onion presentation


still photos from performance,
Q & A dialogue



Onion Presentation
A performance at Maryland Institute College of Art
July 2011

SLK: I would like to preface the dialogue by saying that this [Figure Drawing Video] next to me was the piece presented at the exhibition. I made it during the first week here this summer. This Onion Presentation is pretty much the last piece I made here, so they bookmark my experience this summer. From that I welcome questions, comments, feedback.

Bib: How come you didn’t cry?
SLK: It depends from onion to onion. I don’t know which onion will make me cry or which won’t, it varies. Usually I thought red onion would, but that’s not always the case.

Dur: Did you want to cry?
SLK: I wouldn’t mind if it happened.

Has: Why onion? Why cutting onions as opposed to carrots? Yesterday I was doing some research, and I was looking at the word ‘drawing’, and one of the words that came up was onion. So I was wondering.
SLK: Well, I started looking at onion because it is such a versatile ingredient that I use almost every meal every day, I use it in so many different ways, so it has that material flexibility that I see analogous to my practice in the studio. So it’s not like onion has such meaning to me, it’s just this mundane, most ordinary thing that allows itself to be so many things.

Nat: So it was important to you that you memorize the whole thing that you have written? Do you allow yourself to think things as you go? Like right now, would you invent more things?
SLK: I think as this piece gets presented in another time it may be different, you know, my definitions of “seeing is” would probably different again based on my experiences. And I might use another ingredient maybe not onions next time, so I think it can always change.

Dur: Were you listening to the script and reciting it?
SLK: Yes, it was being prompted to me.

Bib: I was wondering if gender was part of this piece.
SLK: Can you expand on how you think gender might be a part of this piece?
Bib: I mean you thinking about you as a woman and the fact that you show something that is of cooking, and demonstration that might be related to cooking which would be associated with at least the first-wave feminist, who would have associated to a woman’s work, and to a woman in a domestic experience, or woman as a teacher. So I wonder if you were in an understated way for making reference to that—a feminist perspective on seeing.
SLK: Right. I certainly looked into what is cooking now as related to gender. And certainly most of the cookbooks or cultural studies relating to food studies point out a lot about gender issues decades ago, leading up to probably now. But I think doing this now- I’m living in a world where my partner, the guy, cooks for me, and we switch roles. I think that’s a topic that’s been exhausted already back then by other artists. I am aware of it, but it is not something I am trying to pull into the conversation.

Mig: Can you talk about the categories, how those are related to each other? Like the end is the recipes, the beginning is the definition of seeing, and you talked about different types of onions, obviously there’s some sort of relation. Can you talk about how those categories relate to each other?
SLK: Yes. Basically I wanted to take you on a tour on… the onion’s story. (laughs) Like the types of onions, I always use these two types of onions, but there are lots of other types that I haven’t even seen before. And of course what are the processes of growing that are hidden to us. I remember Fritz making the comment in his thesis talk where a little kid walked up to the chicken pen, and says “what is this egg doing here? Don’t eggs come from supermarkets?” – no, there’s a source to be point out, right? So for one thing I was trying to point to sources and processes, and also through the recipes, I am making reference to some potential things the onion has to offer.
Mig: Yes it sounds like you are really interested in using those sort of metaphors, being part of something… finding the roots of something… but it sounds like it was not as intentional.
SLK: My interest in metaphor? No. [But finding the roots of things, yes.]

Chr: It came up in the discussion already that you were listening to your script, obviously you weren’t hiding it from us, because I saw you turn it on, so I assumed that you were listening to yourself or to a voice. Can you speak to that as a performance—that choice of listening to a prompt? And is there any layering to that that you want us to infer?
SLK: There wasn’t another layer that I was trying to lead you to infer. It was more for my convenience that I won’t have to memorize a script.
Chr: Okay.
SLK: And you’re right I wasn’t trying to hide that.
Chr: Yes it was clear you were listening to something. It just made me think it may make other connections to prompting, or being prompted, or being told. But obviously that wasn’t part of your intention but more a convenience.
SLK: It was more for my convenience, but on that note I’d like to add that the first time I did this presentation, it was in a very intimate room setting, very quiet. I was told that my prompting- since I played it so loudly- people in the room actually heard sounds from my ear phones and me repeating those phrases, and for them it created another aural effect in the room, so that might be something I would look into next.

