We are an artist duo, Martinka Bobrikova & Oscar de Carmen, which artistic practices are somewhere in between art and social activism with special focus on environmental question.

The Kitchen Dialogues project has been the result of our mutual collaboration to develop a body of work around the notions of value and power that govern politics in the economic and social spheres. Our approach has always been to use our artistic practice as a means to shed light on problems surrounding current patterns of production and consumption. Some of the works in the Kitchen Dialogues project have reflected on consumer habits, showcasing that the common capitalist idea of growth is not sustainable in our contemporary globalized world. We have emphasized in our proposals that we create works evidencing the excessive growth that has emerged in the present market society from unbridled production, monopolizing all sectors of  life. Deliberation around this theme has focused our projects around the consequences of this process on a psychological level. Our interests must be understood as embedded within an attempt to understand the emergence of the collective unconscious, built within the limits of capitalism, to better understand how it has happened.

The Kitchen Dialogues project formed after we had previously completed a series of works in 2006 engaging with the current habits of food consumption: an economically justified supply model that exceeds demand. We began an art practice around a series of actions occurring in the social field around the foods considered “perishable” within the framework of European regulations. More specifically, we focused on investigating the negative consequences of surplus food in this specific locale. For the first time we were asserting that everything occurring in the European Union regarding the surplus of food was related to its laws and judicial actions regulating the quality of foods and proceeds from the commitment that the European Union makes regarding the quality controls of food that its citizens consume. It is the international agencies and governmental policies that force the food sector to discard food products that contain some deterioration in their wrapping or packaging. Through our artistic practice engaging with such iss es, we began to consider how we could engross the public in fruitful dialogue on the serious problem of surplus food.

To be successful, we were certain that we needed a project that would develop in different places and could serve as a site where people could meet and mutually exchange dialogue. The challenge to our project was thinking about how we could carry out an art project where we could present reality from a utopian standpoint reflecting our own ideas of ideal life and society. In our view, art is as much a product of this reality as ourselves. In developing our art projects, we understand that we are also participating in the capitalist circuit. However, if we want to imagine social and political change in our art projects, we can only do so from within. We take this methodology for art and social change from the social theorist John Zerzan. Zerzan asserts that every individual is caught up in consumerism regardless of their political, social, and economic standpoint.

The theoretical phase of the Kitchen Dialogues project began to form at the end of 2012. We began by approaching gastronomy to develop our social art practice with the objective of researching the relationship among people, their food, and their environment. For us, it seemed obvious to think of the performance of food as an important role in human exchange. However, the project was grounded by reflecting on theoretical questions, such as: how gastronomy helps us engage with capitalism through our social experiences with food? What areas of “human exchange” are interesting for the future of humanity’s evolution? How does the political economy of food affect social life?

Our engagement with the social, environmental, and economic impact of food culture and gastronomy has been, in part, influenced by previous artists considering similar questions, including Food (1974) by Gordon Matta-Clark, Suzanne Harris, Tina Girouard, Rachel Lew, and Caroline Goodden, The Onion (1996) by Marina Abramovic, Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) by Félix González-Torres, Hot dog (1974) by Paul McCarthy, Manifesto of Futurist Cooking (1930) by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Fillia, Eat Art (1968) by Daniel Spoerri, Al’s Café (1969) by Allen Ruppersberg, Public Lunch (1971) by Bonnie Ora Sherk, Death of a Chicken (1972) by Ana Mendieta, The Waitresses (1979) by Judy Chicago, Suzanne Lacy and Linda Pruess, Internacional Tapas Bar y Restaurant (1984) by Antoni Miralda and Montse Guillén, The Dinner Project (1997) by Lee Mingwei, pad thai (1990) by Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Conflict Kitchen (2010) by Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski.

Since its inception in 2013, Kitchen Dialogues has been operating as a nomadic platform for indefinite periods of time. Our trajectory has always been to develop the Kitchen Dialogues project as an active social tool through enacting socialization in the consumption of food: but these gastronomic engagements inherently exist outside of capitalist forms of financial consumption. We create a platform for socialization outside of capitalist consumption by inviting the public to participate in the culinary experiences we offer without charge in various gastronomic events.

The first Kitchen Dialogues event was held in the Norwegian city of Trondheim for a period of one month within the larger art project and exhibition Constant. Decay. This first manifestation of the project involved the creation of a temporary restaurant inside a private apartment located on the second floor of a building marked for demolition. We provided one dinner a day for the duration of the event. To maximize the space and social experimentation, we restricted persons to reserving the space for an event to a maximum of three people from the same affine group. At each dinner we offered a homemade menu consisting of a starter, a second course, and a dessert with all food coming from the food surplus of three supermarkets within the city.

