Vivid, 140 Heath Mill Lane, Birmingham, West Midlands, B9 4AR

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Spit or Swallow, review by Harun Morrison

[An eye-mouth-witness report:]

The dead, the dying, the living, the growing… encircle the table or lie upon it. Yesterday morning the clocks were summoned forward and time has been lost. Wheels of cheese are hacked and sliced as the wheel of time rolls on.

A table bejeweled with dead pheasants, peacock feathers, antiquated knives, the helter-skelter rind of orange peel, lit candles, silver goblets and glistening crystal glasses occupies the centre of the space. A 17th Flemish still life made real, or the kind of filmic banquet you imagine would cause Henry VIII to unfasten his buckles. An eye scans the room half-expecting a slumped wench in the corner, just as you might expect of a brunch cunningly(ngus) titled ‘Spit or Swallow’.

Yet we are in 2011. In a former garage, now functioning as the art project space, VIVID, amid forklift truck hirers and warehouse spaces. How deliriously inappropriate, how seductively decadent. Especially in these financially lean times. And how provocative the display of excess’ Far more so than the sexual punning, or sea-side-postcard naughtiness of Big Jug Cocktails, served earlier in the week.

This brunch has been organsied by Companis, a duo comprising Kaye Winwood and Siân Tonkin who have since March 2010 created a series of relational events in the context of art institutions, to date sidestepping and blurring categorization as artists, curators, caterers or chefs. Recent previous projects have included a re-enactment of Gordon Matta-Clark’s Bone Dinner, which saw diners departing with jewelry made of the bones of the meat they had recently consumed. This foregrounding of the corporeality of food, a refusal to ignore its essentiality as slabs of organic matter, is similarly recognized as it is beautified.

As the first attendees enter the space, they are consumed by the visual spectacle, this is emphasised by the flash of cameras, outstretched arms with mobile phones and a bank of chairs that allow you to watch the meal, or sit and eat having physically torn part of the image away.

Initially there is a tentative approach to the table, people clearly fearful of ‘destroying’ the image, the carefully poised installative arrangement of foods; but this ‘social sculpture’ would remain incomplete if not devoured. Hunger overcomes resistance: hands soon tear bread, scoop sauces, dip cheese. Beginning with curious observation, then handling of the recently dead birds, feathers are gently fondled, a couple splay their wings, re-animating the fowl in their actions.

The chutneys are rich citric flavours, they fill the rough but airy bread. The sesame’seeded cheese unlocks secondary nutty flavours as the seeds’ oils are released. The wafts of carnations infuse the spread with the aroma of flowers.

This close of festival brunch, is implicitly concerned with the ‘end of things’. A memento-mori accentuated by the timing of its display and location. As the garage doors are briefly opened, light floods in, casting shadows of the cardboard-space-invader-style-skulls made by Juneau Projects over the platters. Despite the hanging skulls being incidental to this feast (part of the overall current but temporary decoration of VIVID, renamed for this festival week as The Dirty End) they fittingly go skeletal hand in skeletal hand.

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