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Haus-Rucker-Co and Food City I
A ragtag group of men and women huddle over a large platform supporting what appears to be a scale model of an urban area. What seems at first to be a slapdash cardboard construction of buildings in miniature is, in fact, a cityscape of Minneapolis made of mounds of sandwiches, cakes, sundry candies, and confections. After some final touches have been added, the edible model is displayed for an eager crowd.
Once displayed outside, the crowd of onlookers begins digging into the provisions that make up the model, gleefully gobbling up bits of cake and slices of cucumber while sipping lemonade—so many urban Gullivers devouring their Lilliput. It is not the edible model city, then, but the action that it catalyzes that deserves our attention. Here, food brings a group of citizens together into something of a provisional community: the crowd chats together in groups and pairs, cups and plates perched unsteadily as they try to make conversation. Just as importantly, though, in performing this act, the audience members also extinguished the object that served as the original focal point of the event. By the end of the performance, the model city has been devoured, an edible landscape consumed by a hungry throng.
This interactive performance event is the work of the Austrian architecture and art collective Haus-Rucker-Co, and it was staged outside the Walker Art Center in the Armory Gardens (now called the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden) on June 13, 1971. Food City I was one of a series of performance events that Haus-Rucker-Co created for various cities in Western Europe and the US. In all of these events, various architectural models were crafted and then eaten up by members of the public.
Telling the story of their food performances, therefore, means turning a figure-eight that circles back-and-forth between examinations of their work and of their identity as a creative firm. Doing so allows us to see how a critical approach to architectural labor and progressive aesthetics mutually informed and sustained each other within the years that Haus-Rucker-Co operated as a collective unit. Within this narrative, Food City I serves as a crucial nexus from which we can consider the group’s modeling of radical democracy, and look at the broader implications for artists and newly activated viewers sharing a table.
Haus-Rucker-Co was founded in 1967 by a group of three recent graduates of the architecture program at the Technical University of Vienna: Laurids Ortner, Günter Zamp Kelp, and Klaus Pinter. Manfred Ortner, who trained in painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, would join the group in 1971 and Carroll Michels in 1972. While the original members of the collective had trained as architects, they initially rejected tectonic form in favor of a range of alternative media.
Various members of Haus-Rucker-Co have admitted that their objects attempted to offer the effects of a drug trip without the drugs. While the psychedelic effect was one aim, cooperation and communality were equally important elements to the work.
In brief, all of Haus-Rucker-Co’s objects contained within them both the sense that the user was a co-creator of the aesthetic experience—and thus lived with the object and not for it—and provided an incentive to communicate with others towards either intimate or social ends. In creating spaces that were experienced in common, individual consciousness was to be cast aside in favor of relationality and intersubjectivity.
Looking, then, at Haus-Rucker-Co’s public events centered around edible architectural models or miniature landscapes, we might find other currents at work. After all, for as freewheeling, sybaritic, and evidently just plain fun as these events appear, an act of destruction is central to their purpose. In an era teeming with examples of artists and others collaborating in a productive attempt to make something—anything—with their peers, Haus-Rucker-Co instead emphasizes the destructive act of consumption, ravaging the finished product as an act of revenge. The aim of so much relational art is the creation of a temporary “microtopia,” a world-in-miniature in which social relations that exist outside the space of the work are cast aside as we imagine how to “inhabit the world in a better way.” The hopeful optimism of this type of world-making would seem to be opposed to the ritual act of destruction seen in Haus-Rucker-Co’s Food City I.
And so it is this outdated architecture and urban infrastructure, which had served only to alienate citizens from one another and to channel their behavior in coldly efficient, consumerist fashion, that was “killing” the city, according to Haus-Rucker-Co. In building their architectural effigy that was destined to be ritually and communally destroyed, Haus-Rucker-Co pointed to the obsolescence of the city’s architecture and built form.
With Food City I, Minneapolitans had the opportunity, then, to take their revenge on the city itself. Those apartment towers where so many lonely urbanites seclude themselves? Nothing but pumpernickel. The nearly identical houses of the suburbs? Just ticky-tacky houses clad in frosting that melted away on the tongue. Even Minneapolis’s famous chain of lakes—areas that provide both space for the city’s residents to gather and lakefront views from its most exclusive addresses—became lemonade that washed down so much urban detritus.
