A Place of Mixtures, Jumbles and Fuller Reality

Everything stands ready. The things are waiting. Just another minute and it can begin. All is quiet yet, a still life (a large kitchen one), a picture, pictures, but already now lively in detail: the fish have long since been swimming in their tank, in the water-blue light, accompanied by the soft, persistent hum of a pump. Already the rabbits and chickens are stirring in their wooden cages, living their lives, as do the lambs, the piglets that come and go in the enclosure between inside and out, a tiny, first noise of the rustling straw. The pheasants and ducks keep still, however, even in flight, captured as in real life, preserved and stuffed. Water has long since been at its enthusiastic work, a small, nameless fountain. From a pipe formed with cool precision, rising from the marble slab of a small working island, water bubbles continually, flowing into a porcelain bowl placed there as if by accident. And never (as in a dream) does this bowl fill up, nor does it overflow, though the water runs the entire time, producing background noise, flowing endlessly, superfluously, in excess. Nothing has happened yet. Everything is still in its order, the stacks and rows of bottles, crates, bags, the dishcloths carefully folded, fresh and unused. All of the pots and knives, clean and gleaming, the stove and sink perfect as well, the tall, curved metal fixtures polished to a shine (an emanation of the good form, these proceed to tower over things later as well, sovereign, and a little proud, after the kitchen-disaster has struck, and various things have been heaped around them, dirty, used and stacked, the sorted chaos of cooking). The things wait (like in a fairy-tale, they seem to be at one's disposal), as if it were only a matter of taking them in hand and using them, working on this or that, child's play. Everything is ready. Just a moment. It can begin right away.

This is not only a barn, but neither is it a roomy summer retreat; not some newly invented country and kitchen house, nor solely an improvised building. But there are all sorts of modern things, crossed with the remembrance of a time when kitchen and barn, house and barnyard, storage and preparation, were all concentrated under one roof, almost in one room, when nothing had yet been shut out, and everything visibly belonged together. A mobile unit, light and movable, rather for good, or better weather, the air, a slight breeze could blow through it, through this house that belongs in-house, and for which we would recommend another roof above its own roof. It is an easily improvised emergency solution, only without the emergency, as if it had been built by happenstance with whatever was there, with leftovers, a precise, provisional structure, finished for now, but alterable at any time. The building presumably void of decoration, a sober wrapping, is above all a balanced collage of diverse materials, colors, and permeable things, textures, a flat picture: dry wall elements in the green of an operating room, plywood, different plastic materials formed like corrugated metal (opaque and translucent), restrainedly reflecting sheets of metal, composite plates, perforated metal (here and there cables and ropes, fastenings like undulating lines, as a lively drawing upon a colorful, changing ground). Nothing but panels, precisely fit into the simple, austere framework of metal, The Farm Project: half-timbered patchwork and prefab construction.

Earlier than you think, but yet before you enter, you are already there, under way in The Farm Project. You have arrived "there" when you walk through the scattered straw in the front garden (or at least the hint of a garden), in the front yard, on the path between the lemon trees and bamboo stalks, approaching the enticing, illuminated building, attracted by the lights through the see-through skin of the house, the regular pattern of lines of light on the walls, thus prior yet to entering this architecture situated upon a narrow, faintly glimmering pedestal of light. But you are "there" at the latest when parting the curtains of various cords, chains, and strips (carefully-crafted trinkets consisting of small wooden cows, balls, sticks, and cubes made of metal, cloth, and other things). In stepping across the threshold each visitor also becomes a guest, viewer, and imperceptibly, a figure in a picture, a living, lively picture, being at once audience and actor on stage, a part of the action.

