Global Street Food - A Project by Mike Meiré

“Now even hot food stalls are exhibits!” My neighbour, by habitus evidently a professional trade fair frequenter, seemed a little confused. A trendy multilingual audience, which would have done credit to every exhibition opening in Berlin city centre, dominated the scene in the overcrowded improvised White Cube in Meiré und Meiré’s so-called “Factory” during the imm cologne 2009.

The exhibition displayed a selection of mobile, more or less makeshift hot food stalls, sales stands and fast food stations from all over the world: a barque from Vietnam, which obviously serves visitors and dealers to a floating market as a floating kiosk; a grill for goat meat from Uganda, whose adventurous construction is reminiscent of Marcel Duchamp’s “Bicycle Wheel” (1913); against the wall leans a lollipop pole reminiscent of a Minimal Art sculpture from Argentina, whose impressive formal and functional simplicity also makes you think of another Duchamp readymade piece, namely the snow shovel “In Advance of the Broken Arm” of 1915. Although the gap between the “authentic” objects featuring a lot of patina and traces of use and the audience could not have been greater, the scenery was still strangely familiar. The “aesthetic imperative” of the White Cube settings turned everything into a sort of work of art. But the comment by the man standing next to me contained a question on art philosophy that should not be disregarded: what makes these everyday objects exhibition items? Or to join Peter Sloterdijk in asking: “Why at the end of the twentieth century are we experiencing an inflation in the exhibitable?” Because, and this applies even more at the start of the 21st century, there is, according to Sloterdijk, “a parallel inflation in the producible”. “Bigger and bigger sections of reality are being turned into raw material for production – into source matter or pictures, relations, transformations. Everything that was once a product can become a raw material again, in order to preserve the effects of labour a new as a passive material.” This theory on the cycle of material seems to be aimed almost directly at the objects on display, as can there be a more blatant image for Sloterdijk’s thesis than the fruit salad stand or the fish block described above? The statement does, however, also well apply for the whole exhibition concept. The idea of the cycle of material refers to the readymade principle and clearly shows why this has become a central topos of art. If everything can once again become a starting material for new transformations, if everything can become a raw material again, there is no artistic creation ex nihilo and the modern phantasm of the blank canvas is lifted. This points up the tragedy of the avantgarde of the modern age, which repeatedly propagated an anti-art, a fusion of art and life in order ultimately to subject everything to an art dictatorship by pairing the sublime with the everyday. Just like King Midas, at whose touch everything turned to gold, the artist is cursed with having to turn everything he touches into art.

Nobody understood this curse sooner or felt it more strongly than Marcel Duchamp, whose work unavoidably appears as a film over the installation “Global Street Food”: “I did not actually plan to make a work of art out of it. The expression ‘readymade’ first emerged in 1915, when I went to America. It intrigued me as a word, but when I mounted a bicycle wheel on a stool with the fork on the bottom, in so doing I did not think either of readymade or of anything else…” Even when Duchamp’s statement is a little coquettish, the artist’s Midas experience is expressed in the story of the unintentional emergence of the “Bicycle Wheel” as the first readymade in art history. But it was first with Duchamp’s “Fountain” (1917) that the modern “interlacing of production and exhibition” in its purest form saw the light of day, or better said, the light of the museum, because, as Sloterdijk further points out, “without the work’s exposure in a display space, the self-revelation of creative power cannot take place”. Admittedly, what we see can be understood not only under material or art aspects. That would be putting it too simply: “Exhibition no longer denotes merely the immediate products of the creation’s magnificence; it also covers the raw materials, the aids, the preforms, the intermediate stages, the waste. In Marxist language, this would mean: it is not only productsthat are exhibited, but also the means of production and ultimately even the conditions of production.” Only then does the expansion of the concept of art become clear. In the end, the things that we see also always tell of the cultural and social conditions under which they were produced. Thus, each in its own way, the objects from “Global Street Food” also tell of the social circumstances of their former owners, of the global battle for everyday survival, but also of the dignity and the firm cultural roots of individual people – even if the barque from Vietnam offers the most globalized product ever: you can get the entire Coca Cola range there.

The architect Anh-Linh Ngo is the editor of ARCH+, the international magazine for architecture and urban development. He lives and works in Berlin. The article is a revised version and first appeared in “ARCH+191/192, Schwellenatlas”. The exhibition project “Global Street Food”
was first presented as part of the Passagen 2009 show on the occasion of the imm cologne and could be seen in July 2009 at the Buckminster Fuller Dome on the Vitra Campus during the Art Basel show.