Home Architect “Soup & Tart: Los Angeles” serves Fluxus redux

“Soup & Tart: Los Angeles” serves Fluxus redux

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David Horvitz performing in “Soup & Pie: Los Angeles” at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Los Angeles.  All photos: Roadworks/Active Crops.

David Horvitz performing in ‘Soup & Tart: Los Angeles’ at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Los Angeles. All photos: Roadworks/Active Crops.

FIFTY ARTISTS. Three microphones. Two minutes each.

With a program as heavy as a 2023 revival of Jean Dupuy’s 1974 epic “Soup & Tart”, it’s really about what you remember, what stands out. Earlier this month at MOCA Geffen, poet Elaine Kahn showed up with her baby in her arms. When it was her turn, she asked the audience for a diaper. A bit of a commotion, people whispering and squirming on their cushions, then a diaper was passed in front. Kahn squatted down and changed her child, right there on the floor, all within two minutes. It marked the spirits.

Dupuy’s event, held at the kitchen loft in TriBeCa (on a floor with an actual kitchen), was a swaying, moaning, and often poignant evening of about 30 performances by the likes of (pre- fame) Hannah Wilke and Richard Serra—more what the New York Times called “a cheap dinner of soup, bread, wine and apple pies”. Serra played a prerecorded story about his father telling him to dig a hole and fill it up. Wilke undressed on a sheet and posed as Jesus Christ. One act involved dancers who had just drunk between zero and ten shots of tequila, while another asked the audience to stop a recovering alcoholic from drinking. Dupuy everything captured on videothen shortened it to less than an hour.

In a way, it’s pointless to equate last week’s “Soup & Tart” with its namesake. Different eras, different coasts, totally different castes. Still, the event, hosted by Sarah Cooper and produced by Active Cultures (as it says on your yogurt), certainly begged comparison. Did they think audiences would accept, that the comparison would hold, that an idea as sui generis ’74 as “Soup & Tart” could, let alone shouldbe taken back at all?

In the cavernous main gallery of MOCA Geffen, a famous former police car warehouse, a line of I-beams formed a natural barrier between two areas – call them the stage and the food court. On one side, the performers rotated through their tunes, taking turns at one of three microphones positioned among a crowd seated on thin cushions with their paper cutlery and plastic cups. On the other side, six long lines for soups and pies intersected with a seventh for drinks – a canned IPA was $14, a glass of wine $20. (All profits go to the artists and chefs!) It felt like a festival: paltry portions, overpriced drinks, hard to find water, poor acoustics and no one really knew where the performances were or if they had started. Only half the room seemed to care.

Alison O’Daniel took the microphone and tried to explain that she would like the crowd to play a phone game, passing messages (and a pack of Covid masks) across the room to her friend Gabie Strong. Both, she says, are hard of hearing. But the crowd was not silent. They wanted their soup and their selfies, and the little lingered awkwardly as the messages made their way ineffectually.

Two of my favorite performances seemed to parody the buttoned-down bacchanalia atmosphere: Ei Arakawa shuffling through the crowd, handing out cups of water from a tray while a large screen showed an image of a waterfall; Emily Mast and Gregory Barnett, on each other’s shoulders, shouting “Free Wine!” “, breaking two bottles and carelessly filling the guests. They were gestures, gestures towards a smoldering lack. A lack of what? Generosity – to the performers mainly, all but the most lyrical of whom struggled to be heard above the murmuring crowd until about two o’clock when the soup and pies had run out and most people were gone – I guess to go to dinner.

Six cooks. Three soups. Three pies.

Today, you wouldn’t organize an event like “Soup & Tart” without employing a team of videographers, and of course you can trust the artists, their friends and all the other spectators to enrich the reservoir of documentation. Maybe I’m old fashioned. The emphasis on high-fidelity posterity and digital networking seemed antithetical to the concept of a simple artists’ meal.

Of course, the meal was nothing simple. In 23 years, the food looked pretty as a hashtagged image and served as a multi-sensory calling card for the six participating chefs and restaurants. A vegan hibiscus borscht from Gerardo Gonzalez, cradled in a scoop of cashew cream and sprinkled with dill blossoms, was both fresh and filling. The single roasted crouton on Rashida Holmes’ corn chowder was appreciated. As for the pies, a savory offer from Sera Pisani played on pintxos, stacking a whipped piece of feta with candied orange, green olive and white anchovy. And I remain grateful for the visual and oral contrast of salted pecans and pepper flowers climbing on chocolate creams by Hannah Ziskin. My only (philistine) complaint here, really, is the portions.

Cooper writes in the program notes that she discovered Dupuy’s “Soup & Tart” a few years ago, when the Getty acquired the Kitchen archives. I can’t help but wonder if the archives – or perhaps the realm of unrealized ideals – is where “Soup & Tart” belongs, alongside Gertrude Stein’s living room and the original Woodstock. (Or for that matter From station to stationthat I covered for these pages– a much more powerful Doug Aitken production modeled after an Acid Years countercultural festival that could only exist in 2013 as a Levi’s commercial.)

Nina Sarnelle.

Nina Sarnelle.

Is it art? Entertainment? Branding? Dinner? The answer is an LA “Yes”. I, too, believe in the synergistic magic of dinner parties. This dream lives on in “Soup & Tart” ’23. The MOCA event billed itself as a showcase of LA’s intersectional arts and food scenes, a chance to let loose, experiment, and see what happens — and it was. But ST ’23 was also a trade fair of sorts, with artists and chefs serving up small samples of their wares, and that aspect felt reluctantly, secretive, almost shameful. Meanwhile, the Dupuy event was firmly linked to a exhibition of his work in the kitchen. Undiluted Fluxus has a certain modesty to it – channeled through many of the last week’s acts, but impossible at MOCA and active cultures. The evening ended with Nina Sarnelle leading a ceremony to destroy ceramic plates (and a MacBook). Even so, “Soup & Tart” ’23 seemed to shirk the extent to which Dupuy’s event as a whole, an accelerationist model of bohemianism, was poised to self-destruct.

“Soup & Tart: Los Angeles” took place at MOCA Geffen on June 8.

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