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Reflection on Digestion: A Performance Dinner

Reflection on Digestion: A Performance Dinner is an ongoing series of participatory performances, which explore the experience, processes, and idea of digestion in the form of a dinner and reading. Consisting of six chapters, four are dishes made from offal of the digestive system: tongue, tripe, liver, intestines. These are served alongside the reading of a text which ruminates on the specific organs of digestion, the process of digestion itself, and embodied knowledge. The piece investigates ‘knowledge experienced in as well as knowledge of the interior of the body' 1 and places the participant-diner, and their interior body, at the centre of their knowledge creation.

Spork, a collective who investigated the relationship between food, art and play, produced the first of the performances, as part of their Spork Food Monthly event series2 headed up by Jackie Vitale, with food by Karen Byrne and Tom Hopkinson. It took place on 2 June 2013, the feast day of Saint Erasmus, the patron saint of guts.

In December 2013, the second performance offered participant-diners a space for slow, attentive reflection ahead of the winter festivities. Presented by artist, Evy Jokhova and BROQWiEM, it was the pilot for a programme of collaborative dinners exploring the relationship between food, politics, performance and society.3

The third iteration in April 2016, was hosted by LIBRARY, a club on the site of Saint Martin in the Fields Library, one of the first created under the Free Public Library Act of 1890. Framed around ideas of books and corporeality, the menu was created in collaboration with the resident chef, Gavin Lambert. 

Where room allowed, the architecture of the performance space was designed to reflect the Western painting of the Last Supper: Participant-diners sat in a single row along a table, facing only myself, who was positioned in the centre opposite. Throughout the piece, I read from a script, which framed and guided the activity. Participant-diners practiced a form of mindfulness, reflecting on what they were aurally, visually, and orally consuming, and how they were embodying it, referencing the experience of a monastic refectory where monks would eat in silence, listening to the reading of Holy Scripture, ‘to nourish the soul even as the body was fed'.4

Composed from a variety of sources - artistic, literary, philosophical, historical, and physiological - the scripts are a curated series of fragments of typed and handwritten notes, photocopies from books and papers, and printouts from the web. This collection of fragments is employed like a sculptural material, collaged with tape into a long continuous sheet, then pleated into an accordion form. In a state of constant editing, the scripts expose the ruminations and digestions of thinking and writing through revisions and annotations: demonstrating an autopsy of their development.

Framed with an introduction, each performance follows the order of the alimentary tract. A bitter apéritif offers different examples of ‘opening up’; discussions around the mouth: tongue, teeth, the jaw and taste accompany the serving of tongue; the stomach, philosophy and emotions are explored alongside tripe; tales of all things hepatic are dished up with liver; and Andouillett sausages are paired with an unfolding of the intestines. The performance concludes with an informal, playful dessert and digestive tea. Over the course of the evening, as it is read, the pleated script of notations and revisions is unfolded, falling to the floor in a gentle act of disembowelling. Below is a re-presentation of documentation from these events: Three audio excerpts are edited from live recordings, accompanied by images made from photographs taken prior to, and during the performances.

Part 1: Aperitif and The Mouth 6

1 Library Whole Min


Part 2: The Stomach and The Liver 8

2 Tripe Dish Min


Part 3: The Intestines 10

3 Spork Whole Min


4 Intestines Extispicy Pie Min


End Notes

Go to footnote reference 1.

David Hillman, Shakespeare’s Entrails: Belief, Scepticism and the Interior of the Body. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillian 2007, 1.

Go to footnote reference 2.

'The Spork' Food Monthly 2013, accessed online 6 April 2017 

Go to footnote reference 3.

THE ALLOTMENT PROJECT: a series of collaborative dinners and debates 2014-15, accessed online 5 April 2017 

Go to footnote reference 4.

Carolin C. Young, Apples of Gold in Settings of Silver: Stories of Dinner as a Work of Art. New York: Simon & Schuster 2002, 10.

Go to footnote reference 5.

Reflection on Digestion: A Performance Dinner, Amanda Couch 2016, 14 April 2016, 7pm. LIBRARY, 112 St. Martin's Lane, London, WC2N. Photographs by Catinca Malaimare. Images courtesy of the artist.

Go to footnote reference 6.
  • Gaston Bachelard, Formation of the Scientific Mind. Manchester: Clinamen, 2002, 172.

  • Mary Roach, Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. London: Oneworld, 2013, 5.
  • David Hillman, Shakespeare’s Entrails: Belief, Scepticism and the Interior of the Body. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillian, 2007, 1, 3, 6, 8, 9, 10, 15, 33 & 34., 1, 3, 6, 8, 9, 10, 15, 33 & 34.

  • Annemarie Mol, ‘I Eat An Apple. On Theorizing Subjectivities,’ Subjectivity 22 (2008), pp. 28-37 ( 32) accessed online 30 March 2017 http://www.palgrave-journals.c...

  • Georgeanne Brennan and Katherine Kleinman Apéritif: Recipes for Simple Pleasures in the French Style. San Francisco: Chronicle books 1997, cover

  • The Herb Companion Staff, ‘The Better Aperitif: Make Bitters’, Mother Earth Living Online magazine, (December/January 1996) accessed online 30 March 2017 http://www.motherearthliving.c...

  • Jonathan Sawday, The Body Emblazoned: Dissection and the Human Body in Renaissance Culture. Abingdon: Routledge 1995, viii-ix.

  • Michael Schoenfeldt, ‘Fables of the Belly in Early Modern England’ in David Hillman and Carla Mazzio edited The Body in Parts: Fantasies of Corporeality in Early Modern Europe. Abingdon: Routledge 1997, pp. 243-261, 251.

  • Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History. New York: Columbia University Press 1988, 232.

