Stella Dimitrakopoulou

Posted on July 5, 2011

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Interview with Stella Dimitrakopoulou by Linda Montano.

 

“The line between art and life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct as possible.” (Kaprow, (1966) in Huxley & Witts, 1996, p.260)

 

“Food and the processes associated with it are performance art avant la lettre.” (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, 1999, p.11)

Photograph by Laurence Burns.

 

According to Roselle Goldberg, “the main elements that define performance art are the emphasis on the body, the interest in the relation between art and everyday life and the use of autobiographical material” (1983, p.24). The material used in my works can be considered as mostly autobiographical, on the other hand, I must clarify that in my work the use of autobiographical material “does not imply a return to individuality. […] The question at hand concerns modes of operation or schemata of action, and not directly the subjects (or persons) who are their authors or vehicles” (De Certeau, 1984, p.xi). In that sense by looking at other people’s lives, I do not intend to create autobiographies nor any kind of narrative connected to a character, but rather to look at the methods and structures that construct the everyday.

All the questions bellow have been taken from the book Performance artists talking in the eighties where in the chapter ‘Food’, Linda Montano interviews several artists on this theme. Moira Roth in her introduction to this chapter writes that “these interviews address a wide range of childhood relationships to food: diets, structures and functions of meals, and both the historical, public and the private, individual food connotations for each artist” (Roth in Montano, 2000, p.147) and as De Certeau writes, “the childhood experience[s] that determine spatial practices later develop [their] effects, proliferate, flood private and public spaces” (1984, p.110). By answering most of the questions of these interviews I intend to connect my personal history related to food to my performance works which are associated to food and at the same time, to reflect on some of my performance works during last year.

 

Montano:  “What was your relationship to food as a child?” (2000, p. 157)

Dimitrakopoulou: I was a fat baby, of course I don’t remember this but I can see myself in the family photo albums. I think that I got thinner after the age of four when I started attending dance classes. Later I was always more or less thin and I remember myself getting somewhat obsessed with being thin, as I was getting older.

I was also very careful with my food, since I was very young. My mom says that in nursery school I was the only child who was eating alone her egg. I really liked eggs and I didn’t like fresh peas. Later when I was in primary school we found out that I had hereditary high cholesterol. Since that moment I stopped eating eggs and healthy food became an important issue in my family. I remember family friends hiding sweets from me and often I having a different dish for me, not like the ones the rest of the family had. Mine was with no eggs, nor butter, nor cheese. I soon adapted to that way of eating. Fortunately, I persuaded myself that I didn’t like eating those things anyway. I enjoyed eating fruits, fish and vegetables. Although ice-cream was a small problem cause my dad was always buying water-ice for me and I liked the creamy ones with the chocolate layer instead.

Montano:  “Did you always enjoy eating?” (p.158)

Dimitrakopoulou: I was usually eating anything my mom would prepare for me generally I enjoyed eating. I was always eating very slowly though; maybe that was part of the enjoyment as well. When I was a child I ate mostly alone in front of the TV because my parents were working. I do remember though lots of times, eating with my parents as well. For my dad this was very important. When I grew up a bit, I was often arguing with my dad during meal because I was not hungry and he was insisting that we should be eating altogether. My argument was that eating altogether was a bad habit, because not all people are hungry at the same time and we shouldn’t force ourselves to eat when we don’t feel hungry. I thought of the meal time as a forced arrangement of my biological timing. But, what was important for my dad was not just our proper nourishment; this was mostly my mom’s priority. She was always the cook of the family. My dad’s concern was the time that all the family would be sitting around the dinner table. Clearly, because this was the only time of a day that we were altogether engaging in the same action and discussing.

Montano:  “When did food appear in your work?” (p.176)

Dimitrakopoulou: It was in the beginning of my MA studies in Laban when I devised a series of one to one meal performances in which we were having and open conversation on various themes around food. For those meal performances I was always preparing and bringing home made food and in that way cooking as a preparation of a performance was a very important part of my process. During that process I became very much aware of how much time I spent on cooking and I realized that cooking became more enjoyable for me, mainly because the food was cooked in order to be shared. In these meal performances food was important but it wasn’t my central focus. I wasn’t ever trying to be spectacular about it. My meals were always as simple as they are in my everyday life. Food was mainly the medium for communication; but again it was always wholesome food and cooked with care, as also a basis for a ‘healthy’ conversation.

