Cooking Up the Self – Bobby Baker and Blondell Cummings “Do” the Kitchen
There are three main contexts discussed in this text:
- Significance of theatre space as gendered
Throughout history, the classical stage space has usually always been perceived as an area dominating the exterior of buildings, portraying male dominance in the public domain whilst the female domain is depicted as being behind closed doors, hidden and out of sight, the property of man.
- Historical concept of the actress/self
Men have also been playing the role of women on stage for centuries, perceived as superior actors to women themselves, who were seen as natural deceivers and so their acting could not be differentiated from their own true identity.
- The unique quality of theatre performance as taking place in the present tense
A live performance is unique in that it occurs in the lived moment and regardless of whether a script is being followed, no two performances will ever be identical. This also relates to the audience’s own unique experience of what they are viewing, as no two people will have the same experience of the same performance.
Bobby Baker, a British solo performer who trained at St Martin’s, incorporated performance as a way of expressing the minutiae of her life as a wife, mother and homemaker. Her work is three part; using the kitchen as site and subject and herself as the agent within it. In ‘Kitchen Show: One Dozen Kitchen Actions Made Public,’ Baker invited the audience to join her and to witness the activities of her everyday in which she contradicts the idea of actresses merely playing themselves by making the playing of herself a deliberate act along with locating her performance within the stereotypical bounds of the female territory that is the kitchen. The ‘dozen’ referring to a baker’s dozen of thirteen, incorporates what she calls “actions” which are each followed by a “mark” whilst accompanied by an autobiographical monologue. The end result is Baker adorning various items and covered in numerous stains whilst balancing precariously on a cake stand served up as an artwork – a parody of the idealised beauty of male fantasy and domestic goddess.
Blondell Cummings’s work ‘Chicken Soup’ uses props which include herself as the channel for her performance. A dancer/choreographer and actor who was known for her gestural dance, Cummings created a different perspective of the domestic arena as site. The kitchen, rooted in childhood memories of her grandmother at work, was a place that was the hub of the home. The monologue spoken by Cummings as voiceover brings to life those who spent time around the table with her and her family, her movements capturing traces of their conversations and feelings as well as those of Cummings herself. A snapshot of what is considered the female domain of the household and bringing it to life by setting it in a theatrical context and addressing personal and social issues. Cummings stated that ‘Chicken Soup’ was not a political protest piece but merely a means of capturing the intimate lives of those around her grandmother’s home.
House: from Display to BACK to FRONT – Fran Cottell
In Fran Cottell’s work a questioning of boundaries between art and the everyday is in play, as well as a questioning of what is viewed as public or as private. Her work is not about inviting the audience in to view the details of her family’s life, their habits or their tastes but instead to draw our attention to structure of disorder of everyday life and not what it contains. White markings on the floor confining the audience to only step within them whilst viewing the newly demolished wall between the cupboard and the kitchen in her home is her way of ‘drawing attention to the artist’s role of generating a recognisable order as “Art”, even when from the chaotic remnants of the everyday.’ The whole space and all of its contents is there to be viewed and scrutinised, not just those areas that are confined and marked. Cottell is challenging us to look again at what we thought we knew about our everyday surroundings both as home and as art.
All three artists featured have approached the challenges of the stereotypical female performer, site space and live performance and there is a marked divergence in their depiction of these three elements which is naturally based on their own personal experiences. However in the artist Sophie Calle’s work, ‘The Sleepers’ , the audience’s involvement changes according to their position.
23 people (friends, strangers and neighbours) were invited to spend eight hours in her bed in order to occupy it for 24 hours a day. Sleeping independently from the artist, they became the artwork. Calle’s response to how the audience ‘performed’ was recorded by taking photos of the sleepers every hour, making notes of their movements and asking questions to those who agreed to answer in order to establish a neutral and distant contact with her subjects. For me, Calle has turned things up a degree or two by changing her role completely where she takes on the role of documenter and the audience becomes the subject not just through their responses to Calle’s questions and their physical presence but also through the recording of their personal, intimate positions during the unawareness of sleep.
Whilst Baker, Cummings and Cottell have asked a direct audience to question and challenge what they are seeing, I feel that Calle is challenging another audience entirely other than the one participating, that of the impartial viewer.