The aim of this project was for participants to taste culinary dishes made from food surplus. However, most important for us was the conversations resulting from the social interrelation within the event. Therefore, we chose not to approach the events from an educational or discursive point of view by addressing the problem of overeating and overconsumption. The key was to engage the participation of anyone through their tasting the food served at dinner. This meant that the reaction of the participants was more related to the experimentation of sensations derived from the act of eating or the feelings of community developed among participants by virtue of being a part of the event. The true intention of the event was for each participant to experience and take part in the creation of a social ecosystem existing outside of consumption, free of charge. The Kitchen Dialogues facilitated such an environment and was open to all: to participate in the event, one only needed to book a reservation available through our Kitchen Dialogues website.

Later we developed other occasional culinary events in the form of mobile cooking in private and public spaces in multiple cities around the world (Singapore, Nida, Oslo). Soon we saw that our concern with the topic of food surplus through the potential of gastronomy exposed for participants and ourselves the capacity for social and cultural transformation and we changed our practice to reflect these new concerns. The vision of Kitchen Dialogues was transformed to encapsulate a complex network of concerns including food, ethics, aesthetics, and social coexistence. The material, symbolic, and relational potential in gastronomy was now understood in our artistic practice as an opportunity to offer and investigate other types of social ecosystems. In visualizing the food surplus, a project of utility and symbolic generation for social change and new ways of life was being developed. Kitchen Dialogues encapsulates works that consider how to approach people from the same community to how to solve the personal problems of a community. The result has been a variety of projects with interests in generating a collective social environment. Our main interest has been in provoking the possibilities of dialogue in social groups or communities with some concrete need.

The project has served to help us reflect on how we were going to navigate between the limits of daily life and art to accommodate the construction of a social context based on collaboration. What matters most for us is that communications occurs where public or private space opens up. We are interested in facilitating a dialogue between people who have different capacities and different identities and we seek communication that aims to support others. We view this as the most effective tool to find answers to production in the field of collaboration. The important thing is to create a project that gives its meaning to the community that welcomes it and in each instantiation the project produces it its own meaning and value. Kitchen Dialogues has sought to contribute as a mediator in the impact of resources with the communities within which they have worked.

When developing subsequent Kitchen Dialogues events, we always explore the most appropriate format and concerns for each manifestation, being heedful of what is the most appropriate concept to develop each time and for each locale. To do this, we study the gastronomic cultural components of the site or the local culture where the event is occuring. In some events, we have offered food from a certain place in a different place where it would probably be more difficult to obtain, generating a reflection on the transport of food on a global scale. Two aspects on the transportation of food inform the project, which, without conflict, perpetuate a reflection on the efficacy of our artistic practice: We cannot ignore the pattern of trade export treaties between different countries yet we are also implicated in this process through Kitchen Dialogues because we often transport supplies for the project from one country to another. Often times the products collected (or our means of collection) to carry out the project are on the edges of legality: collecting food surplus is not always legal. The very process of collecting the surplus food from the supermarkets can make us reflect on the consequential judicial risks.

Over time we have come to understand the Kitchen Dialogues as a vital experience for any participant in any of the events associated with the project. Through appropriating activities that are often linked to notions of consumption, the Kitchen Dialogues holds the potential to transform the perception of each individual accustomed to integrating consumerism into their social and personal acts.

The project has also helped us develop our critical art practice and, since beginning the Kitchen Dialogues, we have continued to be interested in exploring how to critically engage participants in our events. Our art practice creates spaces of coexistence and confluence to open a dialogue on the structures of society, ranging from consumption and consumerism to critical engagement with “the art world”. These dialogues are vitally important whether within an “institutional” setting or an informal gathering. This artistic methodology offers a form of transformation in the basis of social existence. Gastronomy is one of our vehicles to be able to, from our art practice, sketch a reflection on the social issues we find pressing in our contemporary globalized worlds. Our work is concerned with the desire to develop and make meaningful the notion of a collaborative idea, defending the Kitchen Dialogues project as an aesthetic-political experiment of commitment to the community within the current system of global art. Gastronomy has been for us as a risk-taking in our art practice to question the present

The project was  supported by MeetFactory, Billedkunstnernes Vederlagsfond, Instituto CervantesOCA – Office for Contemporary Art Norway, Slovak Art Council.