Tob: I really like this piece. I think it is such a great example of how performance works as performance and can’t be duplicated in other medium, if you did this on video it wouldn’t be the same at all. So I guess my question is, where is this going to lead you next? Like this experience of landing upon this. And the second part of my question is- I guess this is the second thing I’ve seen you do where you talk about being unaware of the metaphorical content of your work, the first being the Anthem piece, and I think they both really have strong metaphorical content. I am curious about that regarding your practice, this sort of avoiding of metaphor? Or the accidental stumbling upon… affective metaphor? Or are you tricking us by saying you are not thinking about metaphor? I’m wondering about that.
SLK: I really don’t know what I feel about metaphors, to be honest. I feel like I used it a lot in my older work, and that had to do with making a formal piece where I drew symbols and metaphor to talk about something that wasn’t in the picture. But I don’t see this piece as a metaphor.
Tob: But maybe not as a metaphor, are you purposefully feeing or guiding us as to how you want us to ‘see’ the onion throughout the course of the work?
SLK: I think that by naming so many categories, like you can dice you can slice you can boil… It is open-ended enough for you to pick what to take away from the experience, that I’m not trying to lead or guide you in a very specific way or say that there must be one way to ‘see’ an onion, more like 'there many ways that you can see it and I going to try to tell you’.
Tob: I guess I see a political content, maybe I always try to bring that to the work, but I wonder if that was purposeful. Even when people have brought up your list, like Miguel brought up the list of categories, the processes by which the onions were… was it the consumer use?
SLK: There was the farming, there was the consumer.
Tob: Yes, and how they are farmed, to me brings it very strongly to a political context immediately.
SLK: And I did say that in the ‘seeing’ part.
Tob: Yes, that seeing can be political.
SLK: I think all art is political.
Tob: So the metaphor might be accidental then, but the political imagery is purposeful.
SLK: Yes perhaps.

Chr: And the order in which you said the countries in which they are found, I mean we have to think about the order in which you said that too. China, India, Australia, United States… those are conscious decisions on your part, right?
SLK: Yes, it was according to where was the most exported leading to the less exported countries.

SLK: But Tobin I didn’t answer your question of where this might go next. Although I frame it now here as a performance piece, and I say performance as a more convenient term, but I think that the performative aspect has been in my work from last year on especially, such as the Lipsync National Anthem piece where I was performing a certain role [of the student] in my piece; and in The Exchange project where I’m out to asking people to teach me something and to take part in that curriculum; and this [The Figure Drawing piece] again is where performing was another to gain insight to my own work. So I think this time it is a matter of bringing [the performative aspect] more to the surface. I don’t think this piece is radically different from the rest, but it definitely makes me conscious of how performance plays into my work.

Bro: Hi. A couple of things. I’m wondering about the format that you put us in, because as we were talking about ‘seeing’ I’m struggling to see you [from the audience]
, and I’m thinking about layers of onions. And the other part was the format of what you were saying— how in the beginning you had this phrase that you came back to repeating, and towards the end you just started listing, it is interesting because at one point obviously I thought you were cutting it like poetry, and then later you almost immediately like… is there an aggession of some sort? Like when you were throwing in all these different things? And it almost creeped me out, it was very interesting.
(laugh from audience)
SLK: Did you want me to respond to that? To my use of voice?
Bro: Yes- what you were saying, how you were saying.
SLK: Well the set up [of the chairs] is experimental. The last time I tried this piece I did not set up the room in a very particular way, this format today was me thinking, how can I make use of this space? And throughout my struggle here this summer I have been trying to make connection to the work that I’m doing with perception, and the work I’ve been doing relating to education. So this was an experiment to see what gets picked up, what gets lost, or what gets changed in the process. I think my tone of voice might have been influenced by that aspect [of thinking about being in a classroom].