It was during this starting period that I also made Bacalado al pil-pil, my first video on cooking. I consider the everyday movements that people engage especially while they are cooking to be a dance, a choreography that follows the steps of the recipe. I recorded the preparation of the food by capturing the motion on different body parts of the cook. I focused on the dance of it, the procedure of the transformation of the raw materials into one meal. I chose to document the preparation of this specific food because of the importance of the body effort of the cook for its creation and as Richard Gough points out: “There is a strong process of alchemical transformation here that for me connects between the process of cooking and the processes of theatre making” (Gough, 2006, p.50). The cook in my video is a non specialist man; by this choice I intent to imply questions on virtuosity and on gender. Because as Peter Kubelka says cooking is probably “the last body-related art form which is still widely practiced everywhere”.  “There is one artist within every family the one who does the cooking” and this person is usually a woman. The other arts (poetry, painting, singing, dancing, building etc) have already been given to specialists.” (Kubelka in Gough, 1999, p.92)

For the purpose of the presentation of these works, I staged a dinner for my audience and had the role of the waitress. That time food was replaced by the documents of my work, which were the remains of the meal performances, for instance wasted food, dishes, forks and knifes, as well as photographic and sound documentation. No edible food was served and no potable drinks either. In that dinner all senses were apparent apart from the taste. Everything around food was there but not the proper food itself. At the beginning of my speech I informed the audience that I was serving ‘food’ and ‘drinks’ to them, but it was their decision what they would consume and how they would interact with their meal. What they would accept to take into themselves was absolutely their responsibility. By placing performance documentation, liquid-cleaning products, left over food and other information altogether on the same dinner table I wanted to point out that information is like food and there is a simple direct relation between art and food. They are both created outside in the public domain and the final product ends up inside of us.

Today’s society is a place of spectacle and consumerism, where performance, like television, cinema and popular music is eaten up much like a ‘cake’, however, without taking the time to think about what we consume nor having the desire to properly digest it. Nowadays, because consumption is easy, and everything is served on a plate, the people who are being served are also the ones who carry the responsibility to choose what they keep and what they discard, as well as how they treat their intake and which procedures they use to appropriate them for their benefit.

Montano:  “Why do you think that food appeared in your work?” (p.158)

Dimitrakopoulou: Noticing that performance is mostly experienced through sight and hearing I wanted to create performances that could be experienced through all the senses, and food is tactile, aromatic and tasteful. Food stimulates all the senses and opens up conversation. Moreover, food fascinated me by the range of the possibilities that the use of it could bring in a performance, its strong connection to life and to the body but also to political, environmental, hygienic, feminist, religious and cultural issues. Food offered a challenging way, to create performance art and opened up a totally new territory for me in terms of my artistic practice.

Secondly, as in my work I am interested in exploring the notions of public and private spaces, I chose to work with food because food in itself moves between the public and private realms in relation to the body. If we consider the skin to be one’s boundary with the world outside, the border of our private and public spheres, then food becomes the only material that every day crosses over this border. Food, in connection to a live organism, is both internal and external.  Through the offer of food one can get into other’s body without actually touching them.

Montano:  “Has your work with food changed your relationship to food?” (p.187)

Dimitrakopoulou: Generally the change happened mostly in my work rather than in my personal life. Although if I think more about it, I have to admit that during this period I became a vegetarian without really aiming it!

Montano:  “Do you see food meditatively?” (p.158)

Dimitrakopoulou: In a way it is. But I don’t use it in this way in my work. Although I think that cooking and eating are processes that certainly carry a meditation in them. Food is meditative in a different way, but food is an object and up to now I have been more interested in the actions rather than the objects. In the process I would say, rather than the product or the raw material.

Montano:  “Do you think that being a woman influences your use of food?” (p.159)

Dimitrakopoulou: Well, I can’t know how different I would be or how my work would be if I were a man. I am a woman and I think that this influences my actions and my decisions anyway. I remember when I was a child, I was arguing with my grandmother about the fact that I was denying to learn how to cook. She was telling me that no man would want to marry me if I didn’t know how to cook. I was answering to her that my plan was to get married to a chef! Nowadays, I enjoy cooking because I found other reasons than a good marriage for doing it!

References

De Certeau, M. (1984). The Practice of Everyday Life. (S. Rendall, Trans.) Berkley: University of California Press.

Goldberg, R. (1983). Performance: A Hidden History. In Battcock, G. & Robert Nickas, R. (Eds.). (1984). The Art of Performance: A Critical Anthology, New York: E. P. Dutton. pp.24-36.

Gough, R. (2006). The Courage to create: Food, Alchemy, Objects and Performance. In Christie, J., Gough, R., & Watt, D. (Eds.). (2006). A Performance Cosmology. New York: Routledge. pp. 48-65

Kaprow, A. (1966). Assemblages, Environments, and Happenings. In Huxley, M. & Witts, N. (1996). The Twentieth-Century Performance Reader. New York: Routledge.

pp.260-270

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, B. (1999). Playing to the Senses: Food as a Performance medium. In Gough, R. (Ed.). (1999). Performance Research: On cooking. (vol. 4, no.1) New York: Routledge. pp. 1-30

Kubelka, P. (1999).The Edible Metaphore. In Gough, R. (Ed.). (1999). Performance Research: On cooking. (vol. 4, no.1) New York: Routledge. pp. 88-92

Montano, L. (Ed.). (2000). Performance artists talking in the eighties. London: University of California Press.

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