Above everything, overhead under the ceiling is a sky lit with strings of light bulbs (like at garden parties in earlier times, or at the fair or circus), gaily distributed, dangling lights; outside we encounter them again, hanging there in front of the plywood panels where they exude a pleasant, minimalist festiveness. Inside, beneath the light-bulb sky, there floats a bounteous cloud of objects: the utensils (whisks, ladles, pots and pans, shiny metal, everyday stainless steel and the solemn dignity of the copper, grates, and cooling racks, things needed at hand, sheer functionality) next to the soft skin of the rabbit, the powdered wrinklyness of the sausages (gray mixed with reddishness), the pale, smooth-skinned bodies of cheese. This entire mélange hangs on hooks, piece for piece, hangs, in keeping with the sky, on a wooden ladder swinging freely here, but attached under the roof. A little to the side there is also an aged birdcage, an elegant housing, it could house animals once again, give shelter to them, or at least make us think of the problem of keeping animals in a way that opposes their nature: Songbirds would work well here, their whistling, their chatter would be a welcome, charming garland of sound coming from up there for the goings-on below. Seen from the ceiling, the wooden ladder with what hangs on it is a kind of narrow, sculpted frame made of utensils and animals, an enclosure through which the view would fall upon the center of the kitchen, the stove and the table for preparing things, the sink. And this view from above is directed to the wooden counter, its spots and traces of work, the things that happen to be placed there and are thus, on display. We could imagine that someone sits here sometimes, maybe a child or children, legs dangling. Also to be seen as a clear composition of right-angled zones are the steel sinks, the stove, the marble work-surface (upon which gleaming knives and a whetstone lie). An arrangement wholly in the service of function and work. Viewed from up here everything would be framed by a shiny metal railing all the way around, and hanging on this is a series of changing patterns, dishcloths, a garbage bag. From up here, of course, the mess could be seen, the jumble of things, the trash, the leftovers, the dirty pots and pans, half-finished things, sliced things or else it would already be engulfed by the rising steam, whereby the voices would be indistinguishably intermingled with the boiling and hissing noises, the crackling, the beating, cracking, breaking, the clacking of the knives cutting. You could hear the hissing in pans, and water running, ‚Äì dripping, then the quiet roar of boiling water, and finally the blubbering and simmering, pots banging together, the dry clattering of plates, clicking, splitting, beating, grating, and scraping in a mortar, all the kitchen sounds, not always beautiful, but unavoidable, they belong to the things, ingredients, the handling of them. Add to this the aromas and smells wherever you look.


And this center is framed by provisions from all parts of the globe. The eye perceives everything in correct amounts, enough for everyone, but not more, not enough for waste, a form of friendly, foresighted precision. The breads lie there ready, beautiful loaves, a store of them, and the cake stands waiting. Finished things next to unfinished ones, ingredients from which things can and should be made, they await their use, metamorphosis, but at this point still pose possibility. Crates full of vegetables, depending on their availability at the market, next to them unknown things, almost unknown things (yam root, taro, and manioc); noodles of course, dried things. A field of tomatoes, sumptuous ox-hearts, voluminous ribbed and bulging bodies of fruit, next to the sink a well-filled, compact bed of herbs. And close to the standing wooden cage, the one with the chickens, is a basket with eggs, to be thought of as a keen product of these animals. Sacks of jasmine rice and an entire shelf full of Asian things adjacent to boxes with French wine. Above the stove there are ham, sausages, and cheese, maybe from Italy, but perhaps also from more northern climes. And what could become of chickens, rabbits, and fish in a kitchen that has not been committed to certain foods, in which regions and continents adjoin with one another, and East and West meet on a plate. How this and that is prepared in the kitchen anyway, how all kinds of things are cultivated and kept on the farm, everything exists and flourishes with and alongside one another.

The Farm Project fears nothing, does not restrain itself, observes no law, and is independent of all the customary kitchen demonstration paraphernalia, the things considered right and fitting. And since nothing has been excluded, a successful invention of a place heretofore unknown is the result. What thus comes about (on top of one another and jumbled up) points to a pleasure in pile-ups, a tendency towards frictional warmth, a curiosity at mixing things and an appreciation. Everything, well, lots of things, find a place here, or could show up here at least (placet experiri – in China they say that the only thing with four legs that you cannot eat is a table). The phalanx of things extends to the fake, off-beat, sweet, sentimental and anecdotal. (And probably there are kitchen stories attached to them, no doubt they play a role in each of our biographies, the earliest memory often has one of its mainstays here among the pots, where food is, since memory is inextricably interwoven with smells, aromas, and stench, and it is here where joy, desire, and even repulsion have their beginnings; the kitchen, rarely neutral ground, remains the central organ (food, enjoyment, memory) in the body of the house.) And not a hand's width away we find what is rough and sobering, anonymous, purpose-bound, and strictly functional: The Farm Project, an attempt or self-attempt to expand what is possible, a lesson in composure.

