Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A performance art event



+ JO KUKATHAS as emcee!

20 MARCH 2010
8.30 – 10pm
The Terrace @ DAVE’S Pizza Pasta Vino, 1Utama Shopping Centre
*Happy hour until 10pm! RM35/jug

contact: +6017 356 6206 / +6019 649 2772

Supported by:
DAVE’s Pizza Pasta Vino
and Instant Café Theatre House of Art & Ideas @ CHAI



To be honest the last thing I want to do is write an essay about food. All you need to know about food you can learn from cookbooks, your father, your grandmother, Asian Food Channel, or just... eating it. Anyone who wants to deconstruct a char keuy teow instead of savoring those slippery folds, moist with grease, between their lips, must be bereft of some common virtue.

Furthermore, food is one of those last Malaysian frontiers where we are as confident in our identity and as sexy in that confidence as an Italian in a perfectly cut suit. We may not know what it means to be truly Malaysian, but damn, we know our food is shiok. When it comes to food at least, we're comfortable with who we are. This lack of self-consciousness is becoming all too rare in our culture, and I don't want to defile that sacred ground with identity politics and cultural theories. I don't think my parents sponsored four years of tertiary education abroad so that I could come home and write about nasi lemak in ways they can't understand.

When I was still in school, my parents took their life savings (including their childrens' education fund) and started a restaurant business. For a few years my terrace-link home in Taman Tun was a commissary cum warehouse - the rooms were taken over one by one until at one point all five of us (myself, my parents and two other siblings) were sleeping in the master bedroom. Eventually, the 'Proudly A Malaysian Discovery' Dave's Deli business took off, and we moved into a bigger house and a relatively comfortable life. Interesting trivia: many people around my age have told me that they had their first date and similar rites of passage in a Dave's Deli outlet, usually over the 1/4 Roast Chicken with gravy and mash.

Although they couldn't be prouder now, in the early days I know that I disappointed my parents by choosing an art career instead of the family business. Putting food on the table literally involved putting food on tables, so walking away from the communal rice bowl affected how I related to food, wealth, and the family unit. It taught me alot about independence - on the one hand, the guilt of abandoning a life-time of values and the terrible shame of asserting individual freedom against collective well-being; on the other, the discovery of the full range of yourself, the useful strengths and humiliating weaknesses, as in a golf swing or a muscle. Malaysians have been taught that merdeka is a joyful business, all parade and celebration, because we (?) well someone, anyway, achieved it. Oh yes, but independence applied at the personal level is also a painful business, and that pain makes it undeniably ours - because we practice it.

Back to food. Five years into this profession, I wish that art was more like food. I wish that ideas in this country were more palatable, more sedap in the making. I wish I could slurp art down in 5 minutes at a kopitiam during lunch, that we could gather together around it, arguing about where to find the best this or that, and make plans for outstation trips just to try some far-out speciality. My brain hurts over how we can extend culture as a form of open, universal hospitality, instead of the invite-only feasts offered in galleries or art spaces. For years, my family has been coming to my exhibitions. Once or twice they even did the catering! I think it's time to change things up a bit, hence my plan to organize a performance art event over two nights at Dave's Pizza Pasta & Wino, which is a fine dining restaurant in 1Utama shopping centre, where Darren, my older brother, is head chef.

It is an attempt to test out new audiences and new spaces, to see how artists and public interact in an unfamiliar setting. If artists continue to present their ideas to the same limited audience of art enthusiasts, we are doomed to stagnation and self-indulgence - like the cook who makes the same dish over and over because she knows it will go down well.

And also... after some time poking around in the wilderness, perhaps I long to bring back to the family table, and offer in the spirit of humility, my search for independence. I hope it's good eating.

- Sharon Chin