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A Collection of Reviews

The Reveal Meal, or You are what you eat, or If music be the food of love, play on, or Eat junk, become junk, or An apple a day keeps the doctor away

Greg Thorpe


100% Polyester Satin in Conversation, January 2017, photograph by Jackie Haynes.

A white cube gallery setting, a table and chairs, a curator, artists, a videographer, an academic (also moonlighting as a sound tech), and half a dozen people at various stages of their journey with substance, alcohol, recovery, and addictions of various kinds.

The event is REVEAL, the research and development portion of a larger project that looks find/explore/experiment with creative and empowering ways to increase the visibility of people from various communities who are in recovery. The event described here is the LGBT component of the project. Everyone around the table has been invited to bring items of food that speak in some way of our lived experiences of substance use, addiction and/or recovery, and an object of interest, and some plates and cutlery for dining. It’s somewhere between a pop-up working class dinner party and a private performance-art picnic.

We are at the experimental arts venue Islington Mill in Salford. The event has been curated and co-ordinated by Mark Prest of PORE (Portraits of Recovery) with performer and radical cabaret star David Hoyle as the leading artist. But actually, when we come to the table we’re all just sympathetic friends, some old, some new, all a little nervous, anxious perhaps what will be asked of us, maybe uncertain of our credentials for inclusion, but all, I quickly notice, ready to offer up and share as much as we take away – food, stories, empathy, a good laugh. This is a group who are used, I think, to talking in circles, to sharing.

The first thing we do is to ‘lay the table’, which in our case means selecting a tablecloth tapestry of mixed fabrics, courtesy of the supporting artist Jackie Haynes – we choose a psychedelic swirl pattern, another a sort of violet pleather, and a third a dazzling blood red with tiny sequins. Why should anything stay ugly or plain? I christen these tablecloths Woodstock, Glam rock and Disco. Once the table is dressed we then offer up the various hotch-potch offerings for a meal that will evolve first in conversation and then in reality via our chef Jane.

Fresh coriander appears, everyone rubbing a leaf for that gorgeous clean scent. Turmeric root in a tiny jar, good for what ails you from throat to digestion. Rice pudding with rose water that summons up the comforting memory of a kind Grandmother’s presence in a childhood plagued by familial bullying. Everything is vegan, and it matters – if the road to health and recovery is paved with blood and bones it would cast a dark shadow, a death for no reason.

My offering is a giant bag of chilli heatwave flavour Doritos and a pot of hummus. I lived on this combo during the endless hangovers and skipped meals of The Party Years, which would have gone along with a carton of Spar orange juice at the time. ‘The Lunch of Kings’ it was then called. I hadn’t noticed until now that it was even a vegan ‘meal’, but it was most certainly about recovery. The taste of it summons regret, anxiety, hours spent on Tumblr or watching The Simpsons, paralysed by anxiety or the fallout of some blazing argument or a near miss. But pleasure too, oddly.


Strawb Light (Keith), January 2017, photograph by Mark Prest.

Adele’s offering of apples represents purity, simplicity, health, but also the timeless Eden-esque temptation of intoxication, and the cider itself that gets you there. She brings four glorious painted portraits by her artist wife Alison, each of which portray Adele as Alison has perceived her at various stages of her life, each portrait featuring an apple, each apple bursting with vitamins and symbolism. The room lights up a little more. It is the first moment when I am happy to be nowhere else in the world but here and am suddenly hungry for this intimacy and honesty and glad that it is art that has made this happen between us. Adele talks about the common theme of the A in her life: Adele, art, apple, Alison, addiction, April. We are going from A to who knows where!

Queer people and mad people, and those who are both, are for some reason particularly susceptible to food-inspired slander, but I rather like it. Fruits/Gays. Lemons/Lesbians. Nuts/Crazy. Fruitcake/Mad. At various times during the event we are a buffet, or maybe a fruit salad, and then out come the fruit and vegetable costumes… I become a red hot chilli pepper complete with a pointy devilish ‘tail’. We soon have a carrot, and a halved avocado complete with stone belly, a split banana, a strawberry. These are Jackie’s costumes and they make our meal into a banquet, as a costume does. We are brought to peals of laughter more than once, especially when the conversation turns serious, to anxiety, eating disorders, childhood violence, the arms trade, and the cognitive dissonance of hearing these sad and angry tales shared by a giant lemon reduce us to hysterics, but we have heard and we have acknowledged each other.


Guacamole (Justin and David), January 2017, photograph by Jackie Haynes.

