Culinary Conceptualism and the Strategy of Overidentification 

– Stevan Vuković –

When Raša Todosijević exhibits an art piece that includes material remains of a plebeian feast (technique: cooked beans, bread and beer in cheap tableware), he firmly adheres to the avant-garde art canons. In the glossary of art history, what a visitor to this exhibition encounters falls under the term tableaux piège, while the process through which it was made has roots in the tradition of culinary art, which avant-garde artists have been reforming for more than a century. Namely, it started with Guillaume Apollinaire, a poet, playwright, prosaist, and the author of the first book about Cubist painters, who shortly before he published it in 1913, forged the concept of ‘culinary cubism’ and presented it in the text of the same title in the magazine Fantasio. His thesis stated that the new school of cooking “would relate to the ancient culinary art the same way that Cubism relates to ancient painting.” Italian futurists Tommaso Marinetti and Luigi Colombo followed suit and in 1930 published “Manifesto of Futurist Cooking”, where they presented the concept of ’gastrosophy’, on the basis of which they established a “temple” of Futurist cooking: Tavern of the Holy Palate, in Turin.

Kulinarski konceptualizam i strategija preterane identifikacije
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

The key conceptual line they insisted upon was the “doctrine of simultanism”; Marinetti in one of his published recipes recommended “making of simultaneously consumed and constantly changing canapés, each of them having at least ten to twenty different flavours that should be tasted altogether in just a few seconds.” Bombardment with flavours was loyal to the principles that Futurists employed in visual musical art and poetry, where their audience was exposed to bursts of sounds, images and meanings that words would create in physical space. Besides simultanism, what they found equally substantial was synaesthesia: for example, a dish called “Raw meat, torn by trumpet blasts’, designed to emanate the experience of war trenches at the table, in one part of the preparation instruction, along with marinating in rum and vermouth, seasoning with pepper and snow and treating it with electricity, also included serving a military trumpet, which the consumer must blow into as forcefully as possible, before every single bite. As a counterpoint of this complex and elitist gastronomy, there emerged the recipes of Dadaists, proclaiming subversion of the bourgeois taste, followed in this pursuit by surrealists, as well as the artists gathering around the Fluxus movement. One of them is the artist whose work Raša Todosijević regards as his point of reference: Daniel Spoerri.

Kulinarski konceptualizam i strategija preterane identifikacije
Daniel Spoerri, Hahn’s Supper, 1964, MUMOK collection

His restaurant named “Eat Art” (opened in 1968) and the homonymous gallery (1970) emerged in the years that were formative for Raša Todosijević’s artistic practice he is known for today, even though his reactions to it materialized only in the late 90’s. It was a time of a plethora of references to the 70’s art – whose one of the notable protagonists was Raša Todosijević himself – when the concept of ‘relational art’ was launched and artists like Rikrit Tiravanija used cooking in galleries, museums and at biennials as a means of accomplishing some sort of ‘social plastic art’, i.e. making interventions in human material. The point is no longer in a bad or good, traditional or avant-garde taste, reinforced or introduced by the dishes, but in the relationships created between the visitors during food consumption, in spaces and contexts inseparable from cultural policy, which serve to institutionalize artistic practice. Moreover, Tiravanija’s work does not reflect these contexts, and a considerable part of criticism on ‘relational art’– like the one voiced by Claire Bishop – is levelled precisely at the reflection of his allegedly naïve faith in warm and completely unmediated human relationships, initiated by the food offered in a museum or gallery ambient. Todosijević’s setting in the shape of swastika, where visitors are seated and invited to consume food, thus participating in the making of the work, brutally cancels the possibility of such naivety. It was initially performed at the 20th Memorial of Nadežda Petrović, in Čačak in 1998, as part of a concept that the exhibition curator Jovan Despotović called the “Art and Engagement of the ‘90s”. However, the work was created not only as a response to the Memorial’s theme, but came out from a series that Raša Todosijević had been working on for almost ten years. Namely, as a wider context to his work, the exhibition included a series of installations, drawings and sculptures, which he began developing in 1989 under the title “Gott Liebt die Serben” (God loves the Serbs). In the series, as it is stated in the exhibition’s catalogue titled “On Normality. Art in Serbia 1989–2001” (MOCAB, 2005), his act is based on what he recognizes as “some sort of a ‘surplus of ideology’ heard in everyday rhetoric of commitment to certain political objectives and models”, while his art strives to demonstrate its final outcomes. In them, Raša applies the principle of ‘overidentification’, employed by many younger artists, like Slovenian group IRWIN and the whole Neue Slowenische Kunst. No one taking part in the performance of this work is abolished or innocent; everybody equally engages in the social ritual, whatever their attitude may be, and from whichever position they approach it. And they all, inevitably, glorify the artist who has included them in the ritual, which will eventually bring forth the slogan “Thank you, Raša Todosijević”, and subsequently used as the title of Todosijević’s retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade, as well as his solo exhibition in the Pavilion of Serbia at the Venice Biennale in 2011.

Kulinarski konceptualizam i strategija preterane identifikacije
Raša Todosijević, Balkan Banquet, part of the series “Gott Liebt die Serben” (photo: before and after the banquet), Berlin, Maxim Gorky Theatre, 2013


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