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Dinner Table Conversation

By Rhizome

This past Saturday at General Public, in Berlin, e+l staged Media Plate, their latest investigation of the micro- and macro-forces at play in the consumption of food and production of waste. These have been central topics over recent years for e+l, a collaboration between Ken Ehrlich and Brandon LaBelle. For their 2003 residency at Hull Time Based Arts, in the United Kingdom, the non-English artists cooked "foreign" cuisine (fish tacos) for a "performance-picnic," played music from the origin countries of ingredients, and incorporated placemats that mapped the journey of each ingredient from its origin-point to Hull (Active Ingredient, 2003). Through the seemingly innocuous social convention of the picnic, Ehrlich and LaBelle highlighted the various structural and economic tiers of food distribution and made participants aware of their localized position in these networks. Shifting focus to the far end of food consumption, the artists laid ginger and compost at various urban development and waste sites throughout Berlin as an open invitation for ginger plant cultivation (Active Refuse, 2005). They concluded the project with a discussion and cooking-presentation of ginger-carrot soup. The cycles of development characteristic of a contemporary metropolis were here given analogous, naturalistic form in Ehrlich and LaBelle's urban gardens, while their placement on waste sites equally drew attention to the often hidden side of a city's maintenance. As with their broader body of collaborations, Active Refuse builds upon Ehrlich and LaBelle's extensive research into waste management in Berlin, including visits to local plants and centers and interviews with waste-management officials. Lyrical conceptualism and deep inquiry thus come together, somewhat uncommonly, in this and other of e+l's projects, and always end up staying for dinner. - Tyler Coburn

Image: Ginger-carrot soup ingredients for Active Refuse

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