Eating with Intent

Tessa Zettel

[Published in Das 500, December 2011]

In recent years, much of the work I’ve made in collaboration with Karl Khoe has been eaten. Not by us (the host rarely gets a chance), but by people who’ve been invited into an unusual space of exchange facilitated by the presence of food – dawn breakfast on a dry salt lake, nighttime afternoon tea in a 19th century basement, pikelets and sugarbag honey on the grass at Circular Quay. Of course all these situations have also produced conversation, often a particular kind of semi-directed discussion around where we are and by what circumstances we have arrived there. Food in this instance is an offering given to induce engagement; more than that, it is a point of entry into the parameters of the conversation: what do you need to sustain yourself, where can you find that in the place you’re in, what kinds of located knowledge have been overlooked or erased?

Earlier this month the place we were in was the dry salt lake, in Esperance, WA. Our journey there had something of Werner Herzog’s 1982 film Fitzcarraldo about it – weeks of persistent enquiry into the edibility of the landscape, in archives of photographs taken when the town was young (ladies with starched collars taking tea on the verandah, men picnicking with camel under the tasty mooja or Christmas tree), and negotiating to borrow articles of furniture and tableware that were once old grocer Daw’s or great-aunt Annie’s. Tramping over the salty mud with bentwood chairs and lace tablecloths and jars of pickled bloodroot or wattleseed-flecked madeleines, we were as knowingly out of place, and time, as those early settlers and indeed today’s residents whose food is trucked down from Perth. The meal itself, for guests who had given time to the foraging of its ingredients, was filmed as a series of frozen long-exposure poses, tablecloth flapping in the Esperance wind. In attendance were the feisty secretary of the wildflower society, the Indigenous pastor and community gardener, the renegade commercial plant hunter and the local high school art teacher. The imagined audience of their repast (alongside the more prosaic gallery-goer) was one Claude-Antoine-Gaspard Riche, naturalist with the d’Entrecasteaux expedition who found himself lost and disoriented on the shores of Pink Lake this very day 219 years ago, thirsty and hungry and surrounded by food he could not recognise.

On another level, the collaborative doing entailed by making and sharing food with such ad hoc and provisional participant ‘communities’ is a way of practicing practices that aren’t so familiar anymore, and that could perhaps be useful in the development of futuring (sustain-able) modes of living. Our first deployment of food preservation was Making Time (2010), an experimental gallery-kitchen at PICA where ideas drawn from design philosophy were swapped for help making street-gleaned mulberry jam. This came close on the heels of Gwago patabagun ___ We will eat presently (2010), a mobile pikelet cart with native bees producing honey to sweeten a program of site-based picnic discussions on the MCA’s front lawn. Most recently food and dialogue were key ingredients in The Delirious Bakery (2011), home to the Sweet Damper and Gossip Society whose weekly meetings teased out darker histories of how the Rocks have been lived, in relationship to broader geographies and timescales.

The trajectory of these projects – marking time to slow down and be attentive, accounting for pre-existing cultural knowledge – maps out a new kind of quality economy in which place, and our own (dis)placement within it, is a source of redirective potential. That is, by enacting other ways of feeding ourselves within specific micro-fabulist scenarios, we can begin to (bodily) reimagine our collective understanding of the worlds we inhabit, industrialised and elaborately designed but largely dysfunctional in any long-term sense, that in turn design our daily lives and the politicised spaces we eat in.


Sojourn in Espérance Bay will be exhibited as part of the IASKA Spaced: art out of place exhibition & symposium at Fremantle Arts Centre, Perth, 4 Feb – 11 Mar 2012.

IMAGE CREDIT: Sojourn in Espérance Bay, Tessa Zettel & Karl Khoe, 2011. Production still.

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