kitchen, commissioned by the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf for the exhibition Eat Art.
Zeger Reyer's work is characterised by natural and scientific processes, which he applies to humanise the exhibition space. To name a few examples, he made works in which live mushrooms grow from everyday objects, such as furniture, toys and household machinery. At occasions, Reyers prepared and served the full-grown mushrooms to be eaten at the finissage of the exhibition. Or he sank a Parisian terrace table and chairs into the Westerschelde to lift them months later covered with mussels. He would cook and serve these at the opening of his exhibition, where the audience literally emptied the work of its once living content, leaving only the opened, empty shells attached to the furniture, as if it were a bronze monument.
With Rotating Kitchen the artist goes a step further in his use of natural and scientific processes, and in his attempts to humanise the exhibition space by letting the visitor of the museum wonder at the beauty of chaos and decay that the work displays. Imagine a fully equipped kitchen in the middle of an exhibition space, and in which a cook prepares the snacks and serves the drinks for the opening reception of the exhibition. When more than half of the food is prepared and served to the art-loving audience, and when the dishwasher is full and switched on, the cook leaves the kitchen with all the containers with ingredients and pots of herbs and spices open, as well as all half-prepared food out there on the counter with the opened bottles of wine, presumably to take a cigarette break or a toilet stop. When he walks away from the kitchen, it slowly starts to tilt and turn, until it rotates completely around its axis in about fifteen minutes – which it actually will keep on doing for the duration of the exhibition. Everything in the kitchen at first starts to slide and soon to fall on the walls and cupboards when these become the bottom part of the kitchen, and so on. While the kitchen turns it transforms into a big kitchen machine, mixing ingredients, food, spices, herbs, kitchenware, both clean and dirty plates and glasses, wine from the open bottles... Fluids drip from whatever is ceiling to whatever is floor for the next minutes, and paint the inside of the kitchen to slowly leak out of the structure over time to paint the floor around it as well. As such, the kitchen becomes a painting device and a sound device of rattling kitchenware at the same time, while the smells mingle and boost one and another to turn it into a perfume dispenser as well.
With its slow rotation and the continuous mixing of "ingredients", the kitchen becomes a world in itself, a world at which the visitor is left to wonder. The process of change and decay makes visible how we unconsciously waste food, while other people – often just outside of the windows of our comfortable homes – don't have anything to eat and thus consume our rejected but perfectly edible fodder out of garbage cans. But the Rotating Kitchen also offers us the unknown pleasure of a quotidian space – that we all know very well – gone rebellious by turning itself against us, while creating an alternative but equally beautiful plate to please – or tease – our senses. However, the tasting is to experience the ever-changing views and aromas, rather than trying to palate the result like we would with the normal produce of our kitchens. For the Rotating Kitchen, the time that it produced food has long gone. It has become something else, something uncontrollable. You will be relieved when upon arrival home you find your kitchen still in place and unchanged since you left.
Roland Groenenboom, 27 August 2009