  • James Gibson, The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems. London: George Allen & Unwin 1968, 138.

  • Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste or, Transcendental Gastronomy translated from The Last Paris Edition by Fayette Robinson. New York: Merchant 2009, 34.
Go to footnote reference 7.

‘Stuffed Lamb’s Tripe Packages in Tomato Sauce’, part of Reflection on Digestion: A Performance Dinner Amanda Couch 2013, Tuesday 17 December, 7pm. In Collaboration with BROQWiEM. Photograph by Amanda Couch. Image courtesy of the artist.

Go to footnote reference 8.

  • Jan Purnis ‘The Stomach and Early Modern Emotion’ University of Toronto Quarterly 79 (2) (2010), pp. 800-818, 803.

  • Henry Gray, Anatomy, Descriptive and Surgical. New York: Bounty 1977, 602.

  • Michael Gershon, The Second Brain: A Groundbreaking New Understanding of Nervous Disorders of the Stomach and Intestine. New York: Harper Collins 1998, xiv.

  • Steven Shapin, ‘The Philosopher and the Chicken: On the Dietetics of Disembodied Knowledge’ in Christopher Lawrence and Steven Shapin edited Science Incarnate: Historical Embodiments of Natural Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1998, pp. 21-50, 22.

  • Plato, Phaedrus, 259b-e, in Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns edited The Collected Dialogues. Princeton: Princeton University Press 1961.

  • Plato, Phaedo, 67f, in Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns edited The Collected Dialogues. Princeton: Princeton University Press 1961.

  • Plato, Gorgias, 524-27, in Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns edited The Collected Dialogues. Princeton: Princeton University Press 1961.

  • Steven Shapin, ‘Gutted a review of “A Modern History of the Stomach: Gastric Illness, Medicine and British Society, 1800-1950” by Ian Miller’ London Review of Books, 33 (13), (30 June 2011), accessed online 30 March 2017, 15-17.

  • Schoenfeldt, ‘Fables of the Belly in Early Modern England’, p. 256.

  • John Milton, Paradise Lost, John Milton, 'Paradise Lost' in John Milton The Poetical Works, London and New York: Frederick Warne and Co. 1889, pp. 75-366,1042-52, 2899.

  • Jennifer McLagan, Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal. London: Jacqui Small 2011, 130.

  • Hillman, Shakespeare’s Entrails, 16.

  • Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, Volume I. London: Folio Society 1996, 142.
Go to footnote reference 9.

Reflection on Digestion: A Performance Dinner, Amanda Couch 2013, Sunday 2 June, 6.30pm. The Albert, 1-5 Albert Road, London NW6. Produced by Spork, part of the Spork Food Monthly. Photographs by Aileen Harvey. Image courtesy of the artist.

Go to footnote reference 10.
  • Geoffrey Bowker, ‘A Plea for Pleats’ in Casper Bruun Jensen and Kjetil Rodje edited Deleuzian Intersections: Science, Technology, Anthropology. Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2009, pp.123-138, 128.

  • Henry Gray, Anatomy, Descriptive and Surgical. New York: Bounty 1977, 608.

  • Galen, History of the Stomach and Intestines.

  • Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore. London: Vintage 2005, 379.

  • Mol, ‘I Eat An Apple’, 30.

  • Bowker, ‘A Plea for Pleats’, 7.

  • Helena Preester, ‘To Perform the Layered Body-A Short Exploration of the Body in Performancein Janus Head, 9, 2, (2007), pp. 349-383, 379, accessed online 30 March 2017

  • William Shakespeare, The Tempest, 1.2.295, in Hillman, Shakespeare’s Entrails, 17.

  • Emma Young, ‘Alimentary Thinking’, New Scientist Magazine, (15 December 2012), pp. 39-42, 41.  

  • Silke-Maria Weineck, ‘Digesting the Nineteenth Century: Nietzsche and the Stomach of Modernity’

  • Romanticism, 12, 1, (2006), pp. 35-43, 36.

  • Wim Delvoye in ‘Wim Delvoye: Is this Sh*t ART’ in Ben Lewis Art Safari: Series 2. [DVD] London: BLTV Ltd, (2009). 30 mins.

  • Dieter Roelstraete, ‘Back to the Toilet: Truth and Fiction in Wim Delvoye’s “Cloaca”’ in Wim Delvoye Wim Delvoye: Cloaca New and Improved. Brussels: Rectapublishers, 2001, pp. 49-57, p. 50.

  • Bachelard, Formation of the Scientific Mind, 172.
Go to footnote reference 11.

‘Andouilette Sausage Extispicy Pie’, part of Reflection on Digestion: A Performance Dinner, Amanda Couch 2016, at LIBRARY. Photograph by Catinca Malaimare. Image courtesy of the artist.

Amanda Couch

Amanda Couch is an artist, researcher, and senior lecturer at the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham, where she teaches Fine Art and Creative Arts Education. Working across media, her art practice and research straddles the domains of performance, the live and recorded image, print and the book, sculpture, participation, and writing. A current obsession with the digestive system, metaphorically and materially, often triggered by the processes and lived experiences of her body, is employed to explore embodied ways of knowing and becoming. Her recent works include the performance-talk, Books as Bodies, Bodies as Books at Wellcome Library (2016), and the performance, A Woman Holding a Liver at Acts Re-Acts Performance Lab, Wimbledon Space (2017), and at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery (2016), where it won the prize for the Best First-Time Presenter. She is one of the founding members of ‘On Innards’, with fellow artists, Andrew Hladky, Mindy Lee, and more recently, Richard Nash. ‘On Innards’ is a multidisciplinary project that explores the changing conceptualisations of guts and digestion.