Protocols of sharing

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Massimo Bottura is a Michelin star chef, his restaurant, featured on Chef’s table, Master of None and many other food and TV programmes, is Osteria Francescana in his hometown, Modena, a city in the centre of Italy where making pasta is considered an art. Bottura is married to Lara, an American woman he met when, in their 20s, they started working on the same day in the same New York restaurant. Lara eventually married the man but also a vision and then a restaurant. She was the one who introduced Massimo to art galleries and contemporary art exhibitions. Those encounters and ideas gradually made their way into dishes, inspired by Bottura’s childhood and traditional Italian family recipes transformed into new creations through conceptual twists often referencing works of contemporary art.

Zaki Razak exhibition in the Brother Joseph McNally Gallery at LASALLE College of the Arts, where he is a lecturer, has a lot to do with (his) family and sharing, and is aptly titled “This is not my solo exhibition”. The project credits a number of participants starting from the artist’s mother, Salamah Buksen, who gave a moving speech at the opening about her family’s life story. She looks over the exhibition in the form of one of her aprons, placed as an artwork on the gallery wall faceing the gallery’s entrance. Next to it, the framed handwritten version of the family recipe for semur tongkol, a Baweanese dish. Mrs Buksen cooked it outside of the gallery on a Saturday morning for a very appreciative group of people, as the final event of a series of generous public programmes activities planned as live moments of sharing within the exhibition. 

The exhibition is conceived as house: it has a bedroom, a kitchen, a living room. One is black, the other bright green, the latter light blue.

I’ve never lain in the bedroom, but witnessed once, despite the ‘one at a time’ rule to enter the darkened and enclosed room done to measure the same width as a corridor in Zaki’s home, two pairs of shoes left outside. The  scene also included a locked door and a worried gallery attendant as the two occupants, who had been inside for more than half an hour, were not replying to knocks on the door.

In the kitchen I got hungry while looking at the food preparations recorded in a video on a flatscreen, or reading recipes from artists written through the centuries and in different corners of the world, arranged on a table set up as a conceptual last supper (with 13 chairs, one for Jesus).

In the living room, I chatted with visitors, sat down with a delegation from Mongolia and even did a studio visit. There I saw Zaki and his students and while trying to find a peaceful place where to read Joan Didon’s Year of Magical Thinking on my lunch break, I saw by chance the activation of the white bedsheets on the gallery windows, courtesy of a few dance students. One of them played with concealing and revealing her body as a shadow and a volume behind the sheet. Then she sat on a stool at the table and covered her head with one sheet, subsuming a book placed in front of her amoeba-style like in a Miyazaki film. And re-enacted the scene captured in the other frame, hung in the living room, a photograph of a ghost, in reality portraying the components of Zaki’s family under a white cloak.

One Saturday morning I caught the theatre workshop and gallery sitting took a whole new meaning when roughly twenty children aged between 4 and 13, made the gallery the container for their energy and wonder, as they learned about the mythical foundation of Singapura.The workshop was graciously led by three women, two of them had toddlers wrapped around their chest, they sang, acted and taught us how to make different crowns out of newspaper. They directed us only with the calm sound of their voices and their demeanour, and without the little ones never making a sound.

Caterina Riva 2017

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