|"Untitled Artists Projects by Janine Antoni, Ben Kinmont, Rirkrit Tiravanija", Interviews with Laura Trippi, in Eating Culture, Scapp and Seitz, eds., New York: SUNY Press, 1998, pp. 132-142.|
Ben Kinmont — Interviewed May 1 and June 1, 1994
Here was a show that was about art and life. There's been quite a history of artists bringing from life into the gallery, and i though that was good, history is a nice precedent, but I wasn't so interested in that. I thought, let's instead have people go the other way, let's see if we can set up a situation of trust whereby people in the gallery will come to my home. So during the duration of that show, Casual Ceremony, which was about a month and a half, anybody who took a paper plate and called me and set up a mutually convenient time, could come over for breakfast. And four hundred and sixty-eight plates were taken and thirty-two people came by.
I thought it would end up that all my friends would come by and no strangers would come by. In fact almost none of my friends came by because I think they realized that they could come over anytime and have waffles with me. And those who came by, didn't know if it was going to be this heavy duty performance ceremony that they were going to be in. But it wasn't. It was just like, do you want maple syrup or do you want powdered sugar on your waffles?
Ninety percent of the time we would eventually talk about the project. All of them, as well as myself, were constantly thinking, well, is this art or isn't it? What's going to make this artful? I think that, ultimately, when they arrived there was the nervousness because they were strangers. And then there was the nervousness because they were going into a structure that they'd have no idea what was going happen. There was a hesitancy at first. But when you start eating — when you're eating, you're eating and I'm eating and they're eating. And that was the other thing. They didn't know if I was going to serve them a waffle and watch them eat, or if I was going to eat with them. I said, of course I'm going to eat. I haven't had breakfast and I'm starving! It was part of my morning. It wasn't just, I'm going to make you breakfast, but that they were comeing over to have breakfast with me.
On Saturday mornings, my parents would sit Za-Zen and they would go to the Zendo, the started at 6:00 and wouldn't get home till noon or something. So we would be ... famished! As kids. We finally realized, well, what we could do is go over there to the Zendo, which was only a ten-minute walk away, and we would to the Zendo and we had an agreement with the guys who ran the place and with my parents that if we meditated for ten to fifteen minutes beforehand, which was a hell of a long time for a kid, we got to eat. Because there's a ceremony on the Saturday Za-Zen wher, at the end, it's a whole ceremony with these bowls within bowls and you have this little blanket around it and a spoon. So we would have to eat.
I always remember as a kid how heightened your senses were. For a kid to have been sitting still for that long and suddenly — the rice was not rice you'd ever had before. The squash was not... It was very heightened, your senses were fully there and you were very attentive.
I didn't want people to feel awkward, so I did no recording for that project. You're participating mor than someon's keeping track what's happening. That's a big difference.
After the breakfast, I signed the plate and the participant signed the plate as co-authorship of the piece. It's not like, you know, I don't like that reliquary — it's a nice way to make something meaningful. I appreciate that. And it's beautiful. You could do vitrines or beautiful installations with it. But I generally have made the decision not to do that.
To me the relics, or the leftover parts, are for purposes of... they're like academic mnemonic devices or something, these things to, like with a book, to fid yourself inside of this developmnet, this process, this choice that somebody made to kind of go through it.
It took me a long time to track down a plate. I got very lucky, and not only tracked down a plate, but there was one person who had come and taken a plate, had breakfast, but I had forgotten to sign their plate when they came. And this is like four years later and I hand been always supposed to go sign this guy's plate. He had come and his wife had come and his plate I had signed — or his wife's plate I had signed and I hadn't signed his plate, something weird happened like this, so he'd always been wanting me to sign it. Finally, I actually signed it and I got photographs of him in the process of signing it.
The thing with the washing dishes project is that I wanted to do something that involved — people had been coming into my home, I wnated to get into other people's homes. I wanted to see what that would be, strangers homes! I thought, they were trusting enough to come to a stranter's home. I want to put myself a little bit in their shoes and see what it felt like. A lot of these projects have to do with distribution and I wasn't sure, How am I going to distribute this idea? How am I going to create a structure and catalyst for this idea?
I liked washing dishes. I liked the idea of that because it was close to, like, seeing one's dirty laundry and it's something that people don't like to do normally. When you cook for someone, it's easy to become ceremonial and washing dishes is really functional. It can be ceremonial. I'm sure one could do that, but it's a little harder. But its connected with food, because you're seeing the leftovers of food, you're seeing the residue, you're seeing what people didn't want to eat, you're seeing what type of eaters they are, what they use to eat with, where do they put their things that they eat with, do they wait a week to do their dishes? Did they do them before I came over and just left a couble things? All that kind of stuff. But I didn't know how I would distribute it, make this available.
