A VENETIAN BREAKFAST: AN OPEN CONVERSATION ABOUT THE EXHIBITION TENDER TOUCHES
Huma Kabakci, Inês Neto dos Santos, Bea Bonafini & Marco Palmieri, June 2019
To coincide with Tender Touches, an exhibition that took the form of a cafe where everything was both a functional object and work of art, artists Bea Bonafini, Marco Palmieri, co-curator Huma Kabkci and artist and co-curator Inês Neto dos Santos sat down to discuss the exhibition. Featuring the work of 12 international artists, the exhibition blurred the lines between the gallery, the studio and the dining room. Tender Touches was produced by arts organisation Open Space and was on show at AMP Gallery in Peckham from May - June 2019.
Install view of Tender Touches, organised by Open Space, co-curated by Huma Kabakcı & Inês Neto dos Santos at AMP Gallery, Peckham.
Photo: Tania Dolvers. Courtesy of Open Space.
‘Begin with a Vermouth Amaro in lieu of a cocktail. For hors d'oeuvre, have some small crabs cold, mashed up with sauce tartare and a slice or two of prosciutto crudo (raw ham), cut as thin as cigarette paper. After this a steaming risotto with scampi (somewhat resembling giant prawns), some cutlets done in the Bologna style, a thin slice of ham on top and hot parmesan and grated white truffles and fegato alla veneziana complete the repast except for a slice of stracchino cheese…’
- Elizabeth David, Mediterranean Food
Marco Palmieri: I wanted to start the conversation with a quote from Elizabeth David’s cookbook (a poor descriptor for such a beautiful piece of writing) Mediterranean Food. I think this quote, read now, paints such a surreal image of what a meal can be. I would also add that in many ways it is a sort of ekphrastic piece of prose: it might be recounting a meal, but the words themselves create a vivid and poetic scenario, far beyond mere description.
In many ways, I think the relationship we have all shared (artists, curators, food, and more) is an ekphrastic one. The food was not merely inspired by the artworks: I think that throughout the whole development of the exhibition, the exchange was mutual and nurturing.
I would like to start by asking Inês a question: could you briefly talk to us about how you came up with the dishes that were inspired by our work?
Inês Neto dos Santos: Coming up with the dishes was a process that entailed looking at ingredients, and their combinations as metaphors and signifiers, like with most of my work. A process in which food is utilised as an avenue through which one can engage with art and the creative practice.
For Bea, I made pici, a type of hand-rolled pasta, similar to thick spaghetti. Bea’s works in the exhibition are these beautifully intricate plates, all hand-sculpted. So the intention behind this dish was to mimic this same kind of physical labour: hand-sculpted pasta for hand-sculpted plates. At the same time, I was creating food that “came alive” as soon as it hit the plate: the pici get woven into all the ripples, nooks and corners of each plate, covered in vibrant green pesto that forms a thin, grainy layer on top of the glazed surface. Bea has her own performative banquet in which pasta making (pici precisely!) is involved, and so this dish pays homage to that.
"I was creating food that 'came alive' as soon as it hit the plate: the pici get woven into all the ripples, nooks and corners"
Noli Me Tangere (2019) glazed ceramics by Bea Bonafini, with food by Inês Neto dos Santos for Tender Touches, co-curated by Huma Kabakcı & Inês Neto dos Santos, organised by Open Space. Photo: Tania Dolvers. Courtesy of Open Space and the artists.
For Marco, I came up with a combination of whipped ricotta, apricots and toasted hazelnuts. Marco mentioned apricots and peaches frequently in conversation with both Huma and I, in the lead up to the show, and we were lucky enough to have apricots coming into season at the time of our opening. Marco’s work has a clear graphic sensibility to it - present in defined lines or edges - contrasted with an overall softness , whether conceptual or visual. I noticed this straight away in the wallpaper and the poster he contributed to the show.