But what was left behind after this sacrificial event? To the architects, the enduring feature of the performance was the network of relationships that was established following the festive gorging. As the city’s residents looked up from their empty plates, their eyes met those of their fellow revelers. It is worth noting, in passing, that it was Haus-Rucker-Co’s Viennese colleague Hans Hollein who had declared just a few years before that “Alles ist Architektur,” or that “everything is architecture.” Here, a performative action, with food at the center, became a new vehicle through which to convene a public. The void created by tectonic architecture’s absence is filled by the user’s own sense of community and togetherness. In reference to their earlier ritual consumption of a “moon cake” in Vienna to mark the moment when astronauts first stepped on the moon in 1969, Haus-Rucker-Co’s Klaus Pinter said, “It is so boring just to watch, people need to be involved, to participate, to enjoy and everyone likes to eat.”
Inspired by Archigram as well as also inspiring the Pompidou Center in Paris was architect Cedric Price. Price’s supposed brilliance is hard to gauge, as very few of his designs were actually built - the most famous exception being the aviary at London Zoo. But if genius is the ability to convey complex information in simple images, then Price gets it with egg.
The city as an egg, to be exact. Price condenses millennia of urban evolution into three types of egg: boiled, poached and scrambled - in that chronological order.
From its origins in the mists of time up until fairly recently, the urban form resembled a hard-boiled egg. The city was a dense, compact centre, protected by defensive walls from the evils of the wider world.
Cannon power eventually rendered city walls obsolete, and most were razed from the 17th to 19th century.
This, together with the rapid growth of population and industry around that time, caused cities to expand rapidly. This is the poached-egg model: the core retains its ancient function as the place of reference and the seat of power, but it is surrounded by expanding rings of residential and industrial areas, and infrastructural networks providing utilities and transportation.
But the centre cannot hold. Like a star at the end of its life, the core of the city collapses under the weight of its own sprawl. The car has made it much easier (and cheaper) to live, work and shop near the ring roads than in the choked middle of town. This, the scrambled-egg model, is also the most relevant type of urban development today.
And what type of egg will the city of the future resemble? This will probably depend on the future cost of mobility, which might become too prohibitive to sustain the present, scrambled-eggs model.
Hans Hollein designed the inaugural exhibition MANtransFORMS at the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in 1976. The exhibit examined everyday objects and the ways they were adapted by different people in different places and times.
“MANtransFORMS” was held in 1976 and grew out of the 1968 Triennale. The Smithsonian Institution in Washington had set up a National Museum of Design, the Cooper Hewitt, which is now at the Carnegie Mansion in New York. Lisa Taylor, the museum’s director, asked me to draft the inaugural exhibition. A competition was held and in the end I was hired to conceptualize and design the first exhibition at the new museum. My plan was to present an expanded concept of design and to explore the question of the significance of design beyond the finished object… On the level of content, my conception was based on the observation that we have fixed images in mind that don’t match the realities they stand for. If I asked you to draw a star, you’d sketch a five- or six-pointed something, which is what we all think of when we hear the word “star.” But a star is actually a sphere, a planet, and looks like the moon or Saturn. Same thing with bread: there’s an image of what bread usually looks like. So we put up a display every morning of “daily bread” from all over the world that demonstrated how there are aspects far beyond the round loaf of baked dough that go into what bread looks like: from storage practices—we had crisp breads that were circular discs with a hole in the middle—to the use of bread dough to express sexual symbolism. We wanted to disprove the notion that “form follows function.”
Eat Art Gallery
In 1971, an exhibition of Daniel Spoerri’s work entitled “Wenn alle Künste untergehn, die edle Kochkunst bleibt bestehn” (When all the arts perish, the noble art of cooking will survive) was held in Amsterdam. In the exhibition catalog he tied his Eat Art ambitions to a dignified history of artists incorporating food into their work and vice versa since antiquity. In a press release about the Amsterdam exhibition referring to Eat Art’s noble ancestors, Spoerri pointed out that his recently opened restaurant in Düsseldorf was intended as a “forum” for artistic exchange. Thus, in taking his work from the studio into the kitchen, as had other contemporary artists such as Dieter Roth, Spoerri found himself in excellent company.
The avant-garde’s focus on eating as devouring–and, more aptly, incorporation–stresses the Now, both against the eternal in art and against the new as fashion. The now in devouring, not the here and now of the present but the Benjaminian “now-time” (Jetztzeit) of a bodily presence of mind, or in Jean-François Lyotard’s words, the presence found in a mindless state of mind, the now as an “instant” of time that cannot be counted, well, this now works against the new. The now of incorporation is not singular but is ruptured by the temporality of non-synchronicity in the experience of eating, both individual and collective, both present and past, but not homogeneously so. The neo-avant-garde Eat Art of the sixties and seventies incorporates the avant-garde. In doing so, it performs an archaeological excavation of the leftover produced by the avant-garde work of devouring. The leftover emerges as polymorphous residue, which is new in the now(s) of this neo-avant-garde.
