Ten Courses

Geng Jianyi


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acrylic, glass
10 glass plates, each 31 cm diameter
Ten Courses (2003), recovered and restored in 2012) is characteristically unassuming, its meanings elusive. An installation of ten glass plates on which are arranged small, transparent acrylic shapes, it represents the ten dishes of a typical Chinese family meal. These homely recipes include Scrambled Egg and Tomato, Sautéed Broccoli with Lily Bulbs, Fried Tofu, Cucumber in Sauce, and Sautéed Green Vegetables with Black Mushrooms. The names of the dishes irresistibly conjure up images of sizzling platters bearing fragrant, brightly coloured piles of food. Yet the sensuous pleasure of the banquet is completely denied: the plates are anonymous, blank glass discs and the ‘food’ is clear acrylic, etched with Chinese characters that name the ingredients, their qualities of taste, colour and texture, and their medicinal or chemical properties. The first dish, Scrambled Egg with Tomato, presents square shapes with rounded corners like Mahjong tiles, arranged in four rows. The first reads: ‘Easy to digest and absorb’, ‘Moisturise lung and prevent coughing’, ‘Carrot and red pepper’. Rows three and four contain tiles reading, ‘Improving hearing and vision’, ‘Taste of the summer’, ‘Salt and vegetable oil’, ‘Modify blood and restore Qi’, ‘Crisp and slippery’, ‘Starchy and slimy’. In this way the sensual and emotional experience of food is removed, and the work becomes as blank and bland as the chemically derived nutrient purée fed to an astronaut, or to a hospitalised patient through a feeding tube. In Ten Courses, we see a reference to Chinese traditions of village or family life, centred around the production, preparation and consumption of shared meals, but rendered here as a joyless series of texts that must be consumed. In this work, made in the early years of the twenty-first century, Geng Jianyi plays with notions of doubt, dismantling the everyday and provoking us to think more deeply about its meaning.
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