Eri: Actually going along what she just said, in terms of the way you were listing things from topic to topic, it reminded me of looking up something on the Internet, and how we would go from one thing and jump to another, from one relevant information to other relevant information, and it goes in and out from mundane to political, sensitive to illogical… you know, it’s just that weaving, that thought process is a very new way of gathering information.
SLK: I would associate that with lateral thinking, I don’t think there’s necessarily new, but probably because of the format of the Internet, that you can branch into so many different things but at the same time be on that same platform, to me is similar to lateral thinking where we can surf from one thing to another, without going much in depth either.

Cha: I think the reference to Wikipedia is a very good one, because you were giving us all this information, presenting it as if it were factual, but it’s really all very very subjective. I mean you chose what to include in those lists, and probably this is just due to the space but I couldn’t hear half of what you were saying. But I really feel like you knew that and you were okay, so I’m wondering about it. Obviously you put a lot of work into the text, but how important is it that you communicate that and that we believe you. I don’t think I believe some of what you said, but again, I think that’s okay. So that kind of leaves it so open ended that aside from that good onion smell, I’m not sure what else I’m getting out of it.
SLK: The sound part, it wasn’t my intention for you not to hear me, when I realize that people were having trouble hearing I tried to raise my voice, but I had to concentrate on the cutting at the same time. So that got in the way along with the large space, the air conditioner…

Dav: What about using a mike?
SLK: I did think about that…
Dav: I think the tone of your voice is what lures us in. You getting your volume up higher will take away from that nice tone, but people do miss out on what you’re saying and it’s really important.
SLK: I totally agree with that and I really was thinking of putting in a microphone, but I didn’t want it to look too...

Bib: You can hide it in a small mike.

Dav: That’s a technical issue, we can help you work that out.

Cha: Having a mike would seem more didactic to me.

Tob: This can be a performance for four people. You can dictate the environment. You can say I’m doing a performance and have people come around the table. Outside the crit environment, you know.

SLK: I do agree that if I can amplify the soft voice, that would be more effective. So I do think that the technical part failed me this time.

Cha: So how do you feel about people just disagreeing with what you’re saying?
SLK: That is just fine.
Cha: There are white farmers.
Cha: I mean you didn’t just…. You said ‘seeing is this’, ‘seeing is that’, it’s very much like ‘I’m telling you what seeing is’. Is that what you’re doing? Is it a dialogue? Is it you telling us things? What do you want it to be?

Someone: Or are you demonstrating the way you observe?
SLK: The first part was more demonstrating what I have observed through experience, and then the second part was attempting to expand to more ways of looking through an onion. So that listing, because I can’t cover everything, came across as more [difinitive and] didactic. I think I do want to want to look at the recording of this performance because I cannot be performing and be in your place at the same time, so it is something that I’d like to evaluate and look at how it comes across to the audience.

Fri: Seems that the first part going back and forth of how you see and the rephrase as comparing aspects to one another, that to me sounds like a very good definition of aspect perception, and I think might have stopped right at the end of that. And I think everything after that sort of watered downed what you have begun.
SLK: How do you think it can be different after that first part?
Fri: Just stop there, or doing something entirely different. Because you transition from that to less potent material.

Tob: Well that depends on the audience.
SLK: hm…. You think this didn’t…
Fri: I’m not saying that there wasn’t information there, we were learning about onions. That probably can be done in a different way. Seems like the first path was far more potent and interesting…
SLK: Okay, thank you for that.

Tob: But that’s very subjective. What’s more interesting to one person is not necessarily more interesting to another.
SLK: Yes, that’s why I say thank you [for the sharing the thought].

Tam: That was just my question. I’m really interested to hear your consideration about- is this a demonstration? Are you framing it as a performance? Is it a seminar? I know you did some previous work about education, how we learn, I’m really intrigued by that because I think how you frame this is partly how we are going to partly receive this information. If you go to Wikipedia, there is a little disclaimer that says ‘this information is subjective’, but if you go to a dictionary you know it’s not. So I want to know how you frame this work, what do you expect from the viewer?
SLK: Am I being authoritative- is that part of you’re questioning?
(Laugh from audience)
Tam: No, can you hear me?
SLK: Yeah, but you said a lot of things!
Tam: I’m just asking, do you see this as a seminar? Do you see this as a performance? Do you see this as a demonstration?
SLK: Not a seminar, not a demonstration.
Tam: It’s a performance then?
SLK: Yes.
Tam: So the subjectivity you’re okay with that?

