The MoMA PS1 Salad Garden project would not have been complete without the inclusion of Alison Knowles, the original Salad Artist. Alison is a Fluxus artist, having made her mark on the world with her textual event scores — simple propositions that suggest you, Make A Salad, Make A Soup, or eat an Identical Lunch, in the name of art. These imperatives can manifest in your imagination alone, or they can be enacted, anytime, anyplace, by anyone. Alison has built a career around her work with salad, beans and shoes as her media, and I can’t think of anything more inspiring. I draw from her work, and use it as a touchstone — an example of the importance of participation, the accessibility of conceptual art, and the rituals of the everyday action.
Last June, I tracked Alison down and I proposed that she contribute to the blog by enacting her seminal 1962 event score, Make A Salad, in the MoMA PS1 Salad Garden. This score was first performed in 1962 at the ICA in London, and Alison has performed it 3 times since, on one occasion to an audience of a couple thousand at least. When I extended the invitation to perform this on a far more intimate scale, Alison declined, due to her busy travel schedule, but invited me to enact the score myself. “But Alison,” I said, “I have been enacting the score, nearly on a daily basis, inviting friends and strangers alike to partake in the ceremony of salad. But, the project won’t be complete unless you yourself, make an appearance.” In response, Alison invited me to her loft (a place on Spring street that is frozen in time, where she has lived for 50 years). There, she so generously presented me with each work of art that she has thoughtfully pinned to her wall — personal notes from John Cage (her close friend and collaborator), her collection of beans and printed editions (when Alison is not making salad, she is most often working with beans). We talked about plants, books, salad and our shared love of mushroom hunting. After an exhaustive show and tell, she mulled about the room, asking, “What else can I show you…”That same afternoon, we set a date to perform Make A Salad at MoMA PS1, and the event took place on August 18th.
Alison chose her performers, each accomplished artists in their own right: David Teeple, Jessica Higgins, and Mark Bloch who provided an improvisational percussive element to the piece. Each time that this score is performed, the curator is asked to make crucial decisions about what materials to use, where and how the performance will play out, and how many people will attend. After all, the original 1962 score simply says, “Make A Salad.” Nothing more, nothing less. When Alison and her team arrived, we toured the garden, tasting everything and harvesting our materials for the day (making sure to spend extra time with my rainbow colored Reverend Taylor Butterbeans). Whereas the ingredients for these Fluxus salads have previously come from the grocery store, our vegetables would be grown on-site, an element that Alison marveled at as she called out the ingredients while chopping for her audience, “Thai Pink Egg Tomato, Bronze Fennel, Saltwort, Salad Burnet…” Unsuspecting museum visitors and a select group of fellow artists and friends were invited to watch, and eventually, to eat. Alison insists that waste not be a result of the project, so the audience was urged, maybe even peer-pressured, by the Grand Dame herself, into going back for seconds. It was one of the few performances I have experienced in my life, that undoubtedly, left its audience duly sated.
My interview with Alison is forthcoming in Lucky Peach magazine. Stay tuned!