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Dinner party at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts: ‘You can’t measure the love you put into food’

Sophie Soukias

What if the secret to a better world lay in a good meal, enjoyed around a table at which the guests were all considered equals? At the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, five international artists and collectives will share the formula for an (almost) perfect dinner with you. “When you are preparing a meal, don't focus on the recipe. Trust your body instead.”

Step 1: Know how to celebrate your guests

What if the meal that you put together with love for your closest friends was the last? In The Last Supper, inspired by the Holy Bible and by the famous eponymous painting by Leonardo da Vinci, the Brazilian director João Turchi joins the collective MEXA around a table to explore the possibility of a last show. What image of MEXA should they leave behind?

During an outbreak of violence in the homeless shelters of São Paulo, a transphobic attack committed against one of the members of the collective led to the establishment of MEXA in 2015. “The outside world has a tendency to focus on our struggles but, in discussion, the collective made it known that it did not want a Last Supper with death as an underlying theme. If it is true that Jesus and all the apostles met terrible ends – crucified, decapitated, or poisoned – the members of MEXA rejected that prospect,” explains João Turchi. “What we wanted was a celebration of life and of our talents.”

And so, The Last Supper, performed without taboos to spectators with whom the food will be enthusiastically shared, will give the Théâtre de la Balsamine in Schaarbeek/Schaerbeek the feel of a great banquet. A ritualistic celebration resolutely focused on hope: “Faith is important, even if it’s just believing in yourself.” In the show, the meal has more than just a symbolic function. “We felt that it was essential for real food to be shared,” says João Turchi. “One of the first meetings of the collective took place over a lunch. The question of whether there would be food at rehearsals was crucial to the members. If you have nothing to eat, you cannot create.”

MEXA: The Last Supper: 29/5 > 1/6, Théâtre de la Balsamine

Step 2: Prepare an appropriate menu

“When it comes to food, people say a dish is made with love. I spent hours trying to quantify that love, but I never succeeded. This means that you can’t measure love, but it is a very important ingredient when making food!” says Samah Hijawi, the Jordanian visual artist of Palestinian origin who has lived in Brussels since 2014. Why is it that when you try to recreate your favourite childhood dish, it never tastes the way you hoped? Even when your mother has carefully noted down every step of that intensely nostalgic recipe for you? This is one of the questions that Samah Hijawi asks in the workshops she will accompany at the KVS BOL. The project continues from a collaboration with De Kriekelaar, the Community Kitchen, and Citizenne Lab earlier this year.

At the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, participants are invited to exchange recipes associated with different themes: the arrival of a baby, the New Year, weddings, etc. “I don’t think a recipe has everything that a dish has to tell us. You need to trust your memory and body, it will guide you in remaking it.” Less interested in the exact details of a recipe than in all the memories and sensations that a recipe carries, Samah Hijawi encourages the participants of the workshop to share the images and flashbacks that a recipe evokes. “Sometimes, it is a mum’s body in the kitchen, sometimes a picnic in springtime, etc.”

The participants collect the many memories on a giant map of Brussels that quickly becomes a map of the world. “We go shopping, roll our sleeves up and cook, and the conversation comes up: ‘How are we going to do it?’ In that moment, it stops being about simply consuming, and we begin to really understand the depth of the food on our table.”

Samah Hijawi: Memories Around the Kitchen Table: 11 > 27/5, KVS BOL

Step 3: Set your own table

Have you ever had to ruin the atmosphere around a joyful table because the conversation was taking a racist, sexist, or homophobic turn? Because staying silent was tantamount to condoning routine violence, and you preferred to be labelled a killjoy once again than to live with the failure of not having been able to say anything? If you have, Sara Ahmed has designed a “killjoy survival kit” for you, the instruction manual for which she will share during a workshop at KVS BOL focusing on, among other things, “reflections on how tables matter.”

Looking back on all the tables she has ever been invited to sit at, Sara Ahmed is just as interested in the philosopher’s desk as the kitchen table, not to mention conference tables, which ensure the proper functioning of institutions.

“Tables are used by people to assert ownership: this is our home, and this is our table,” says Sara Ahmed. “So many institutions position people of colour as strangers as well as guests. And just because they welcome you, it does not mean they expect you to turn up.”

To break away from the pseudo-conviviality of institutions, Sara Ahmed advises not only that you stop playing the exemplary guest – “It is not necessary to continue to smile when you are confronted with an injustice” – but also that you set your own tables, outside of the system. “The places where many of us gather, work, meet, and greet become communication networks, vehicles for sending information out, for reaching each other.”

Sara Ahmed: Setting the Table: Reflections on How Tables Matter: 22/5, KVS BOL

Step 4: Dumplings for the main course

“At Globe Aroma, we cook a lot,” says An Vandermeulen, the coordinator of this creative space nestled in the centre of Brussels, which is devoted to professional artists, beginners, and art lovers who are newcomers. At Globe Aroma, the kitchen is the focal point of the house, a versatile space in which the members do much more than quickly reheat a snack. Meals are prepared there, but it is also somewhere to talk, share, reminisce, and create.

“That’s how we came to realise that dumplings were present in many different cultures and how visual artist Mirra Markhaëva first came up with the Dumpling Tales,” says An Vandermeulen.

Mirra Markhaëva is from Buryatia (in the south-west of Siberia), where people are crazy about “buuz”, a Mongolian version of dumplings stuffed with meat. During her free School of Conviviality at KVS BOL, the artist will surround herself with colleagues from Afghanistan and Georgia, and the collective of artists from Jakarta, Ruangrupa to take you on a journey to the furthest dumpling, and beyond.

“Making dumplings requires patience, a certain amount of physical effort, and time spent together,” explains An Vandermeulen. You knead the dough with your fingers, you gently massage the meat, tongues begin to loosen. You start telling stories. Personal stories, stories about the cultures that you have encountered. And, before you have even realised, the collective history Dumpling Tales is being written.

Mirra Markhaëva, Globe Aroma, Ruangrupa/GudSkul: The School of Conviviality: Dumpling Tales: 28 & 29/5, KVS BOL

Step 5: Haribo Kimchi for dessert

The fusion of a German brand of sweets that has conquered the world and a traditional Korean dish with a thousand-year history gives us Haribo Kimchi, the new show by Jaha Koo at Le Rideau.

Kimchi, as you are no doubt aware, is the name of the fermented and seasoned vegetables that accompany Korean meals. “Presently, with over 300 variations, including cabbage, radish, and green onion, kimchi remains integral to Korean diets and has even adapted to new tastes and ingredients abroad, diverging from its traditional roots,” explains the South-Korean director and composer who is a firm believer in the super-powers of food (we remember the talking rice cookers in Cuckoo, performed at the Beursschouwburg in 2018). “Food serves as the most direct form of cultural exchange.”

Haribo Kimchi is a flavoursome exploration of cultural assimilation, the story of which is told in the company of lost souls, borrowed from the pojangmacha, a typical snack-bar in the streets of South Korea that is open late at night. “These street stalls appear out of nowhere at night, serving a diverse clientele across class, generation, and gender lines, and disappear like ghosts by morning. They are a metaphor for our constantly adapting cultures.”

Using sound and visual installations, Jaha Koo recreates the uniquely sensory ambiance of the pojangmacha to plumb the depths of the foods that shape our identities. “Recipes, in this context, have alchemistic power,” he adds. “They carry the essence of the times and people who created them.”

CANCELLED Jaha Koo: Haribo Kimchi: 10 > 15/5, Le Rideau

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