So, the dish follows these contrasts: the ripe apricots sit on a cloud of soft, pillowy ricotta, generously sprinkled with crunchy, toasted hazelnuts; while olive oil pools in and around the cheese and fruit, binding it all together. Beyond this, Marco shared with us that the peachy colour used in his ‘Tender Touches poster’ is poetically named Crème de Pêche. And semi-seriously, while getting to know him, I couldn’t help imagining Marco as a character in one (any!) of Luca Guadagnino’s films, so the apricot is a peachy reference to one of his latest.
On this note, I’m curious to know Marco and Bea’s readings of these two dishes. They both tasted them in different settings - Marco as a part of our pre-opening dinner; Bea as a quick meal while rehearsing for our collaborative Bacchae Banquet Performance.
Bea Bonafini: Your pici were a lovely taste of nostalgia to me, it felt strange that my hands hadn’t been involved in their kneading and rolling this time. They still create the impression of eating someone’s rubbery elongated worm-fingers. They’re the steak of pastas, and they fill your entire mouth with such simple ingredients. I’d say that my ceramic plates and your pici are a match made in heaven (a nod to the plates’ references to Dante’s circles and stylised heavenly creatures)! On the topic of the heavenly, Marco’s dish makes me think of soft blushing bums popping in and out of a fluffy cloud of duvets.
MP: I love the image of the blushing bums! In response to your question, I must say I do not have my own reading, but rather prefer the beautiful description you gave during the first dinner I attended, and that you so eloquently re-presented in your point above. I am indeed really curious about the cut between the hard-edged lines in my work, paired with a touch of softness. A friend of mine (the artist Nicholas Hatfull) once summarised my colour choice with such epicurean sensibility: “A pastel, judiciously deployed, can have a knottier, more inscrutable quality than chocks-away saturation, and Marco’s palette is always cut with something - milk with Angostura Bitters.”
INDS: Milk with Agonstura bitters! Such a vivid image that brings to my eyes. I wonder what that tastes like...
(L-R) Inês Neto dos Santos & Huma Kabakcı co-curators of Tender Touches organised by Open Space at AMP Gallery, Peckham. Photo: Tania Dolvers. Courtesy of Open Space.
Rebato I (2019) for Tender Touches by Paloma Proudfoot.
Photo: Tania Dolvers. Courtesy of Open Space and the artist.
Huma Kabkci: I had a question for Marco: when we first started a conversation, you talked about conviviality and performance. You mentioned a performance at the Fondazione Giuliani which was inspired by a bar in Rome where poets, both good and bad, performed every Wednesday in a dimly lit space. Can you talk a bit about that and the links you find between Tender Touches?
MP: It’s funny that you mention it, because the performance I organised as part of JCM (a collaborative project and platonic love affair between me, the poet Jahān Xājavi, and the artist Catherine Parsonage) at Fondazione Giuliani was called ______ is a tender feeling. I think that immediately started a point of contact between what you were planning and what I had just finished working on.
The performance was a one-night event, where the tables, mirrors and objects in the space we orchestrated created an intimate site for a performance by Jahān. Our hope was to explore the poetics and generosity of convivial gestures; the dimly lit setting, amber drinks and lip-synched poems opened up the scene for hazy exchanges and bar stool chatter. Without getting further into the description of the performance, I would say that the links and interests we shared were many. Be it food, drinks, or spoken words, all these convivial experience really breathe life in a space, which is something I imagine you (Huma and Inês) directly experienced both with this project and previous projects too?
HK: I think through the programme of events we really managed to explore convivial gestures, whether it was through our more intimate supper clubs, fermentation and embroidery workshops or the curatorial tours. It really helped to bring people to come together, talk to others and stay more within the space as well. Also it did certainly help that the duration of the exhibition was a bit over 6 weeks, that meant we had enough time to tap into the local community but also to bring people from other parts of London over. We tried to also document most of these events and experiences either from photographs or our guestbook or by talking directly to people.
"Our hope was to explore the poetics and generosity of convival gestures"
Never Let Me Go (2019), by Lindsey Mendick for Tender Touches. Photo: Tania Dolvers. Courtesy of Open Space and the artist.
