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Catering for the Audience – a review of Sora Kim’s Melting Alaska

Sora KimMelting Alaska, BALTIC, Gateshead
14 February – 29 April 2007

Review by Beccy Kennedy

Melting Alaska 1

Whilst munching on spicy chorizo stotties — a dish given the name Smoky Mountain — we browsed the inimitable menus, commented on the amorous musical medley and read the bright red words stuck to the windows, trying to decipher which phrases answered which questions. These questions, focusing on romantic memory, were devised by Korean artist Sora Kim, and posed to local Newcastle residents. The findings were then assimilated into a multi-sensory café installation incorporating: a range of correspondingly conceived recipes, a selection of new but mismatched furniture and a small TV screen demonstrating how to cook (the contents of the menu?). It looked vaguely atypical for a white-cube gallery’s café décor, but I hadn’t known what the BALTIC refectory looked like before the installation, and nothing, but the strategically high-positioned TV, appeared out of sync for a public eating-place. The exhibition interlaces itself mischievously and intangibly into the eatery. Perhaps, this is why Kim’s exhibit was the most populated in the gallery that day. Everyone likes to dine, with or without design.

Kim’s artwork works in terms of its kinaesthetic rather than its aesthetic impact. Admittedly, Melting Alaska’s concept doesn’t aim to provide fine arts appreciative value but the installation’s visual aspect generally fails to fuel the appetite. There is no delicious ocular stimulus to tease the taste buds and optimise the consumer’s interactive art experience, in this sense. The tabletops are plain, pine appearance, the walls are bare — except for the arial font styled stuck-on words, which overlap, making them difficult to read — and the table menus are monochromatic and text-dense. However, the fluorescent pink pick-up Collector’s Edition Recipe Booklet (suggested donation £1) explains Kim’s project in a user-friendly format and lists the questions that were asked to the local people. This helps the viewer to assemble the seemingly incongruent parts of the installation, and reinforces the artwork’s capability for widening participation.

Melting Alaska 2Whilst Kim ‘engages with local communities,’1 including the chefs who ‘interpret’ the dishes, during the execution of the artwork, she also encourages the art’s realisation to take place in a non-threatening environment. It’s possible that members of the public may visit the café without any intention of going to the galleries, then incidentally experience a work of art, which ultimately challenges their expectations of contemporary art and the gallery space. Kim’s piece is involved and egoless in this way. She enables the chefs to transpose and compose recipes, from the thoughts and experiences of the interviewees, and even the dishes’ names consist of these quotations. Kim had a concept and the public participants actualised it. The difficulty lies in how widely the rest of the public residents will actually receive it. The BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Arts sits in a touristy spot, by the millennium bridge at Gateshead Quays but it stands apart from the city’s shopping and business area, and is separated by the Tyne itself. Aside from the sea air, there’s a whiff of the Victorian Art Museum-opolis, in terms of the BALTIC’s uneasy location. However, this isn’t Kim’s doing, and in choosing Newcastle, she has avoided the capital-city-centrism of the international arts arena in Britain.

What I found engaging about the artwork was not the description of its conceptualisation, the assortment of questionnaire answers in the form of word transfers floating across the four walls, or the curiously combined flavour of chorizo and rocket in my stottie. It was the way the theme of the exhibition subtly manoeuvred itself into the conversation between my friends and myself as we sat in the cafe, like eggs sealing round mushrooms in a pan. By choosing a concept, which everyone has experienced in some shape or form, Kim has widened conceptual participation, at the very least for the engagement of the available audience at the BALTIC. I found myself asking a friend of ten years, “Where is the most romantic place you’ve ever been?” She replied, “Liverpool.” In Melting Alaska, Kim’s aptitude is, perhaps, in her capacity for creating an environment, which encourages the unfolding of the unexpected.

  1. Sora Kim, Melting Alaska, Collector’s Edition Recipe Booklet, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. []

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