Everywhere the colours have been restrained, above all there are light-colored things, nothing garish, only a few dark objects. Even the red of the big plastic sieves up there on the shelf holds itself back, as does the orange of the lamb pen and the sty for the pigs. A sawhorse in mustard yellow remains unremarkable, even the clear blue of the garbage bag, the matte black of the cast-iron stove (the only other dark things are a few pots, pans, a teapot, and a few things out of iron). Everything else is light and friendly to the eye, showing the self-evident colours of things, the colours of the material. The palette of the shades of the various breads and this warm light coming from the straw, otherwise the wood types, and metals with a shine or in matte white, and anyway the diverse shades and refractions of white: rice and plastics, porcelain, and skull-bones. Among these are the interspersed details, the slight colourful glow of the feathers of some of the birds, the red of the tomatoes or of tomatoes depicted on the cans.

The Farm Project, whatever it is (unassuming, banal or expressly not this) has been determined by the presence and the immediacy of animate and inanimate things, it trusts them. In doing so, nothing is kept at a distance, everything being immediately before your eyes, nose, hand, and mouth. Everything is taken as it is, in its pragmatic splendor, its everyday beauty. Inserted piece for piece into a loose and enticing system of things, understandable and to be reconstructed in practice as an arrangement, meant for use and enjoyment, and thus, to be moved, changed, used, and cooked (or at least to wholly entertain this notion – and also in order to be seen, simply for the purpose of the viewer's enjoyment, to be enjoyed), in order to become an ingredient for and to be transformed into food and dishes, to make possible their preparation for consumption, their ultimate disappearance.

It is a completely incomplete realm of Everything-Possible, the stage for all states of solids and liquids, for steams and froths, for what simmers and crystallizes, what cracks, for the crusty and the soft, the sweet and sour, the bitter... A world of a room in the world and a world of its own, dealing with the world by gathering the world together within it. There are allusions to the elements collected together here: the air for the birds, the fruits of the earth, fire and water are useful, indispensable as the stove and sink: All in all, it is a landscape of numerous objects, details (the 10000 things that was and is a word in Chinese, a symbol that means: the world). A room of overlaps and mixtures, a place that brings (nearly) all things together, is and eats (nearly) everything: a realistic idyll, a household of remembrance, an everyday workshop, laboratory, and depot, the world's shed, shop-window, artificial garden-kitchen-farmhouse, place of pleasure and desire, warehouse for things and intangible things, guesthouse-storehouse-and magic house (perhaps a Grande Ménagerie), a showpiece, art, and an exhibited object, a stage and picture, a place to flaunt and a place to play, a site of the tangible, the real. A labyrinth of objects, states, symbols, possibilities ‚Äì more at every glance, with each bat of the eye. Who could get their fill of looking here?

This is where dirt and the traces of life belong as well, the leftovers and relicts. Some things are marked, the worse for use, worn down over time. Visible are the results of wear and tear, spills, and being knocked over. The patinas of work, use, juices, and dampness preserved in scratches and spots, nicks, and bumps. The entire network of chance, at times maddening, at other times beautiful and desired, at least accepted. Time moves into the things, taking possession of them, gradually some things become more and more beautiful (the wood of the knife handle), other things disappear, get used up (the blade of the knife, very slowly). This room is not immune against such impositions, it annuls them. Therein lies the serenity, the generosity of this place that puts up with so much, taking it in, accepting it, and thus contradicting an idea, the ideal of the untouched, of a practice of the pure (or rather of a cleanliness that is striven for), of the immaculate, something foreign to the very essence, the reality of the kitchen.

A room of concentration, wholly attentive; it does not even have a real window, only entrances and exits, and another one for the animals, a kind of a hatch. No machines, at least none in sight, modestly equipped in the midst of the multitude of things: a stove and water, somewhere there will be a refrigerator, added to this are loads of traditional utensils, not electric and thus hand-operated, nothing else. Apparently there is no diversion, no radio, no television, no apparatus to scatter your thoughts (albeit, almost hidden you can glimpse loudspeakers at the bottom of one of the shelves, with a few CDs discreetly lying there). Even pictures hide themselves initially yet, they are smuggled goods in this building cleansed of pictures (in order to make room for things, not to divert you from the plasticity of the real, in order to be a picture you yourself can walk into). But they do indeed exist, hidden on labels (tomatoes, people cooking), the shade of a lamp held by antlers, depicting the true antler-bearers frolicking in their habitat. And above all on the lavishly decorated, timelessly old-fashioned porcelain: pattern scenes of attempts at the pastoral, English somehow, offset copper-engravings that show neat fields, desired things, and hence, palaces, animals, parks, woods, proper ladies and gentlemen, protected by floral borders, vinework, all in blue, elegant red, or sonorous green. Anything missing? What is missing?