Tob responding to Tam: Anything you hear might not be true! Absolutely everything you hear can be a lie.
SLK: It can. The information that I pulled out of a website might be a lie to me too.
Tam: But your previous work is about education, so I was just curious.
SLK: It is a performance and I am okay with subjectivity.

Tim: I couldn’t hear for one thing so this might have already been said. What I am thinking about here is how universal it is, and how essential it is to prepare food, and the kinds of actions that one goes through in order to do that. That I think could be a really interesting premise here. And the other thing that I think could be very interesting is the running monologue. The possibility of some really short tension between the expectations of watching someone prepare food, and pretty much maybe a whole meal, and what’s going on in the monologue could be a really really interesting from the political stand point. I mean if you say you’re a political artist, I believe you, or if you say all art is political, I’m not sure what to think about that. But the idea of a political statement coming through by juxtaposing these two things, these two modalities into a common place, but also through the essential in a world that can’t feed itself, and what you might say otherwise that is in form of this dialogue. I think in another words it has a lot of really interesting potential as a format for a performance. The other thing I was thinking about was Julia Child, because a lot of times when she goes preparing food she would be talking about something else, in a sort of goofy and funny and sometimes not, you know. I am not suggesting that you use her as a model for this, but she was very interesting that way. Actually she, there’s a lot more going on there than showing us how to cook in a French manner.
SLK: Got it! Thank you.

Nat: So what are the set of beliefs that inform your work? Take us on a tour around the set of belief system that you have.
SLK: I thought I just did that, didn’t I? With the ‘seeing is’? By me telling you what I think ‘seeing’ can be, or what ‘seeing’ is, isn’t that already a belief of mine?
Nat: Okay. Can you, that second part where you make that list, the part that the role that an onion goes through? Can you talk about those system of beliefs in that?
SLK: No. No because,
Nat: I want to know the things you believe in as an artist that make you do the performance piece that you’re doing right now.
SLK: You see,
Nat: And if you say you have explained that part it’s fine.
SLK: I would rather not comment directly about my, are you talking about my political stance and where the farming and production and [my stance] regarding the food process is?
Nat: I want to know why are you interested in making this work. What ideas interest you that make you do this work?
SLK: I think that will go back to the big interest of mine of looking into processes and to reveal processes. I would quote Robert Smithson where he talks about the apparatus that we are being threaded through, that is a huge interest of mine whether very obviously or not obviously. Which is why I would refrain from commenting on what I think on specific issues, but pointing you or revealing to you, you know, how we can go about our own way of making conclusions, and everyone would make their own conclusions. So I hope to provide an avenue for us to do that. The first part of the performance was revealing some of my belief through my experiences. Does that answer your question?
Nat: Yes.

Bar: I sense the frustration in some of the audience that stems from subjectivity. Have you read… I haven’t read this person’s work but I’m going to, but have you looked at Perec?
SLK: Oh yes, all summer.
Bar: So that’s what I feel with it, from what I heard about that is what he is doing.
SLK: Georges Perec. I have been looking at his work from the beginning of the summer until the end of the summer.
Bar: He took us through a very exhaustive subjective approach to really kind of see one thing.
SLK: Yes.
Bar: I think the frustration in the audience is that it triggers our curiosity about what this subject is of the onion, and we’re not getting into it. It’s a one-way system for us. So that’s one thing to beware of, I think. I don’t have an answer to how that could be remedied, but that seems to be the source of some of that frustration.
SK: Okay, thank you.

