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The Little Old Cooking Club That Could By Jamie Marie Lewis

Jul 01, 2021

Image credit: The Little Old Cooking Club That Could. Photography by Jamie Marie Lewis.

Four years brewing.

Two years in the making.

Two contingency plans and one reimagination later…

Ten years since leaving Singapore, embarking on a post-graduate degree in Melbourne and going on to forge a practice as an artist, I shared my first full-length work. The Little Old Cooking Club That Could made its first public outing in Singapore as part of Drama Box’s SCENES 2020 over August and September.

This reflection could focus on all the ways COVID-19 has impacted the project, but that would only tell one part of the story. So let’s start from where we remember –

I am primarily interested in intimacy and conversation in my art-making, and I recognise food to be the vehicle for it. I am interested in domestic spaces and gestures made heightened or given theatricality. I am interested in the everyday, and privileging the stories of people who don’t think of themselves as “artists”, and making work in spaces we don’t expect to experience “art.” Food then to me, is a great equaliser (while at the same time being able to consider who gets to eat?).

The Little Old Cooking Club That Could, like all my other work, is underpinned by genuine relationships with everyone involved, and is deliberate, simple and sophisticatedly layered.

I think it is also inherently intertwined  with my own personal love for eating and cooking. You cannot take the Singaporean out of her! Moving to Australia as an adult, recreating my mother’s cooking, or what I’m craving from the hawkers, was my way of reclaiming my evolving relationship to home.

My art practice and my life practice is becoming harder to separate: to be a good host, to nourish friends and loved ones with good food and good company, to hold space for complex conversations and storytelling, to share a table with strangers.

Originally conceived as a dinner party as performance co-created by children aged 9-12 years old and seniors over 65, The Little Old Cooking Club That Could responded to COVID-19 travel and gathering restrictions to become an individual community dining experience for ten participants. Through a public call out, the participants ranged from 9-12 years old and 62-72 years old. They took turns preparing a meal for one another and packed it in a tingkat, or tiffin carrier, which was then delivered by my very own Papa Lewis. Participants tune in to an audio work of conversations between children and seniors across Singapore and Australia while they savour their meal. They then record audio reflections of their own which gets compiled into a playlist for public listening here.

I have to admit that this iteration, though I had to reimagine and develop it quite quickly, became something I was far more thrilled by. Sure, I wished I was there in person, to gather and eat together! That is still something I hope for – especially when working with community participants, there is a real pay-off in coming together!

Of contingency plans and reimaginations, the provocation from SCENES 2020 was “what does participatory art look like in a physically-distanced world?”. The support I received from the Australia Council for the Arts’ International Strategy Outcomes Fund even before COVID-19 hit was responsive to this change in circumstances. While budgets shrank and timelines grew tighter, amidst what seemed like very uncertain territory in the world twice over, reimagining this version was actually a very affirming move for my practice.

Image credit: The Little Old Cooking Club That Could. Photography by Jamie Marie Lewis.

The work became a more ambitious undertaking – there were far more known unknowns, and unknown unknowns, and the maker in me is driven by that. That I crafted an experience that retained integrity to my practice, to liveness, to real-time participation, genuine relationships, and mutual exchange in the current limitations (COVID-19 restrictions etc.) is something I am very proud of. The hyper-local-ness of it is something that excites me too in thinking about future iterations across different cities because it is now a feasible and sustainable model (in all COVID-19-restrictions, financial, and environmental ways). That this incarnation now also has more currency and relevance – I didn’t and don’t intend to make work about the pandemic, but I do believe in making sure the work reflects the times we are in. And in our times, people are hungry for ways to remain connected to their community, and this work does that really well.

A global pandemic has forced changes in the work, and in all of 2020 really – but it could never diminish how I have spent the last ten years building, unravelling and distilling my practice (and continue to do so!). The Little Old Cooking Club That Could, like all my other work, is underpinned by genuine relationships with everyone involved, and is deliberate, simple and sophisticatedly layered.

But I’ll be frank. Whilst the project garnered a lot of interest in earlier days, it never received the tangible support and resources to make it happen. It wasn’t until the International Development team understood the deep, intercultural relationship The Little Old Cooking Club That Could and my practice had with Singapore/Drama Box that it/I finally found its/my legs.

This frankness is important because for all the layers of time, the reflection I come back to most in making work as an artist comes back to these three things: stamina, context and friendship.

Image credit: The Little Old Cooking Club That Could.

Ten years building a home in my practice.

Four years brewing.

Two years in the making.

Two contingency plans and one reimagination later…

I’d love to do local versions of The Little Old Cooking Club That Could across Australian cities and anywhere else in the world. But mostly, I am currently imagining what a longer-term relationship with this club looks like? How do participants want to continue to engage with the project ideas and other participants (or not)? How do I facilitate continued exchange, and breadth and depth of relationships? What happens when there are multiple local communities of The Little Old Cooking Club That Could participants across the world? How would they interact and exchange with each other? How would they meet? And in this ongoing way, for it to remain co-created with the participants of seniors and children, and enable the forms to multiply and evolve.

And it would only continue to be made possible by having stamina, understanding context, and nurturing friendships.

See more on Instagram.

Jamie Marie Lewis
Jamie Lewis is an artist, facilitator and dramaturg. She creates and curates participatory experiences, facilitating meditations on culture, place, and time, through autobiographical stories, conversation and food. Together with long-term collaborator Dan Koop, Jamie also creates and curates site-responsive multi-artform experiences; they curiously explore place, love unique experiences and seek new vantage points.

Her performances often take place in unusual spaces you wouldn’t expect to find art and with people who don’t always consider themselves artists.

Committed to diversifying practice, Jamie seeks alternative models of working, and a re-imagining of leadership, governance, and structures.