While the genealogy of performance art undeniably lies in Dada’s radical 20th-century anti-rationalism and the Situationists’ anarchic dispositions, there has been an increasing trend towards–or, at least, reemergence of–the medium, in recent times. This year alone, Marina Abramovic brought a new piece to London’s Serpentine Gallery, following the bewitching 2010 MoMA show “The Artist is Present;” Art Basel introduced a new “live art” section featuring work from the likes of Yoko Ono and Damien Hirst; whereas, the ongoing Frieze London 2014 has itself welcomed a “live” agenda in Frieze Projects, including works specifically commissioned by the fair, as well as the re-staging of historical pieces.
One such performance-based work, by Japanese artist duo United Brothers, is titled “Does This Soup Taste Ambivalent?” It involves the real life brothers, Ei and Tomoo Arakawa, serving soup that contains vegetables flown in from their hometown of Fukushima–site of one of the worst ever nuclear disasters in 2011–with the help of their mother. “We wanted to present a choice that we people from Fukushima have to make every day,” Ei explained to us. “I know that even though the vegetables aren’t really contaminated, it is still a psychological choice.”
Frieze organizers have certainly been keen to stress that all of the ingredients will be certified safe by the Japanese Farmers’ Association, but even the art fair’s co-founder Matthew Slotover recently admitted he wasn’t certain whether he would try the soup. Yet, the New-York based Arakawa claims this reaction was not the United Brothers’ goal: “I don’t want people to be anxious. I wanted to present the choice whether you eat or not because it’s good to have discussion, and activate discourse about the stress of the Fukushima disaster.”
The Fukushima prefecture was struck by a devastating earthquake and tsunami that caused the local nuclear facility’s reactors to melt and leak out. It meant that thousands of residents were ravaged with permanent ailments, particularly after consuming certain food and water (including the soup’s main ingredient, the Daikon radish, which is a staple food in Fukushima). Given this startling context, it’s unsurprising that the Japanese piece is one of six projects that was successfully chosen after more than 100 galleries pitched proposals for the new “live” section.
Fairgoers are not the only ones to be affected by the United Brothers’ piece: the artists themselves are using it to cope with the different life in the West, through the foundation of Green Tea Gallery. “The reason I started Green Tea Gallery was to try and mediate in between New York and Fukushima, which are very different places,” Ei divulged. “By my family coming to Frieze, it helps me balance Fukushima and the world I now know.”
The brothers plan to take their next project to New York–some time in 2015–but remain tight-lipped on details. “I can’t tell you much,” explained Ei. “I have to work on it.” He does reveal, however, that it will be a group show, and will continue in the vein of their performance-based work shown at Frieze. Especially due to performance art’s ephemerality, it will surely be one not to miss.