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Site and Situation – The Domestic Sphere (in progress)

Updated: Feb 8, 2021

It is difficult read this week’s texts and not consider the implications of trying to make/perform such work now during the coronavirus pandemic. The idea of 25 people assembled in a domestic kitchen, or just walking through ones living space is almost unimaginable at the moment. An audience of 25 watch Bobby Baker’s Kitchen Show, analysed by Lesley Ferris and visitors walk through Fran Cotell’s home, the site of her installation/intervention while her family just get on with living there. I’ll put my discomfort about this to one side and be re-assured that there are art suggestions for the home during this time that keep us safe ( https://curatorsintl.org/special-projects/do-it and https://www.philadelphiacontemporary.org/muffled-drums are two examples I’ve been reading about recently.)


Also reading this week the short explanation of WOMANHOUSE at http://www.womanhouse.net/, Gill Perry, Dream Houses: installations and the home, and Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own. In addition, remembering Rhona in Her Kitchen, Rhona Warwick-Paterson, GOMA 2020.


In Cooking Up the Self: Bobby Baker and Blondell Cummings "do” the kitchen, Lesley Ferris presents, analyses and contextualises two kitchen-based, performance works from the late 20th Century. Importantly, the author spends a lot of time contextualising the kitchen as a private feminine space in contrast to theatre space as gendered (male), establishing the historical context of the actress or women creator being considered (by men) to only ever to play the self, or create autobiographically, and theatre, particularly solo performance, being an unrepeatable event.


Baker’s performance is a series of actions delivered in front of a small audience in kitchen accompanied by a monologue which the author of the event attends with her two young daughters. Each action completes with Baker “marking” herself is some way, for example, “To smooth some of the margarine carefully onto my cheeks using the tip of my finger”. At the end of the performance - 12 actions, there is a final action (number 13 making “a Baker’s dozen”) where the artist displays herself with all her marks standing on a cake stand.


The author has watched Chicken Soup in recording only (something that is possible for us all to do thanks to YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MXAdEAFr4A) and the author acknowledges that her relationship as a spectator to this piece is quite different. She also speculates, based on photographs, that only a minimal representation of the kitchen was used in the original performance whereas the recorded performance appears to take place in a kitchen - I think perhaps a kitchen stage/studio set.


Cummings performance is short with a minimal voice-over leaving every motion and gesture of the choreography to “compress strands and filigrees of various stories into a short, but highly complex and dense work”. This work, more so than that of Baker’s, is imbued, by the author anyway, with a sense of story-telling over time and collapsing a timeline of many generations into the moment of a single performance. Baker’s, while addressing culturally identified women’s work and women’s place, is more clearly autobiographical.


In Fran Cotell’s display (2001) and subsequent works she opened up her home as a gallery, or installation space. It’s taken me bit of time to realise that what was on display was not any specific installed item or intervention. The intervention was to create the viewing angles and platforms to see the home life, contents and activities that were already there. Though in an added level of ambiguity, as she states in her own writing, visitors may also get the sense that they are on display being visible to other visitors on a different platform on another room.


Both of the works described in Ferris’ paper seem specific to the home, and particularly the kitchen, being a feminine space. This is less clear in Cottell’s “display”, but would a man have made this work – more reading/research needed, but that this is less likely was reinforced by two other memories/texts:

  • The work that I was reminded of when reading this week was Rhona in Her Kitchen, an installation/residency at Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Glasgow. Here Rhona Warwick-Paterson, artist and poet, moved her kitchen table – her normal workplace – to the gallery and continued to work (taking phone calls, meetings, making and writing) surrounded by gallery visitors.

  • Gill Perry’s Dream Houses: installations and the home chapter from Themes in Contemporary Art which discusses work by Louise Bourgeois, Doris Salcedo, Mona Hatoum, Rachel Whiteread and Cornelia Parker and where she states, “Historically, femininity – especially middle-class femininity – has been closely identified with the private domestic sphere of the home, in contrast with the supposedly more public spheres of masculine, professional culture.”

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