There is no table here, no bench, this way the room stays in motion, a work room, a place to be active in. Only a single armchair is to be found, more an indication than a real place to sit. Who sat there? Has anyone ever sat there at all? A sign of easy-going comfort in cool silver, gray, the metal alienating and distancing it from us, the idea of a chair, not particularly instilling any trusting comfort, it does not invite us to sit down. And a table (which also does not exist) would have to be looked for somewhere else, outside. There it is not to be found, only a couple of emergency-camping-picnic-folding-contraptions, that is all, and neither do these tempt us to linger. At most, the one or the other bale of hay would pose a possibility, and thus the table and chair remain a thought relegated to our imagination.

Nothing is left out, nothing held back, or excluded, nothing hidden. (Indeed, is there anything here that has been locked away, or a door, behind which something could become invisible? Naturally, it is possible to hide something discretely and intentionally, inconspicuously right in the middle of all the obvious, especially considering this diversity; not to mention all the things that get overlooked, and remain unnoticed in the midst of this visible jumble of plenty.) What is irritating, of course, is that death is also present, it belongs to the kitchen, providing nourishment, it always has, everywhere. Beautiful and humorous, and conceivable: the trophies, the game, horns and antlers (the magic of defence, threat and triumph). They are skulls just like the metal joke-skull there among all the dishware (decorated with idyllic landscapes, where our elegant hunters could be in pursuit, deer fleeing, pheasants taking flight...) And other birds represent their own nature in a stiff and lasting manner, in stuffed form, they reveal themselves in typical poses copied from life, they too are wall decoration. Or they hang, magnificent, beautiful corpses among shiny pots and other utensils, curing there until their time comes or at least, they act like this, as if they belong to a kitchen still life (graceful like in a painting by Chardin, the birds with their wings spread out one last time) next to ham and other preserves, conditions of the flesh, pleasant stores, nature morte. The viewers of all this are the living. The chickens, rabbits, sheep, fish in their cages, pens, and tanks there among all the provisions and other edible things. Of course, they are also sweet to look at, kept in a friendly manner they represent the essential forms of human nourishment, unsentimentally they await a predictable destiny.

Cooling, heating, icing, frothing, dissolving, squeezing, pureeing, drying, steaming, melting, singeing, blending, mixing... virtually nothing remains in the same state it was in upon entering the kitchen. The kitchen is transition, a transformation station (from raw to cooked, palatable), a place that itself changes because metamorphoses are carried out and demonstrated here (cooking is nothing else). Everything needed for this is in its proper place, ready for use, ready for change. A lot of things seem to have their own places, but some things disappear, get used up, and rice is replaced by couscous is replaced by potatoes (and they are located, were still located somewhere else just now). The order of things is dissolved in the course of the work and emerges anew in a changed, related form. Everything seems to have its place, but this can be here today and somewhere else tomorrow, when it comes to putting it aside or because things, colours, and materials attract each other (seemingly automatically), and new pictures, other constellations arise by chance, or have been arranged by hand: the lively, evenly-distributed pattern of spots on the trout in the aquarium and the orderly squares and stripes on the dishcloths, the cool gleam of the fish bodies and the warm glow of a shiny, polished copper bowl (reflections from the environment are captured in vague tones in its interior), placed before the sink, for a moment (or longer), standing yet on the cloth, and possibly right away instead of the apples still wet from being washed and soon a dry, rough and crusty bread. All the while the fish swim and swim with the calmness and composure of an old clock. For as long as people cook, the room will perpetually change in general and in detail, shelves will empty, surfaces will fill with sliced things, ingredients, waste, used bowls, pots (first full, then empty), tools, leftovers and then empty themselves when the food is eaten and enjoyed, only to fill themselves again. Some things could be different, will have changed right away tomorrow. And thus, this remains a place that renews itself and starts from scratch every day, becoming unfinished. For this, everything is ready.

Jens-Peter Koerver

Translation: Elizabeth Volk