Finally the feast comes. David has shared a hideous waking dream he has had at which he is a court jester and as such is permitted to be close to the king and queen in the feasting chamber with all of the court in attendance. In the vision he japes and jests his way to the grand table and can see what nobody else can, which is that the king and queen are eating the flesh of human beings. This is consumption as madness, cruelty, the barbarism of power. It is such a vile image it remains with me for days, like something from a David Madsen novel. When our main meal comes to the table it is the opposite, a work of art, a labour of love, cruelty-free, the reward for our imaginations and the telling of our stories, the fruits (and vegetables) of our emotional labour and the ingenuity of the chefs. Apple crumble, daal, cardamom rice, hummus, fresh salads.

Putting good things into our bodies should be as simple as the urge for mother’s milk but some are still learning how, or need a reason why. For the first time I think of food as a mind-altering substance. That’s what this shared meal is. It feeds the spirit.

Further information on Reveal

REVEAL is led by Portraits of Recovery in partnership with the Manchester School of Art at Manchester Metropolitan University. In the context of this project, lead academic researcher Amanda Ravetz used ethnographic and artistic research methods to determine how the visual arts can support the development of trustful relationships for mutual sharing and disclosure. REVEAL is currently working with three individual artists to support practice-led, visual research into the diversity of three under-represented recovery groups. This event is the second of three projects, which seeks to gain a better understanding of the specific needs, requirements or barriers to recovery for LGBTQI, South Asian and Dual Diagnosis (co-existing addiction & mental health concerns) Recoverist groups. Current visibility is predominantly white and/or heterosexual male and lacks representation from the wider community margins. The project asks what is the viability and desire within these groups to make the unseen, seen? The three commissioned artist’s findings will be presented as a proposal and will inform the basis of three new commissions for a Stage 2 project in 2017, called UNSEEN, funded by Arts Council England. Portraits of Recovery are a Greater Manchester based visual arts charity whose work looks at bringing about new ways of looking at and understanding addiction and recovery by working with art and artists. It is funded by the Cultural Capital Exchange, which enables artists, cultural and creative SMEs to collaborate on research to enrich the ecology between the arts, creative industries and Universities and SUPERBIA, which supports LGBT events as part of Manchester Pride’s commitment to cultural events happening all year round across Greater Manchester.

Huw Wahl is the project’s videographer, who uses combinations of film, photography and sound to make artwork. A film of this project will be co-produced with Amanda Ravetz.

Greg Thorpe, participant and author of this event review, is a Manchester-based curator, producer and DJ.

Re-imagining the meal: a review of the work of Blanch and Shock

Elisa Oliver

Cooking vegetables in brine, in enough water so that the boil is maintained when the vegetables are added.

To stop cooking plunge vegetables into an ice bath until they are thoroughly chilled.

Blanch and Shock are Mike Knowlden and Josh Pollen. Named from cooking techniques listed and described in chef Thomas Keller’s cookery book Ad Hoc at Home (2009) the duo take food, and the concept of the meal on an imaginative journey in a variety of interpretive and thematic projects, the origin of their name however foregrounds their concern to stay close to the act of cooking and the integrity of food. Central to their practice is the caveat that it should always be possible to eat the food they ‘design’ suggesting that while their work may have its own particular form of theatre, the integrity of the role of food within daily life, and where that can take us, remains the primary motivation for their activity. The manner in which this motivation operates treads an interesting route through the current maze of food based cultural activity.


Learning both when to salt your food and how much of it to use are critical in achieving maximum flavour in virtually any form of cooking.

Based in South London Blanch and Shock work nationally and internationally in an impressive variety of formats and approaches.2 Collaboration is at the foundation of what they do and has taken them from the re-imagining of historical art food events such as: Gordon Matta Clarke’s infamous 1971 Bone Dinner (2010) for Companis at Eastside Projects Birmingham, to product development for Dalston’s cola (2016) experimenting with new, non-chemical sweeteners, to and interpretative events for the Wellcome Collection, London where their Feast for Melancholy (2011) saw them create a menu in response to Robert Burton’s 1621 text Anatomy of Melancholy.

Afeastof Melancholy

Feast to Cure Melancholy, Wellcome Collection, Blanch and Shock 2011. Photography by Mike Massaro, image courtsey of the artists. 

