on cabbage love; from gordon matta-clark to forest food

I’ve always felt there were many uses for a ‘Gordon Matta-Clark’ and can only approach life, especially urban life, as or through art in the broadest sense, that sense being not a Marxian one but a making something-from-nothing one. I’m [to a fault] less interested in exploiting my own having-made something-from-nothing -except to the extent of being able to make it in the first place and make something else subsequently! Only an idiot wouldn’t be interested in or cognisant of the abysmal world of surplus value, however there is a certain idiocy in being transfixed by it too…

One use for a Gordon Matta-Clark is to help think through the question of whether art can be food or food art. The answer is obviously in the affirmative but I have something quite specific in mind. Food, itself. As such. The piece that was also a place which was also a community-borne restaurant called Food, that is.

It’s often said that it was during the process of labouring to turn an old bodega in SoHo [on Prince and Wooster] into a cafe/restaurant for friends and a like-minded milieu in 1971-72 that the living-breathing GM-C cut a section of wall and door frame out and cried “sandwich!” -a moment which supposedly spored his many brilliant incisions and savings thereafter -the pinnacle for me being Thresholes but also Splitting, Day’s End, Conical Intersect and Office Baroque [but it’s almost all exceptionally good!]

According to Thomas Crow’s narration of GM-C’s early art-life [GM-C Phaidon 2003] the restaurant provided “reasonably cheap, fresh and healthy nourishment for the youthful contingent of loft-dwellers in a neighbourhood with next to no commercial infrastructure.” Crow writes that Food could not be considered art as such [despite GM-C’s attempt to sell it to Castelli], but that food-centred performances were enacted in the completed restaurant after he ‘fell in love’ with his fabled ‘sandwich’… [as Caroline Yorke Goodden, partner in Food, also recalls in the same volume.]

It sounds like and resembles Charlotte Road circa 1992-4 [or Kensal Rise and Talbot Road some years before then; ‘sushi’, TB’s all-night whatever-den and run of ‘guest chefs’] or so to me, but that’s banal. More interesting is the way in which a restaurant or food with or without performative elements is or can be instrumentalised as art making. I don’t mean in the sense of acting-out Marinetti etc. [wonderful as that can be GP!] or in the sense of making highly finessed food, wonderful as that certainly is. I mean in the sense of perceiving it as making something-from-nothing; a restaging of life, everyday or otherwise, collectively or otherwise. Also as an interrogating/mining of those everyday structures and processes, etc., across time and place.

This is the inspiration and/or use of a Gordon Matta-Clark that I referred to. One distinct from the short road to pure, albeit funky, commerce pursued by the same Shoreditch and everywhere else too. I realise that any conceptualising of a ‘Folk’ food -the reference being Swedish- is woefully uncool, out of date etc. Or at least it has been during our recent 15 year long boom… But! Times they are a changin’, [soft] Anarchy in the UK, etc….

I’m thinking of a Forest near me and straddling the edge of Central London’s Zone 1, in the midst of which people have been growing food in the near abandoned ground, cooking some of it up and eating together, all year long -and against mid-year legal threats and much else from the Local Authority. Thinking of recent conversations around an open-air fire, food growing and being cooked all around, ‘midst hearty chatter -frivolous, happy, earnest and political- with people like those described, albeit loosely, above… People who only very superficially resemble ad-man notions of ‘outliers’/assorted commodifications [yuk!] while they’re living lives founded in the making of something-from-nothing…

I’m thinking of a conversation with someone -a dirty-utopian food grower even in this cold season- who described a “dream” he has of something rather like Food, which I’m going to call Forest Food. A dream that is eminently realiseable in the Forest we were standing in, under trees still bearing leaves which only the first days of December have finally dispelled. A dream of continuing to grow food in the ground marked out and protected by trees half a century old in a zone at the heart of a massive regeneration project still in early stages [pre conceptual master plan submission] which is now drawn out as a public park of significant size stretching from Cuddington Copse and nearby Peace Garden in the east via Chearsely Copse and the Great Silver Maple to the Six Old Men and Sweet Chestnut Slopes that I myself named in the summer [yes! very Arthur Ransome, but don’t forget that he witnessed actual Revolution in Russia and made more than one borrowing from Trotsky!]. A park made by or resulting from an inspired pursuit of strategic effect, alongwith communal effort and conviction, which focused on existing trees and all that they represent to defend them from a threatened, laboriously modelled and officially agreed, grid of new roads, uniform podia with private green space, wrapped in equally uniform shops which would otherwise have been dropped on a unique 450-tree Forest straddling Zone 1…

