post by Rachel Pastan
Liam Gillick, the artist and writer, is coming to ICA today to give a lecture, and up in the offices everyone is talking about tarts. Gracie has ordered two tarts for the dinner after the talk, blackberry almond and blueberry buttermilk. They are from a pink storefront bakery on Arch Street, and they are beautiful.
Dessert, then, is taken care of. But the rest of the dinner remains to be cooked. In ICA’s small kitchen, Ingrid fills pots to boil pasta for the macaroni and cheese that will accompany the ribs, while Gracie hunts for the cheese grater. Ingrid says that Thomas Jefferson himself brought a recipe for macaroni and cheese back from Italy, so it seems a good dish to serve to an honored European guest.
As Ingrid heaves the heavy pots onto the stove, the elevator opens and a man comes out, wheeling a dolly with two big cartons. “The beer is here!” Alex says. “I thought we’d get Philadelphia varieties.” I see that the cartons are marked Walt Wit and Yards.
All year ICA has been hosting dinners for visiting artists and program participants in our mezzanine space.
Ingrid, ICA’s Senior Curator, is the principal cook, but all the curators take turns. Gracie and Ingrid reminisce about a dinner at which Kate cooked Mexican food and there was lots of passing of dishes and many condiments. At another dinner—or maybe the same one—the guests sang.
“The reason we cook instead of going out to eat,” Ingrid says, opening the packages of ribs, “is that it allows us to be more inclusive. We can have fifteen people at the table.”
“There’s something nice about coming to give a lecture and the senior curator has made you dinner,” Gracie says. “I’ve seen your schedule, Ingrid.”
“It takes more planning,” Ingrid says. “But in the end it’s more relaxing.”
The elevator opens again and a different man comes out, this one with trays and bags. “I have cheese and things,” he announces, putting the bags on the counter.
Gracie finishes grating and begins hulling strawberries. “My very first day here, all I did was cook with Ingrid,” she says. “My favorite moment was when she dried herbs by putting them in a clean towel and spinning them around like a centrifuge. It was a nice day.”
The door opens and Anthony comes in. “Double, double, toil and trouble,” he says, spying the steaming pots.
“Now is the lull,” Gracie says after Anthony leaves. “There’s always a lull, and then everything happens at once. But that’s how I feel about this job in general.”
Next year, Gracie is leaving us to get her masters in art history at Oxford, having had a wide range of experiences here at ICA—from making budgets and inviting speakers to eating ribs with Liam Gillick and selecting tarts: a soup to nuts preparation for a career in contemporary art. We will miss her.
Now once more the door opens, and look—here is Liam Gillick himself! He comes in and shakes hands all around. When he gets to Ingrid he says, “You’re not supposed to shake hands with the chef, are you?” But he shakes her hand anyway.
Later, during his lecture, Gillick shows slides of his work. One early series involved attending political events with a tape recorder. A piece called “An Old Song and a New Drink” (a collaboration with Angela Bulloch) involved listening to music and drinking cocktails in a Paris bar beside the Pompidou Center. Still another involved Gillick editing a book at a big table in his gallery’s booth at an art fair and requesting the gallery staff do their work at the table as well. He also talked about other artists, including Rirkrit Tiravanija who is known for cooking Thai meals for audiences.
As the slides click by, I think about the afternoon in the kitchen: cooking and conversing, planning and improvising. Focused but spontaneous activity taking place within a set of pre-determined boundaries.
I’m not suggesting that cooking dinner for Liam Gillick was art. Perhaps, though, part of the intention of his work is to make me wonder about the nature of some of the activities in which we participate daily, and what their relationship to art might be. How is cooking dinner for Liam Gillick like and not like art? How is choosing tarts from an artisan tart maker in a pink storefront like and not like art? How is giving a lecture about your art like and not like art?
I don’t have the answers to these questions. But here it is a week later, and I’m still thinking about them.
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