Dur: I’ve been unable to formulate a coherent assessment, but some of the thing I wanted to address with some of these issues are, you know, there is a pedagogical aspect to what you are doing. In both cases the video (Figure Drawing) and this, and you are the vehicle through which knowledge is passing and interpretation, and some of our discomfort comes from that very issue—the discomfort of… do we trust? You know, is this body of knowledge trustworthy? I felt in somewhat I was being inculcated into some kind of belief system. And there was a ceremonial aspect to it, I mean you cut up, and then you pass out the knowledge in this kind of ritual fashion, which was very interesting. I felt, you look at this structure [pointing to the corner of the wall behind the ‘stage’] you are at the apex of this triangle, right? We are all facing you, and we sort of trickle back this way. So it is definitely hierarchical. And then you have this tableau in front of you (pointing to the display of onions) which is very much like European painting to me. You know, the still life and all this kind of thing, there’s a sort of classicism right? The thing that’s interesting is it’s sort of objective observations about seeing and perception… all of these listings, none of it which were individually objectionable, but somehow collectively it sort of pulls us into this web of… I don't’ know, epistemology, but this sense of structure. It was strange. It felt like we were being pulled into something that is maybe… dangerous in some level. It made me question the structures of, it made me start thinking about the structure of education. I’m about to put my kid into a public school in the fall, (laughs) and I’m telling you it freaks me out! I mean we’re very involved in the school already, but the whole idea of placing this five year-old child into this system for the next twelve years… he’s going to get fucked up no matter what, you know?
Anyway so there’s something interesting like, sort of benign, the calmness of your voice, you know because you are an attractive person, and you have this have this, like, very elegant, seductive in a way. That only added to the creepiness of it. (audience laugh)
SLK: I really like that actually. I totally like that reading.

Bib: May I?
SLK: Yes.
Bib: Actually I have another point of view. With that subjectivity, I got it from this afternoon, all these interesting questions about belief systems, about politics, about education, the delivery of information… I actually think that you have very intelligently and carefully have orchestrated a question for us. You’re provoking this question this afternoon, and I’m actually enjoying that. I enjoy art that is an open dialogue, and that’s what you have presented to us today, I think you very carefully orchestrated that. I was admiring how you very carefully constructed this poem. I was reading it, or listening to it as a poem, and went from macro to micro to what is seeing, I mean that is a huge thing. And then you began to break it down into parts, and then you used the onion. Actually I think the onion is a metaphor because an onion can be peeled in layers. You were cutting very carefully all these layers while pulling apart what seeing is, while interjecting all these other notions of politics. You also went from geography/ places to people, and then from the people to the onion again, and then from the onion to the different kinds of onions and then to yourself. I think it is really interesting how you interjected all these different things in there, and I actually responded very positively to it and am enjoying it. Because it gets me to ask myself all these questions that people are asking of themselves, and to look at all the different responses and different answers to questions that people have delivered.
SLK: Thank you.

Jas: I agree with that. I had a subjective view to that as well, but it’s such a simple item that seems to start breaking these boundaries down in a way, it’s such a simple thing that became complex. But one thing you have to write down is how Alison Knowles makes salad. She is a Fluxus artist, she has a performance where she does make a salad.
SLK: Thank you.

SLK: A quick response to Bibiana. It was interesting how this morning I was asking Joyce what her long term goals might be as an artist. I was thinking, well what are mine? And I came up with my goal as an artist is to use my questions to empower people and to create possibilities for them. I absolutely see what you’re saying.
Bib: And I think very carefully orchestrated. And I think the degree of didacticism that you implement in this piece is necessary for the question that you want to ask.
SLK: Yes, thank you.

Jas: Let me finish that thought just now. That’s kind of similar to what I’m interested in like, well we want to approach a piece where we say, “oh ok, I know what that’s about along the way”, or this complexity of this conversation that you’re talking about where you evoke these conversations, you know, which is tough and takes guts in my opinion.
SLK: Yup I’ve got the spotlight on me!
Jas: laughs.
SLK: Thanks.

Mark: It seems like the line you were saying- ‘relating one aspect to another’, you seem to be playing with inflection too, a little bit? I’d say you push that more so you make it really obvious it be by asking a question, or making a statement, push the inflection.
SK: Okay, thanks.

Bar: I think what Bibiana said was spot on, because that was my problem and then I realized if you were to presented that way it wouldn’t have opened a discussion, but that exactly answered the thing I was finding difficult. Would you present this in a non-crit setting where people respond in the end? Like say you were to do it in a gallery or museum or library or wherever you would do it, would the audience then be encouraged to have a dialogue afterwards?
SLK: Well especially after this experience I totally think so. Yes. Because last time it was also helpful to talk afterwards.