The variety of their projects reflects the curiosity that initiated their collaboration. Trained respectively in Philosophy and Photography, rather than in more traditional routes to food production, they saw little distinction between these interests and those that pertain to their work with food. Their equally diverse work experiences post university, in areas such as music production and the wine trade, continued to foster the pair’s curiosity making them comfortable with a mode of working that is inherently interdisciplinary and exploratory.  Food simply provided another platform from which to explore an eclectic range of interests. A dialogue with these interests is maintained in the multiple points of reference that are brought into focus by their approach of plotting a route through a subject via food or using it as a core medium of articulation. This can be seen in their 2015 collaboration with Lemonade and Laughing Gas, The Owl’s Are Not What They Seem, a homage to David Lynch’s TV serial Twin Peaks. In this project food makes visceral the experience of Lynch’s world linking atmosphere, place and narrative in tangible form? The cherry pie and cup of joe provide the most direct access we can have to the world of Double Pineview as Twin Peaks is renamed for the evening.

The potential to enliven and extend an historical text or fictional world through the tactile and bodily experience of food was first made evident to the pair when developing an event with illustrator Mimi Leung in 2009 at Tenderpixel Gallery in London. Wanting to make food that did not just compliment Leung’s work but resonated with her practice and the event itself they asked the question what would be the most appropriate food to use in this context? They decided upon canapés, a traditional amuse bouche for a gallery opening yet the pair made them in the form of small ice cream cones with savoury fillings, colour matching the ice creams to the artists’ book illustrations. From the curiosity of pursuing the question of context, the first food themed event for Blanch and Shock emerged and released the potential of their implicit, on-going conversation between food and event. Identifying ‘when …and how much’ in relation to a given context or theme becomes the key balancing act in their projects reflecting the their individual strengths — Mike being mostly the more abstract thinker, Josh mostly the more practical, 3 the combination providing maximum flavour for each project.


The Owl's Are Not What They Seem, Blanch and Shock 2015, image courtesy of the artists.

Recognising the level of heat that you need is the critical part of sautéing food. A duck breast for example should be cooked over a low heat to render the fat in the skin and make it crisp. A piece of fish that is naturally tender should be sautéed over a high heat to develop flavour.

A gentle form of cooking where the temperature doesn’t go above 200F, usually used for fish but meat can also be poached. Poaching allows you to flavour the cooking medium and thereby enhance the flavour of what you are cooking.

The creative process for a Blanch and Shock project begins with a lot of conversations with the client. They then test stuff out separately, bringing it together to refine and shape into the final outcome; gently ‘poaching’ it into existence. This method undoubtedly contributes to the diversity of the work they produce, encompassing what appears to be more traditional restaurant based work such as a collaboration with Woolf and Social in Norwich in 2016, to much more overtly performative pieces like the previously mentioned The Owls Are Not What They Seem. Food design is frequently associated with corporate advertising with an emphasis on product placement and aesthetics beyond all else. While food design as a term describes what Blanch and Shock do, it does not reflect the collaborative and creative nature of both their relationship with clients and their engagement with produce that primarily has the act of ‘cooking’ at its heart as opposed to pure design. They chose not to work corporately and are always concerned with ethically sourcing the food they use, emphasizing sustainability.

In the current moment the food blog reigns supreme and within it food styling to create atmosphere, often undertaken in an effort to appeal to the possibility of a printed publication. Many excellent blogs and instagram pages exist, such as Madmoisellepoirot and Baking Fiction but as Carole Poirot of Madmoisellepoirot recently expressed there is a danger of such blogs stifling creativity through a desire for ‘likes’ rather than a genuine engagement and dialogue with the subject.4 In responding to an anonymous online audience, sameness rather than creative difference becomes the point of attainment. We are all aware of the spiralling nature of the aspirational instagram post. In relation to food this takes us back to the territory of the traditional cookery or recipe book, where the hand of the cook and the labour of making all but disappears in the seamless production of faultlessly presented food. It is Blanch and Shock’s emphasis on cooking, and hence the sense of a meal to consume rather than just view, that maintains the visibility of the chef and of the food in their work.  Their projects prioritise an engagement with process in relation to flavours and food combinations that often lock into personal experiences allowing their identity to persist in the projects. For example, the development of soda flavours for Dalstons stemmed from their memory of soda enjoyed as children and sought to tap into those flavours. Soda was eventually chosen over root beer for Dalstons because neither of them had a history of drinking it, hence a trace of self through the linking of food and memory manages to surface and is integral the working process

