“A gesture of authenticity.”

Gerrit Terstiege spoke to Mike Meiré about his new installation “Global Street Food”

After “The Farm Project”, “Global Street Food” is Mike Meiré’s current installation for the Dornbracht Edges series of exhibitions. In contrast to “The Farm Project”, this new project is not about the domestic kitchen as the stage of life; it is about improvised kitchens set up in public spaces – in and on the streets.

Gerrit Terstiege: “The Farm Project” appeared to present the kitchen as a juxtaposition of very diverse objects, a kind of casual montage which also permitted chaos and chance. Your latest project appears to continue these aesthetics.

Mike Meiré: Yes, that’s right. “The Farm Project” served as a stage for various gastronomic cultures; it was all about the variety, the complexity and also the beauty to be discovered within it. For my new “Global Street Food” project, I was fascinated by the image of street kitchens in towns and cities around the world and their DIY aesthetics. Society is becoming increasingly mobile, and this is also reflected in our associations with cooking and eating. I was recently struck by this phenomenon again in New York: the huge number of businessmen and women, walking in their pinstriped suits to fetch their lunch from the hot dog stand around the corner. I find it inspiring to look for these types of mobile units in different continents, to document them and, if possible, to acquire them. In Thailand, for example, we found an old boat with a kiosk and a cookshop on board. I’m curating an exhibition of various such objects at the Passagen 2009 show, which is held during the Cologne Furniture Fair.

GT: What exactly do you find fascinating about these stands?

M.M.: The possibility of creating a functioning unit in the smallest of spaces, which is also mobile. It poses the question: can we manage to create a complete kitchen in two square metres? What should it look like and how should it work? Observing and studying exhibits of a fast-food society collected from all around the world can lead to new and more complex kitchen solutions. It's about being aware of the kind of kitchen you really need for your lifestyle, and then thinking about the design. Nowadays, we have to work more and more efficiently and have less and less time to eat a decent meal at lunchtime, let alone cook it ourselves. At the same time, we want to eat something healthy. This creates the demand for a compact and multifunctional kitchen unit which can also be used to make "healthy” fast food.

GT: It reminds me of Stefan Wewerka’s “kitchen tree”. It features all essential pieces, such as the sink, hotplate, storage space and worktop, mounted on a single pillar. It is a highly functional object, but not exactly mobile. In addition, fixtures generally need a fixed place in the room and are connected to a service and waste pipe system. Where is the reference between Dornbracht fittings and the subject of mobility?

M.M.: Dornbracht does not see itself as a manufacturer of kitchen products, but rather as a source of inspiration for the industry. If you pick up on the approach of these mobile street kitchens and develop it professionally, you can learn a lot about complexity. If we revolutionise the technology used in these kitchen units, we may end up developing completely new, urban behaviours. Or an aesthetic aspect: the dazzling colours of these objects, such as the hotplates – why are they only available in black? Or the menu, which is always scrawled on cards with a marker pen. Why not use a touch screen as a technological update? To stimulate this kind of thinking, we want to initially present these units in neutral surroundings. Many people will be reminded of Duchamps Ready-mades, others will be reminded of R2-D2, the little robot from Star Wars.

GT: “Vernacular culture” is the phrase used to describe this amateurish form with no claim to design in the form of urban interventions. These units also have rather sculptural qualities in the sense of an artistic installation. A work such as “Bicycle for a homeless person” by Andreas Slominski springs to mind, for example.

M.M.: Precisely. The sculptural characteristic given to the street kitchens in an exhibition situation generates exactly this type of association – and even a new awareness, as the onlooker first needs to understand the principle of the mobile units, the details and functionality of the individual elements on view. That makes it interesting. Decontextualisation allows people to look at the units from various points of view: what materials is this type of unit made from? Where do they come from and how do they communicate with each other? Just as we began with “The Farm Project” to provide a contrast to aesthetic minimalism in the kitchen, we want to inspire a design with these street sculptures which also provides a narrative. What happens if you put technology outside, make it visible, like for example the architecture of the Pompidou Centre, and create an object that represents a kind of life situation, an organism in the smallest of spaces? The kitchen as a place of social dynamics and transformation is just one such organism. The miniaturisation, the combination of altogether different aspects opens up a new avenue and makes it possible to think about other processes. From this type of field research, I am hoping for a development that leads to different forms of expression, aesthetics that seek out stylistic incongruities.

GT: Coming back to the exhibition in January, how do you want to present the street kitchens?

M.M.: We have been doing research for over a year in various countries such as Vietnam, Uganda, China, Sudan, Mexico and Argentina. I assume we’ll display around 12 objects. We’ll see what comes of it; it’s not always easy to export the objects from the various countries. But the first containers will be arriving soon. There will also be some really unusual objects in the exhibition, such as the terracotta chicken grill that we discovered in Vietnam that looks like an oversized saucepan. If possible, I want to exhibit these unique objects just as they are. It’s a gesture of authenticity and respect to our global village.

GERRIT TERSTIEGE is chief editor of the design magazine “form”; he is a member of international design juries and author of a number of literary contributions on design and everyday culture.