The avant-garde, read through its rumbling stomach, enters the world of art and cuisine through restaurants on the verge of breakdowns that are always potential breakthroughs and through (dirty) flying saucers (Spoerri’s glued dirty cups and dishes). Daniel Spoerri inaugurated Eat Art in Düsseldorf with the Spoerri Restaurant (1968) and the Eat Art Gallery (1970). Eat Art does not illustrate but actualizes the flows of energy and multiple temporalities passing from the singular eating body to the collective body.
Spoerri asks: “Will a gallery in which vegetables are sold at market price not become definitively a grocery shop? And a tomato, does it stop being a tomato just because someone declares it a work of art?”
The tomato, he suggests, may very well keep on tasting like one, despite having been declared an artwork. The spectator of art will be able to tell only by challenging the definition of art–the institutional space through which the artist’s performative assertion is made even more plausible–and transforming himself or herself into an active consumer: an optical consumer initially but then eventually a buyer, a cook, and an eater.
The consumer who buys has ultimately the choice either to preserve the purchased food art rather than cook it and eat it, or to go ahead and physically digest it.
Eat Art emerged officially with the Eat Art Gallery, in 1970. And it was here that Spoerri’s friends got truly involved, cooked in the Restaurant, and started producing in/edible multiples.
For Spoerri, made particularly clear in a project for a film directed by Tony Morgan (Resurrection, 1969), the digestive cycle can be taken for the paradigm of a spiraling temporality of reversibility, without coincidence, of the present and past: an irreversible reversibility. A temporal paradigm applicable to avant-garde–neo-avant-garde relations. This non-linear order constitutes the grounds of human reproduction as well as the cultural proliferation of human activity, as both difference (transformation) and return. This spiraling temporality–the Restaurant’s agenda stressed–affects all forms of production and consumption, including artistic creation, which, in Spoerri’s Eat Art does not have either a fixed point of origin or a sure end.
Régis Debray, Socialism: A Life Cycle
‘Since 1789, ideas alone have constituted the strength and salvation of the proletariat. It owes to them its every victory’, wrote Blanqui (one of those who passed the ideas of 1789 on to the Paris Commune). Abstract concepts were the abc of a militant’s apprenticeship. The notions of proletariat and bourgeoisie, like those of labour power, surplus value, relations of production, etc., that underlie them, are not apprehensible by the senses. Secondly, whether project or myth, the idea of the Revolution as ‘what should be’ is the denial and transcendence of the immediate, the overcoming of the present. Both as logical discourse and as moral undertaking, the socialist utopia demanded an inner break with the ‘stream of everyday life’, an act of faith that mobilized the powers of conceptual analysis to break the accepted social imagery down into elemental abstracts, like ‘exploitation.'
Writing collectivizes individual memory; reading individualizes collective memory. The back-and-forth between them fosters the sense for history by unearthing potentials within the present, creating backdrops and foregrounds; it is fundamental for the idea of socialism. When it is cold outside and the night is long, memory means that we are not alone. Alphabetical memory, as Hegel would put it. Contrasting ‘the inestimable educational value’ of learning to read and write with alphabetical characters, as opposed to hieroglyphics, he described how the very process of alphabetical writing helps to turn the mind’s attention from immediate ideas and sense impressions to ‘the more formal structure of the word and its abstract components’, in a way that ‘gives stability and independence to the interior realm of mental life.'
All the revolutionary men of action I have met, from Che Guevara to Pham Van Dong by way of Castro (not the autocrat, but the one-time rebel), to say nothing of the walking encyclopaedias known as Trotskyists, were compulsive readers, as devoted to books as they were unreceptive to images. A Hegelian would explain this by saying that reading leads to critical detachment, and—given that there is ‘no science that is not hidden’, nor future without ‘rehearsal’ of the past—to utopian anticipation. Abstraction encourages action, as remembrance leads to innovation. The greatest modernizers inaugurate their career with a backward leap, and a renaissance proceeds through a return to the past, a recycling, and hence a revolution. Columbus discovered America in a library, through the perusal of arcane texts and cosmographies. The Ancien Régime in France was overthrown by admirers not of Montgolfier or Washington, but of Lycurgus and Cato. Chateaubriand and Hugo revolutionized literature by dint of Gothic ruins, Nietzsche vaulted over Jules Verne with the aid of the pre-Socratics, and Freud revisited Aeschylus.
Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) was a collective formed in 1967 in New York to promote collaboration between the arts and new technology. The collective was set up by engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer and artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman. During the group’s existence, performances were held that incorporated pioneering technology in video projection, wireless sound transmission and Doppler sonar.
Other artists associated with the group include Deborah Hay, David Tudor, Yvonne Rainer and Steve Paxton.
Arcimboldo (1526 or 1527–11 July 1593) was an Italian painter best known for creating imaginative portrait heads made entirely of objects such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish and books.
These works form a distinct category from his other productions. He was a conventional court painter of portraits for three Holy Roman Emperors in Vienna and Prague, also producing religious subjects and, among other things, a series of coloured drawings of exotic animals in the imperial menagerie. He specialized in grotesque symbolical compositions of fruits, animals, landscapes, or various inanimate objects arranged into human forms.
At a distance, his portraits looked like normal human portraits. However, individual objects in each portrait were actually overlapped together to make various anatomical shapes of a human. They were carefully constructed by his imagination. The assembled objects in each portrait were not random: each was related by characterization.
“I’m quite convinced that cooking is the only alternative to filmmaking.” - Werner Herzog
More shoes! More boots! More garlic!
In the late 70s, Werner Herzog got so pissed off with kindred spirit Errol Morris not completing a film project that he made a bet: if Morris finished ‘Gates of Heaven’ and got it shown on the big screen, Herzog would … well, the clue’s in the title.
Thus it was that Herzog ate his shoe in front of a live audience at a screening of Morris’s film at the UC Theatre while Les Blank turned up to make a documentary about it.
The nature of the bet is only briefly touched on, with Herzog claiming encouragement of a protégé (it has been suggested that it was more in the way of a sarcastic aside, made in despair of the likelihood of Morris ever completing a project). Various other bits of business fill up the twenty minutes. There’s the culinary preparation, to start with: Herzog stews his shoes for five hours, having packed them with garlic, rosemary, red onions, and duck fat with the help of chef Alice Waters at her legendary restaurant Chez Panisse.
Finally at the nearby UC Theatre, Herzog eats one of the shoes before an audience at the premiere of Gates of Heaven, while talking about the destructive capitalistic effects of television, and mankind's lack of adequate imagery. Herzog describes Gates of Heaven as “the only authentic film on love and emotions, and late capitalism. Maybe it’s the only authentic film on loss of emotion and distortion of feelings.” He promises to eat the other if Morris’s film gets picked up by a major studio, slowly cutting up one boot with scissors and slowly chewing his way through the small pieces, washing them down with beer. He did not eat the sole of the shoe, however, explaining that ‘one does not eat the bones of the chicken.’ Coming from a notorious hater of chickens, this comment tells its own story.
The action eventually moved back to Chez Panisse, where an increasingly inebriated Herzog continued to nibble on small portions. As he gnaws another small mouthful of upper, he is more expansive, connecting the act both to its traditional linguistic meaning and relating it to his own lot as a filmmaker:
“Ever since I have been in contact with audiences,” Herzog says in response to a question by Blank, “I have wondered what the value of films was. I don’t know—it gives us some insight, but it doesn’t change people...I thought film could cause revolutions or whatever and it does not. But films might change our perspective of things. And ultimately in the long term, it may be something valuable. But there is a lot of absurdity involved as well. As you see,” he continues, gesturing at the glum-looking, half-eaten shoe on the table before him, “it makes me into a clown. And that happens to everyone. Just look at Orson Welles or look at even people like Truffaut—they have become clowns. Because what we do as filmmakers is immaterial. It’s only a projection of light and doing that all your life makes you just a clown. It’s an almost inevitable process…It’s just embarrassing to be a filmmaker and to sit here like this. But thank heaven I don’t sit here for my own films, but I’m sitting here for a film that was made by a friend of mine…To eat a shoe is a foolish signal, but it was worthwhile. And once in a while I think we should be foolish enough to do things like that. More shoes!” he laughs, his voice rising. “More boots! More garlic!” When he says this, it’s not because he’s developed a taste for Clarks’ finest—it’s a battle cry to the directors and film students and dreamers of the world to get behind him and take a different view and create images that will form a new filmic vocabulary. The shoe-eating was just to get their attention.
When Herzog cried “More shoes. More boots. More garlic!” it's not hard to hear this as a battle cry that Alice Waters has taken up as well. More boots on the ground marching for human principles. More garlic and flavor for everyone.