In art practice food is often employed because of the manner in which it allows the ‘art’ to disappear foregrounding instead the various social structures with which art interfaces. Works such as Alison Knowles Identical Lunch (1969) for example, through the repeated taking of the same lunch, at the same time, in the same place, brought to the fore notions of collaboration, routine and labour in art practice through the fact that Knowles needed to structure her day to enable a dedicated time to making that would work around her childcare needs. Lunch marked out a creative space in the day for Knowles with food and the routines around it an affordable and readymade tool for creativity. It is however the food that becomes present enabling the art, almost despite itself, to be seamlessly accessible and to quietly emerge. In allowing for the visibility of cooking Blanch and Shock maintain a focus for their food in which it can remain co-extensive with the process of making and part of the context from which it emerges. Their forthcoming Fresh: Adventures in the Art of Refrigeration, in response to the Wellcome Collection’s exhibition Electricity: The Spark of life in June, demonstrates this approach, constructing a menu responding to the use of artificial refrigeration and its impact on ingredients and cooking techniques that places process and context centrally in its conception. The ‘menu’ is never lost in Blanch and Shock’s work always taking us back to the meal and its function, the ‘art’ then remains part of what food does rather than being itself styled into an idea of 'art'.5 The total bodily experience of eating rather than the purely visual, are the particular tools of food as art practice. The upholding of food as a ‘meal’, as something to eat, underlines these corporeal and sensory resonances.

Dalstons Cream Soda Copy

Dalston's Cream Soda Blanch and Shock 2016. Photograph by Paul Choy image courtesy of the artists.


Recipes often tell you to season with salt and pepper but never to “season with Vinegar’’…it’s always worth considering whether a few drops of vinegar could be added to a sauce or soup to make the flavours really jump out. You don’t necessarily want to taste the vinegar just feel its effects.

As has been discussed above, Blanch and Shock maintain a critical relationship with the immersive dining trend cutting through its proliferation by adding a few drops of their own flavour. In so doing they identify a dialogue with this contemporary trend, giving a sense of its ‘effects’, rather than total empathy. For Knowlden, the ‘immersive’ is most directly located in the transaction between audience, food and chef,6

The first step in this process is seeing the interaction between the cook and the diner, and between diner and diner, as particularly rich. It is always interesting from a social point of view, and the exchange that goes on, for one thing, makes it implicitly political. From this point, you only have to introduce elements of control to make it into a performance. Give your cook a character, or give your diners characters, and there are endless possibilities.

 This presents not so much an immersive experience, but a kind of theatre that remains co-extensive with its environment and is led by the particular context of food and the ritual of the meal and its preparation. Even in Sean Rogg’s heavily immersive Waldorf Project, Blanch and Shock’s contribution for Chapter One centres on an exploration of value in terms of ingredients and produce and the value that the ‘human hand’ brings, for example in the hand of the chef or the skills of the winemaker.7 Chapter One’s meal was comprised of a progression of courses that demonstrated the increased manipulation of ingredients from their raw form.

A bit like Knowles in reverse, the process around food in Blanch and Shock brings into focus other discourses such as labour, the political, and the historical. While the food does not recede, as with the art in Knowles, Blanch and Shock’s work makes clear what it can encapsulate and the manner in which the history of food can define a range of discourses. Like all forms of ‘expanded’ practice there is a sense of testing the boundaries of the discipline that you are working with.8 In the case of Blanch and Shock it is establishing what the very nature of that discipline is; art, cooking, design, theatre, research, asking in fact ‘does food have to always be seen primarily in relation to the corporeal and sensory?’ and in asking that question the pair begin to establish a shifting ground around what ‘cooking’ can be and what in fact, we are all engaging in when we prepare our evening meal.

Elisa Oliveris an editor of Feast.

End Notes

Go to footnote reference 1.

All cooking terms and descriptions are taken from Thomas Keller’s cookbook Ad Hoc at Home. New York: Artisan 2009

Go to footnote reference 2.

See their website for a full list of projects.

Go to footnote reference 3.

Blanch and Shock interviewed by Elisa Oliver 2016

Go to footnote reference 4.

See Madmoiselle Poirot accessed online April 2017

Go to footnote reference 5.

Fresh: Adventures in Refrigeration takes place at the Wellcome Collection, London, 16th and 17th June 2017, please see the Wellcome’s event page for further details

Go to footnote reference 6.

Mike Knowlden quoted in Tom Jerrfreys ‘Food as Art, Art as Food-the rise of conceptual cooking' accessed online May 2016
The quote was originally published in (H)ART April 2011.

Go to footnote reference 7.

The Waldorf Project was conceived by Sean Rogg and is an on-going series of radically immersive dining experiences, Chapter Four will launch in late 2017. For further information see

Go to footnote reference 8.

For a discussion of the term ‘expanded’ and its relationship to visual practice see, Gene Youngblood. Expanded Cinema. New York: E.P. Dutton 1970.