Elizabeth Prendiville of Saffronart shares her experience attending Subodh Gupta’s performance feast “Celebration” at Performa 13.
New York: For the past three months, I have had the opportunity to participate in the Performa Intensive program through New York University. This included researching, assisting and participating in the production process for the well-known, visual art performance biennial under the Founding Director Roselee Goldberg. Throughout the process the most memorable and unique experience has been participating in Subodh Gupta’s piece “Celebration”, both as an aid to the kitchen staff and as a guest. Gupta is well known for his large-scale installations made from everyday objects from the Indian Subcontinent, specifically food containers such as steel tiffin boxes, thali pans and large pails. His work touches on the histories of Duchamp’s readymades, while simultaneously addressing issues of everyday life in India. Sources of inspiration range from politics to social issues. For “Celebration” (held at The Old Bowery Station) Gupta has constructed a massive chandelier made of various sized steel containers and a dazzling collection of light bulbs. The piece embodies the artist’s ability to transform these everyday vessels, while still honoring their place in everyday life. In addition to his spectacular installation, Gupta’s performance focuses on the concept of “feast” and how this event brings individuals together. Eight times throughout the biennial he prepared an elaborate meal for around fifty guests to enjoy, sharing the space with his spectacular chandelier.
Presented with the opportunity to assist in the kitchen for this project I was excited to get to see one of my favorite artists creating something innovative, yet so customary. Gupta’s piece stressed the role that feasting has in every community. Whether it is shared in mourning, happiness or simply togetherness, communal food presents an important element in every culture. While helping in the kitchen, I was thrilled to see the artist actively involved in every part of the meal. He would be quickly stirring a pot and seconds later run over to direct and interact with the kitchen staff, preparing other elements of the meal. Simultaneously with being involved in the execution of every single part of the meal, Gupta also directed art handlers in the installation of his massive chandelier in the next room. The entire kitchen was buzzing with excitement and energy the way a family home would before a big holiday. Very rarely does one have the opportunity to witness an artist do something (aside from their chosen craft) with the passion and delight that Subodh Gupta expressed while cooking in the Bowery Station space.
Having this behind the scenes experience and actively participating in everything from plating bananas for dessert and drying cups to carrying packs of King Fisher beer into the event space, contributed to my understanding of Gupta’s performance. As a guest I immediately noticed that the space was pulsing with energy. Guests chatted, drank, ate and enjoyed the full sensory experience of “Celebration” from start to finish. As dessert was being served the artist took a moment to speak. He stressed the importance of community feasting in every culture, especially in India. Gupta explained that in Indian communities it is very common to share and serve food for strangers and foster new friendships in this celebratory setting. This was very fitting for the experience we shared as each table was packed with different groups mingling freely. When asked if his family or some other outside source influenced the menu Gupta simply said “I cooked the food I like to eat”. “Celebration” was truly a heartfelt performance that the artist generously shared with everyone in attendance.
Performa 13 runs through November 24th. For more information about artist’s classes, performances and other programming check out the official Performa 13 website here.