"the first event turned the dining table into a puzzle-like sculpture that encased guests' heads within it"
INDS: Definitely. With Tender Touches in particular, it’s been so enriching to see the space change throughout the duration of the exhibition. Food, drinks - the making, consuming and sharing of them -, gestures and words have really filled the space energetically.
Observing photos we’ve collected throughout the weeks, we can see how it has warmed up. Becoming cosier, more welcoming, full of stories brought in by everyone and anyone who has engaged with it. In fact, this is often present across my practice. Working with food has been like making use of this universal language, one we all speak - albeit in different accents. Discovering it as an incredible binder and leveler of people, a vehicle for conversation and a hugely critically and politically charged piece of daily life.
HK: Bea, you hosted many banquet performances before and you create beautiful crockery and cutlery that are functional but are also awkward to use. Can you perhaps talk about other food performances you hosted and included your work in? I would also love to hear more about the relationship between the use of ceramics/clay and food in the context of your artistic practice.
BB: My banquet series began with my wish to collide important elements in my practice: collaboration, performance, installation, food, intimacy and public participation. The first event turned the dining table into a puzzle-like sculpture that encased guests’ heads within it, who were then fed by normally seated performers.
Subsequent performances have been in collaboration with different chefs and artists. Every detail is carefully considered, from the cups and the cutlery, to how people integrate the table, the relationship between my performers and the guests, and most importantly how the food becomes edible sculpture.
I began by using food ingredients in a clay-like manner, either by saturating them with salt or by using them in other sculptural ways. My beginnings in ceramics were making a series of elongated eating tools delicately painted with body parts, so you could perhaps find my bellybutton in the concave well of a spoon.
St. Barbara (2019), Missing Soul (2019) glazed ceramics by Bea Bonafini, with food by Inês Neto dos Santos for Tender Touches.
Photo: Tania Dolvers. Courtesy of Open Space and the artist.
The origin of Fruit (2019) by Goia Mujalli and Cecilia Charlton, cotton and silk garments with cotton wool and silk hand-embroidery, for Tender Touches.
Photo: Tania Dolvers. Courtesy of Open Space and the artist.
HK: I guess this question is to everyone; how do you see Tender Touches building on your already existing artistic practice and future projects coming up?
BB:For this commission I taught myself to throw on a wheel, incorporating the ‘failures’ in order to give a different character to each plate. What I loved most was the additional theatricality of our Bacchae dinner through our collaboration with Moodboard theatre company. I’ll definitely be proposing a recreation of this at the BSR where I’ll be soon spending 9 months as artist-in-residence in Rome, perhaps incorporating more Roman-tragedy influences.
INDS: Tender Touches has been a chance to develop an idea that sat in a drawer in the back of my head for many years. So, in effect, it has been a dream come true! The kitchen has become my studio, a place where I’ve experimented: succeeded, failed and started again. The fridge is currently filled with the results (in varying degrees of tastiness!) and, well, I’ve woven many of them into the weekly-changing menu.
It’s been a huge learning curve! Fully managing a café with all the admin attached to it - my love of lists has proven very useful -; and challenging myself to create a relatively new menu every week, with my practice, the artists and exhibition themes in mind, has been much of a juggling game! But an incredibly satisfying and beautifully emotional one. This exhibition has shown me what a great platform hospitality can be for an artist interested in the social and convivial aspects of life and I already wish I had used it better, more fully, more intensely - but I always do. So this might be a format I work with again in the near future, adapted and reworked...
MP: Although I presented wallpaper and a poster for this exhibition, I must say that what I found most nourishing about this experience, was this returning idea of contact and conviviality as an important way to create shared moments. This brought me back to the project JCM did at Fondazione Giuliani, and I think we will be planning Chapter II very soon!
"what I found most nourishing about this experience, was this returning idea of contact and conviviality as an important way to create shared moments"
Jello (2015), Pixy Liao.
Tender Touches was produced
by Open Space and shown at
AMP Gallery, Peckham
17 May - 30 June 2019.