Want a cake? Earn it.

‘Archaeology is, I suggest, a process of cultural production… that takes the remains of the past and makes something out of them in the present. A contemporary creative work.’1

With the statement above in mind, we began our performance on 3/5/2013 as we set up our ‘pop up café’ at approximately 6:30am in the ‘free zone’ on the ground floor of the library. We prepared to open the café for 9am to get ready for a working day until 5pm. Completely transforming the entire space where there were only walls, tables and chairs proved overwhelming not only to ourselves but also to the many people that entered the space with fresh eyes after being familiar with the space as a place of study.

180 ̊ view of pop up café, 3/5/2013, GCW Library, Photograph by Stephanie Alcock

180 degree view of pop up café, 3/5/2013, GCW Library, Photograph by Stephanie Alcock

We soon fell into a regimented structure that we had created whereby we each allocated ourselves to a station. These five stations being:

1) at the door greeting customers
2) stood in ‘Our Utopia’ section ready to photograph ‘working class’ customers
3) moving the grain from point A to point B
4) decorating cakes on the icing counter
5) serving tea and coffee

Pop up Caf'é in progress, 3/5/2013, GCW Library, Photograph by Rim Petros

Pop up Café, 3/5/2013, GCW Library, Photograph by Rim Petros

Every half an hour I would blow a whistle and we would rotate stations, which echoed the factory regimented work ethic of the building’s history and reminded our audience that we were in fact still playing the role of ‘the working men’ despite how eccentric the environment seemed to be. Every hour on the hour another whistle was blown which signified a tea break for 3 minutes, therefore no matter what situation we were in with a customer we would leave the café and stand outside either with a newspaper or a cigarette, reflecting the nature of factory workers. This element of our piece showed to the audience that despite the appearance of our café our escapism came in our 3 minute break every hour, contrast to their escapism being in our café. To make this message more clear we created a section of the café where ‘Our Utopia’ was signified, this coincided with us as performers having an idealised version of utopia (a beach pictured on the poster) as well as the ‘working class’ audience members being photographed next to it holding a whiteboard specifying what their idea of utopia was.

‘As utopia, performance envisages the righting of wrongs and the nascence of a new social order.’2

Utopia, 3//5/2013, GCW Library, Photograph by Stephanie Alcock

Utopia, 3//5/2013, GCW Library, Photograph by Stephanie Alcock

After tallying all of the grains that were placed from point A to point B by the ‘working class’  audience and performers the total was 2300 grains by the end of a 9 to 5 working day. Our aim was never to reach a specific target of grains to count; our intention was to reflect how a day’s work is never truly complete as the following day continues the same monotonous and mundane work cycle.

Cakes, biscuits etc, 3/5/2013, GCW Library, Photograph by Stephanie Alcock

Cakes, biscuits etc, 3/5/2013, GCW Library, Photograph by Stephanie Alcock

The majority of people experiencing the ‘pop up café’ had no incline that there was a performance taking place and thus made them more vulnerable to the project yet also more willing. We saw this through their receptiveness and hunger for knowledge (as well as literal hunger for the cakes on display) yet their participation with the tasks at hand meant that they got to experience a café like no other, in a place like no other. I overheard one ‘working class’ customer say they felt that their cake tasted better as they had earned it. This says a lot about our socio-political message that we were trying to convey, even though the cakes were free of charge, working for them in the smallest way made them more desirable. This made me question whether some people are simply programmed with the work ethic of ‘if you want something, you have to earn it.’

‘As site of cultural intervention and innovation, performance is a place of experiment, claim, conflict, negotiation, transgression: a place where preconceptions, expectations and critical faculties may be dislocated and confounded.’3

The effect of our performance only registered once it had ended, we had restored the ‘free zone’ back to its empty space, and the transformation of the space were now only memories fresh in my mind. Through pushing the boundaries of performance as well as of our audience, we successfully transgressed from the general expectations of ‘theatre’ and thus created our own sacred performance that effectively conveyed our socio-political theme to the audience. As Tim Etchells says

‘I ask of each performance: will I carry this event with me tomorrow? Will it haunt me? Will it change me, will it change things?
If not it was a waste of time.’4

Word count: 824

  1. Pearson, Mike (2010) Site-Specific Performance, London: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 44 []
  2. ibid., p. 141 []
  3. ibid., p. 141 []
  4. Etchells, Tim (1999) Certain Fragments, New York: Routledge, p. 49 []

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