JT: I’m wondering what you think having done this twice now think of the space and context and how it affects the piece. I think how Mark(Dur)'s description of this space and how it affected him was really powerful, and really different from the first time you did it. The last time not only was it a small space, but it was also very intimate because I think someone had already rearranged the chairs, so it wasn’t like this classroom arrangement at all and it was smaller, and people knew you very very well, is that context something you want to control and play with more?
SK: It definitely something I want to play with, because until I knew what space I was going to get today and how I would want to put the chairs… it was only just now during the break that I said to myself ‘let me play with the chairs’, and ‘ouu I’m seeing something interesting in here, and I chose this corner because I thought the sound might bounce a little better and there’s no other distraction that you would start making other visual references to, but I agree it is very different from last time. I think if I were to do it again in this same setting but just jumbling up the chairs, I think that would be a big enough change to the piece.
JT: Yeah, that entropic chair-arrangement that someone gave to you accidentally last time…
SLK: No, I mean I looked at the chair-arrangement that day I felt okay about it and then I went with it.

Jen: When I usually think about education I usually see the instructor standing, so I’m just curious about your decision to keep this performance seated?
SLK: Yes… Because there’s already so much reference to cooking, that standing up to do this would be a bit much. So I wanted to bring it back to the level of artists doing performances in galleries- they sit down, or in classrooms- at least my teachers sit down… So I didn’t want to do the high chair either which would look a little too much like a cooking show. Thank you.

Ren: We’ve had this discussion about being subversive. I wonder if it was something deliberate in this piece for you. That’s the first question- whether you’re trying to deliberately be subversive- yes or no? And the one is about our discussion on the ‘in between’, your interest in the ‘in between’, and whether that’s sort of the aspect in your work is what you wanted to include in this discussion today.
SLK: Yes to part one [regarding my awareness of that, but not exactly deliberate]. Part two- I think this ‘in betweeness’... how it is folding out piece after piece as I make more artwork, is the in-between the center and the periphery. I think I like to operate in the boundary spaces of my interest in crossing disciplines, my interest in using different media, and incorporating things that are not necessarily art materials. So in between the center and the periphery is where I’m interested in shifting some of the dynamics, bringing into spotlight this one thing for a while, then picking another thing and to bring that into the spotlight when I think not enough attention has been paid there.
Ren: I think I get what you mean.
SLK: I’ll think more about your question.

Dur: I don’t know for what reason I’m thinking about this book called Conquest of America by Todorov, do you know him?
SLK: No but it sounds really packed.
(audience laugh)
Dur: Well basically it’s looking at the conquests of America through the scrim of semiotics, he talks about the clash of language systems, about what the European explorers were interested in, what they were engaged in was what he calls an ‘extended act of nomination’, that by naming and renaming that one claims power over symbol system. And back to the other thing that Bibiana was asking you about earlier works. I mean if you were going to talk about Alison Knowles, or referencing Alison Knowles, and not referencing Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen, which is naming and renaming, using language as a weapon. So I think you might be doing something different and I agree that it is a different time that we live in, but it would be impossible to do this piece and not have some kind of reference to Martha Rosler’s piece and her use of language as a kind of weapon.
SLK: Yes. Yes.

Bib: Another thing I was going to say, with regards to the context, not only the place but the thing that you’re manipulating could change, for example if you go to Lima, and you do this in Lima, you better peel a potato.
SLK: Ah, yes.
Bib: Because that’s where potatoes came from. It would be interesting if you have all these different potato to begin with and you’re peeling all these potatoes. That would take a very different global context there.
SLK: Yes! Who was that person who was talking about… oh it was Obama.
Bib: Ah yeah.
SLK: He was traveling to Puerto Rico, he recently went there, and had to light-heartedly throw out in his speech that something on arroz (rice).
Bib: (making fun) Arruz con con gandules…!
SLK: haha. They highlight the fact that talking about that whatever on rice (arroz) was so important, and getting the right ingredient on rice correctly was so important.
Bib: But there was also this big worry about he sort of hesitated, he kind of forgot the word and then he looked at his notes, going like ‘oh ah aa… roz’, so they made a big issue out of that. That was so fake! (audiences laugh)

SLK: Thank you everyone.