Monday, 1 December 2008

Caffi Clonc revisited

I wanted to think a bit more about Anna Evans' work in Caffi Clonc, as well as her more recent entry in the CCP end-of-year show. As with other of her work, she is concerned with words and language.

What of these word biscuits in Caffi Clonc? Their meaning, on one level, was determined by the viewer, more specifically, the viewer previous to oneself. So on a specific level, my experience was of 'WONDERLUST', covered by sugary dust, which reminded me of the new undergraduate art group of that name recently formed at the School of Art, of wanderlust, of wonderment, of lust - and of all the words I subsequently formed by eating selected letters. Then the taste of the biscuits - crispy chocolate with cinnamon, like Proust's madeleine, evocative of other childhood biscuit experiences, particularly Dutch mass-produced cinnamon windmill biscuits I used to enjoy, and also 'animal crackers', boxed biscuits in the shape of circus animals - not exactly the same as letter biscuits, but the idea of representational biscuits coming in sets, that might be eaten in a particular order. Other people's biscuit evocations would of course be different, culturally determined, you might say.

But more generally, the Caffi Clonc biscuits evoked the idea of 'eating your words', in an amusing and ironic way. The cafe setting, where so much of the expected was delivered (tablecloth, place settings, low lighting, relaxing music, waitress, hot drinks in ceramic cups), was carefully subverted in a few important ways: The guests, limited to three, were all facing the same way, and facing a blank white wall. Instead of looking directly at each other, contemplating art on the wall, or a window, or even the process of tea-making, they were left to... contemplate nothing, the nature of nothingness? It was very important to Anna that everything in the room, except the guests and food, should be pure black and white. Secondly, what was served was both food and words - unexpected, focusing a great deal of attention on the main artifact, the biscuit letters. And thirdly, after the biscuits were consumed, the guest was asked to select the word for the next guest, leaving it open to continue from the previous word with a related word, or to start a completely different theme. (A few days later, I spotted Anna and her waitress tallying up the words, so to speak, trying to make meaning out of the series of words generated throughout the day - an alternative way of keeping the books.) For the guest, there was a random, almost Dadaist feeling to receive the word, an interactive, in-control feeling to give the word. And of course that activity replaced the expected activity at the end of a cafe visit: paying the bill.

As the penguins, paper or otherwise, from Mary Poppins might have said, 'It's complimentar-ee!'

Anna's entry in the CCP mid year show, 'Sustenance', similarly appeared to be a series of letters on a ceramic plate. Now to those of you living outside of Wales, this may appear to be a Dadaistic collection of letters. But it is in fact a Welsh word, the word for 'information' or 'knowledge' (pronounced GWEE boh DIETH).

The exhibition label read:


'Sugar, Glucose, Water, Vegetable Oil, Maize Starch, Sorbitol, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Mono- and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids, Coboxy Methyl Cellulose, Polyglycerol Esters of Fatty Acids, Acetic Acid, propylene Glycol, Cloth, Wood & Ceramic.


This list of ingredients, redolent of those on supermarket packets, leads us to consider whether our information is prepackaged - by the media, by school curricula, by universities (even by bloggers!) - and what quality it might be. Where did she find all those artificial-sounding ingredients? Were the letters actually formed from a store-bought cake mix?

It also suggests a congruence between the production of art and the production of the kitchen, in a more explicit way than Caffi Clonc. As women artists, are we going to be classified as working in the domestic sphere by our choice of materials, or can we/should we define ourselves as industrial producers, as suggested by the ingredients list, or as fine art producers, as suggested by the manner of presentation (minimal white, exhibition label, location in a fine art exhibition in a fine art school)? Are these questions of gender in art even relevant any more? (Mind you, I don't see any of the male third year students baking anything as part of their portfolio.) Anna again has a lot of questions on her plate (so to speak).

A few days later I saw the letters on the plate rearranged to spell 'WHAT GDO BYE' [sic]. A fitting end to the term.

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