Skip to main content
Read page text

| Features 01 |

the mainstream art system was not a conscious reaction to the fact that galleries were usually run by men, but rather an instinctual urge to connect with a wider audience.

Baker’s interest in baking (her surname is indeed her birth name) and her fondness for role-playing were both manifested in An Edible Family in a Mobile Home. The installation was made in situ, where the artist constructed a life-sized family out of cake. For three months Baker prepared the exhibition, which eventually encompassed every inch of the space while she lived in it. First she baked the multitude of sponge cakes that would be needed to sculpt the life-sized family members and then she froze them. During this time she covered the entire surface of each room with newsprint, including floors, ceilings, walls and furniture, and then iced it, creating a glazed, sugar-coated surface. This kind of labourintensive work would not have been possible in a traditional gallery space. Working outside the mainstream system for showing contemporary art was not only germane here, but also integral to the project.

The move away from the mainstream art system was not a conscious reaction to the fact that galleries were usually run by men, but rather an instinctual urge to connect with a wider audience.

It was Baker’s intention that the figures be eaten, except for the mother. The only figure that was not edible, the matriarch was constructed from a dressmaker’s torso with a teapot for the head. The group consisted of a father, seated upright in his chair, a son in the bathtub and a baby in a crib. Visitors were invited to eat the figures and, hence, were implicated in the destruction of the work of art. A documentary photograph taken during the installation illustrates Baker’s cannibalistic role in this week-long action: the artist, dressed in a pink smock and holding a knife, would greet visitors and serve them cake and tea. As in all of Baker’s live acts, transformation was key to this work. By the end of the week-long installation, what remained of the figures had gone rancid, uncovering the darker theme behind the humour implicit in the work. The dysfunctional family is displayed then destroyed in the live act, thus presenting a subversive oppositional version of the traditional role of the female as nurturer and provider.

For Baker, working outside the gallery proved more satisfying than her previous efforts at the ICA and elsewhere. In a recent interview she told me: ‘One thing I was particularly passionate about with An Edible Family in a Mobile Home was that it was on a council estate in Stepney. I wanted it to be very accessible to a non-art audience and it was extremely successful in those terms because I got a lot of local press. I got a huge influx of people from the local community as well as an art-informed audience from across London.’ Baker has never been represented by a gallery, and has continued to place work in such unlikely locations as church halls (interestingly, Meat Joy was first performed in church halls), a swimming pool filled with wine and in her own kitchen. Baker’s work, rife with wry comments on domesticity and the familial home, may be compared to other feminist artists who commented on domestic life, including Merle Laderman Ukeles, Faith Wilding and Martha Rosler (Interview AM314).

A performance created by Rose English and Sally Potter in 1976 the diversity of venues for feminist performance art and how these could be utilised to evoke feminist issues. Berlin was divided into four sections that took place at three different locations: a large squatted Regency house where the artists lived at 41 Mornington Terrace, Camden Town; the Sobell Centre Ice Rink; and an Olympic swimming pool at Swiss Cottage Baths. English had been involved with political activities in the 1970s, mostly concerned with housing, as well as the practical and theoretical aspects of feminism. She met Potter while working on a piece called The Boy Baby (as an aside, Baker made a cake for this work). Needing dancers for this she went to a performance that Potter had done with Jackie Lansley, and they became acquainted. Eventually, they combined their efforts in a live piece called Park Cafeteria, which took place at the Serpentine Gallery and used the park as an additional setting to the gallery. Berlin came afterwards at a time when the artists were questioning the gallery system and considering whether the theatrical world could accommodate their needs.

English and Potter did not script Berlin. Instead they created a scenario that would be acted out by the participants, who included a chorus of men and boys in addition to the artists. Each section of Berlin, like Baker’s ambitious work discussed earlier, exploited the aspects of the existing architecture of its setting. Part One (The Pre-Conditions) took place at Mornington Terrace, where various aspects of the infrastructure of the house, from hanging light bulbs to the staircases, were incorporated into the performance. Part Two (The Spectacle) took place one week later at an ice rink where the artists exploited the possibilities of such a setting, appearing on ice skates accompanied by a male chorus. In Part Three (Remembering the Spectacle), which took place on the night following Part Two, the audience assembled in a swimming pool at Swiss Cottage, where the performers read pieces from the diving board, the area around the pool and in the water. The concluding section, Part Four (The Arguments), took place one week later back at Mornington Terrace, where once again the artists utilised aspects of the house such as the mantelpiece and the bare floors in the performance.

Berlin typifies how feminist performance artists circumvented

FEB 11 | ART MONTHLY | 343

| 7 |

My Bookmarks


    Skip to main content