Chapter 10. Elżbieta Jabłońska’s Kitchen Interventions: Food, Art, and the Maternal Identity
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173 Chapter 10 Elżbieta Jabłońska’s Kitchen Interventions Food, Art, and Maternal Identity Barbara Kutis Elżbieta Jabłońska gained critical acclaim for her work highlighting the experience of being a mother; she not only physically represented the mother in her art, but also deployed motherhood with a critical subjectivity that molded and defined her artistic actions. The artist’s strong emphasis on the maternal has caused Magdalena Ujma to proclaim ,“[Jabłońska] discovered her artistic way due to the experience of being a mother. . . . It is her maternity that has given this particular shape to her artistic activity.”1 While Ujma tied artistic action to the experience of being a mother,Jabłońska’s art—particularly the ongoing performance series Through the Stomach to the Heart (1999–present), which features the consumption of food as the primary artistic act— extends beyond her biological status and posits a critical reflection of the cultural expectations of mothering and domesticity in Poland. The series itself has several components and the artist has provided individual subtitles for certain performances. As of 2012, the series included the artist cooking for gallery attendees in a makeshift kitchen that was given the same title, Through the Stomach to the Heart; performances titled Kitchen in which the artist cooks in the gallery using a disproportionately sized kitchen counter and table; and a series of photographs documenting artists and curators in their own kitchens (aptly named Polish Artists and Curators in the Kitchen). Through these acts, Jabłońska transforms the domestic space and labors of the 174 The Kitchen home into artistic endeavors, thus confronting misconceptions that the role of the female artist and mother,and the artist/curator and the everyday,are incompatible.2 By focusing on the domestic space of the kitchen, Jabłońska transgresses the distance between art and life, as well as the space between the public institution and the private home. In the performance projects of Through the Stomach to the Heart the artist prepares and cooks food for others to consume in the space of the museum or gallery. Her“art”includes the very act of eating, yet by examining the documentary photographs one also sees an interest in the aesthetics of the kitchen. In some versions of the performance the kitchen is makeshift,with unfinished wooden supports and reflective polished metal (or tinfoil) countertops. In others, the preparation spaces appear to be an enlarged version of an IKEA-style kitchen counter and table (Plate 10.1). The pristine white counter and table,though proportionally exaggerated ,draws associations to the modernist white wall; the artist creates a neutral ground to highlight the preparation of food, its display, and its subsequent consumption. The distinction between the two “kitchens” is permanence: the makeshift metallic surfaces are temporary structures, while the white kitchen counter and table become objects of display for the exhibition’s duration, acting as mementos of the action that had taken place and the food that was consumed. By erecting and displaying a kitchen in the space of the museum, Jabłońska transforms the traditional exhibition opening to emphasize the creation, presentation, and consumption of food as a social interaction and artistic action. Each of these events demonstrates various aspects of a maternal subjectivity, which here are defined as performing domestic acts of cooking and caring for others,positioning visitors in the role of children,and exposing the invisible labor connected with the consumption of meals. Through these acts, Jabłońska appropriates the strategies of relational aesthetics and participatory art to confront the misconception that the roles of the female artist and mother are incompatible. By utilizing food as her medium, Jabłońska offers to care for others and performs acts that provide her a means to reconcile her roles as a mother and artist. She asserts these roles as dynamic and simultaneous , thus positing motherhood as a potential mode of artistic prac- Elżbieta Jabłońska’s Kitchen Interventions 175 tice. In doing so, she simultaneously transforms the act of cooking into an experimental process, akin to Michel de Certeau and Luce Girard’s conception of cooking in the practice of everyday life; it provides an opportunity for creativity and self-expression.3 Sometimes using fresh fruits and vegetables, and at others, premade pastries and drinks, Jabłońska utilizes the contemporary items that the exhibition sponsors and curators were able to obtain, which reflects the culinary choices available...