If artist Gordon Matta-Clark is best remembered for the abandoned suburban houses he carved up in the 1970s, the art-project restaurant FOOD he started in 1971 with girlfriend Carol Goodden is less well known. Conceived of as a job provider for practising artists, FOOD also existed as a venue to experiment with ideas of eating as performance. One legendary FOOD dinner, called Bone Meal, involved Matta-Clark cooking the dishes, which included marrow bones and oxtail soup, and returning the bones as jewellery at the evening’s end.
Birmingham-based art practice Companis recently staged a carnivorous feast based on Bone Meal, enlisting the help of Blanch & Shock, a London-based food design group, to re-imagine the menu.
The event, staged in association with art group Juneau Projects and jeweller Elizabeth Short, was perfectly pitched – a well-structured arc that began as a private view, passed into a church service and closed in bacchanalian ritual. Guests mingled, sipping lavender-flavoured cocktails, while savouring canapes: bones wrapped in bacon, apple, and thyme. We were instructed to choose wisely, as this was the bone that would be transformed into our take-home memento mori.
We shuffled into the dining room and the atmosphere changed. Tables arranged in a horseshoe were dressed with church candles, garlic, lemons and rosemary; a huge pile of meat and bones formed a centrepiece to the room; and a smell of incense hung in the air. As we took our seats, along with bone scrubber and jeweller Short, it felt like Mass was about to begin.
The next five courses were witty if whimsical, and the entire meal displayed a playful approach to eating. There was no cutlery, and by the time the main course had arrived – a whole chicken cut into quarters by a waiter wielding a cleaver like an axe – we had drunk veal stock out of an egg shell, sucked pureed prawn brain out of its head and licked vertebrae-shaped mashed chicken bones off white tiles.
At the end of each course, the bone remnants were chucked onto the pile and, before the dinner was halfway through, guests in Sunday best were licking gravy off plates. The meal had descended into a primitive feast, with any pretence of good manners disappearing quickly.
Companis has been commissioned to stage a similar event during the Barbican’s exhibition on Matta-Clark in March, and it will be interesting to see whether it simply recreates this dinner or pushes the idea of food as performance art further still.
Given Matta-Clark’s influence, this dinner doesn’t herald a new trend so much as the re-emergence of an older one. A new generation of artists and designers is exploring the idea of food as more than just three meals a day; instead, in the words of Companis’ Kaye Winwood, it is “a fusion of performance, food and spectacle”. Artists like Companis are taking food out of the home and the restaurant to prove that the way we think about it, and the way we eat it, need not be restricted to chefs and foodies alone.
Bone Dinner. Eastside Projects Second Gallery, Birmingham. 5 November 2010.