I rehearse this latter briefly because if it’s possible to turn round a global developer on such a scale using watertight if iconoclastically merged argument; ecological, public welfare, health, emerging urban policy [all of which lacked but now have a substantial precedent as a result], but most importantly by a vivid evocation of place in voice and writing, as well as massive amounts of sheer insistence, then it’s also possible to realise the “dream” of growing a cafe/canteen/restaurant, a communal restaurant much as described above, from the ground in the middle of that same Forest, no?

Forest Food would grow some/much/all its own food in the ground [and on its roof?] within metres of its ovens and tables, be owned and run collectively for a community that exists/is emerging and be a beacon of a modest sort [low light, ambitious food!] at the centre of what is intended to be a retail-led development on a massive scale complete with the joyous [I’m not been only ironic] freedom to sit in a chain cafe or its terrace.

Reconfigured as art making, understood as a process of making something-from-nothing, incorporating ongoing two-way research/relays and self-generating actors in which the consumption of the food is of equal value as the cooking of it which is of equal value as the growing of it, then you have something. You have art, in fact. The place itself, as it stands pre-demolition, seems ripe for the kind of interventions that GM-C actually made elsewhere, but what would be the point of that now? Where would the art of that reside? [As fabulous as Conical Intersect was; cutting gorgeous forms and visions through a building to be demolished right alongside the brand new Beauborg centre. Check the film online]. The potential art lies in as yet unrealised forms of making surely? The potency of it lies in exactly the same times and places, no?

One of the points of this for me is or would be the self generation it requires and embodies. As of today, apparently, this is not a remote possibility. To begin to think of making this Forest Food exist through a period of attempted sealing-up of a 23 acre Zone 1 site, large scale demolitions, compete with an obstructive LA in Southwark and perhaps a similarly minded developer in Lend Lease, nervous of the new as ever, requires all the individual and collective energies of an art making.

This form of practice seems wholly in rhythm with our times, including the incorporation of a politics of peoples’ assemblies [village panchayat’s, hedge schools through the Urban Forest School generated by these examples in my mind, Summer 2011] and dirty-utopian occupations. Something made from nothing -a nothing which surely includes the vacuous/revolting excesses of the City?

A regen./redev. on the scale envisaged at the Elephant and Castle will require more than the drivers of a new retail ‘offer’ -to soil myself with the jargon. Of course it you pump enough of it in, especially in this place where 9 out of every 10 pounds spent by residents are spent outside the Borough, for example, then it will ‘work’ in part and parlance. At best it would be a deadened/deadening zone though, no?! It would surround a sizeable forested park and entrain commercial creep all over and through it. I’m also not fond of the extant use of art or culture in these contexts either, simply because it’s entirely market-defined, banal at best, a box ticked by a series of charlatans.

A Food for this Forest -Forest Food- would or could be a very different thing. I’d advocate that it could and should be conceived as the making of art, nothing less nor more. Everyone involved in it is then an artist-maker with the liberations and responsibilities that entails. This is at the same time a making of politics, and nothing more nor less, with the variant liberations and responsibilities that that entails. If I don’t at this point sound infected by some form or quality of utopian ‘delusion’ [drive] then I haven’t been making myself clear. Why tarry with anything else or less?

So, I invite you now to join as artist-makers or political-actors in this making in the Forest; Forest Food. Bring a Gordon Matta-Clark if you like but don’t fail to bring an appetite for something actually new and a determination to snatch it out of or carve it in to the ground of what is or will otherwise be the same-old same-old…

There are some months ahead [almost three seasons] to demonstrate what it can and will mean, followed by fierce and real wrangling to preserve that and actualise it fully as a central pivot in a coming green economic zone [more on that to come] and eventually for it to take the form of a building. I suggest the ground should not be ceded. That, you might say, was and is one of my “dreams” here…


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