So when Katerina asked me to do something about communication in public spaces, I said, well, I have this idea that I've been wanting to do. And I thought, I would love to do a piece about communication in public space, which then however led into the private space. I went in November to Munich, to piick out the neighborhoods where I'd be signing people up for the project. I wanted to be in demographically different neighborhoods and where different activities happened. So they're different spaces in terms of economics but also in terms of functions, what happens in those spaces.
There's little cards that will say their name and address and the time that I'm going to come over so that they have a reminder to be at their house when I'm coming over to do their dishes, also because it's the next week. Then I'll have a card with their address and the time I'm coming over. There's a separate page, which is a contract that, if they're willing to let me record and photograph and all that kind of stuff in their home, if they realize that that's what I'm doing, then they'll sign a waiver that that's ok. And there're two boxes, one to check if tey would like to maintain anonymity and another if they want to be informed of all exhibitions and publications about the project. I had to have a German lawyer check all that out. I want it to very clear what's going on. I don't want people to be upset about it. i'm really doing the dishes as a catalyst to get into their home and talk about these issues of art and life.
I think it's a good thing for people to do their dishes. It's a good thing for people to take care of things. It slows people down. It is something that everybody can do. The whole ieda of maintenance and not just the pursuit of a goal, like this will cause this eventual goal, it kind of slows it down a little.
In light of that too, it's really interesting dealing with these kinds of projects with cleaning up, with eating, or making food, or whatever, in the art world, because theart world wants an object, the art world wats something that lasts, the art world wants something that's grand. There're tow things that are really interesting to me about this. One is the issue of how do you maintin, to be paid attention to and to be taken seriously and to develop acritical discourse about it. And then the other one, which is a big issue that I've thought a lot about, is the whole feminine thing. It's a woman's activity. And what does it mean to be a man doing dishes as art? What does it mean to be a man and doing food as art? Between that and raising my son Ian a lot of the time, I've had a whole different kind of outlook on why women don't have children and how people deal with domestic activities. Because it's not like this produce, produce, produce activity, it's not... it has its own pace. You can't force it, you can't force a child at a certain pace, you can't force eating, that not the goal inherent in it, so as a result it's very hard to put this into the machine of the art world.
I think it's important for people to be able to ask me, Why are yo doing this? To say to me, why are washing my dishes as art? Why are you putting yourself out? Why are you giving away all these paintings you made? Why are you going to give the money from the project that you're making, your profits? Very basic questions. Making artists more vulnerable and availabe.
Nobody knew I was going to give them a gift at the end — the sponge, the signed sponge, which was then used to clean the sink and counter tops after the dishes were done. So they were all surprised about that. They were all surprised that I was just doing the dishes. And then I think they were also surprised that I was, there's this German term that's like a ghost, a spirit — I just came in and took care of something and then disappeared, I was gone. There was something nice about there not being any... no fuss, no monument. I bought them boxes to put the sponges into. And it's all about that the sponge is — the symbol of the signature is the sign of authorship and the way that they co-authoured the piece by being willing to invite me, and the sign of our interaction with one another. It was a sign of my appreciation. I think its very interesting in a sense of practice to give something back to people when you're doing art. And it's very nice for me personally to do that. I feel better about it. Not knowing that I was giving them something, I had — three cakes, I had dinner maybe four times. I would come in ant they woudl say, oh, let's sit down and have some cake that I made for you, and we can talk while we're eating cake and then we can wash dishes.
The biggest personal, favorite thing of mine is, it is really fun and easy to talk about art while washing dishes. That was a great, great thing. Maybe it's because part of your body and hands, you're active. How can you be pretentious while washing dishes. I couldn't. Maybe that's why I chose it, because I couldn't be pretentious. So it was ver easy to talk, even though these were complete strangers. It was really easy to get into a good conversation with them.
If everyone is washing their dishes, and I'm washing my dishes, why do I even have to bother going over there to do it, other than just helping someone out and the idea of the artist beaing a help? The reason is there's different levels of understanding and meingfulness that we bring into our lives. There's raw experience and as it moves and you come to understand it and experience it more and more, you can come to understand it and experience it more and more, you can come up with a comprehension of it, then we can shape it itno something that's more meaningful. My goal. I suppose is to make experience more meaningful. The great thing about a gallery and the separateness of a gallery is — there's all this distraction going on, it's difficult for us physically and psychologically to deal with. You go into a gallery and it's quiet, and you see something that you can focus on, that you can say, here's my moment to be quiet.
So the whole point of doing this in someone's house is that I'm doing something and they're going to look at washing their dishes differently perhaps. Even though I do it in a normal way, I don't want to make it theatrical. Through the normalcy it can perhaps also become more menaingful. It's really about life, it's about how do we have meaningful moments in our lives. The whole issue of art's separateness and parameters is that's just what we have to do in order to understand things. Even if we say, stream of consciousness, you're feeling everything, an all -sensory kind of thing you've gone itno — you come out of it. There's still a moment when it occurs. That's why the archives are crucial. I'm trying to describe truthfully what happened. There's that and I'm also trying to allow someone else to experience what happened.