National Arts Festival 2014: #omnomnom

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Ever find yourself wishing you had something to nibble on during a theatrical performance? Then be advised to skip lunch in preparation for Gavin Krastin’s live art experience #omnomnom, debuting at the 2014 National Arts Festival.

#omnomnom invites audiences to participate in an unusual dining experience – a buffet of treats artfully arranged on the artist’s naked body.

Inspired by the National Arts Festival’s 40th anniversary and 20 years of democracy in South Africa, #omnomnom interrogates the concepts of celebration and commemoration, but also the symbolic role of food in cultural and ideological systems. Though not a single word (beyond an invite to dig in) is spoken throughout the performance, the connections between food, the body, identity construction, religious practices and wealth are subtly explored.

Stretched out on a metal autopsy table with a pizza halo carefully arranged above his head, Krastin’s pale, shivering body takes on an ethereal quality in the low light of Rhodes University’s historical Allan Webb Dining Hall. Candles, Catholic hymns, and the ceremonial cleansing of the body (reminiscent of embalming practices) evoke the ritualistic aspects of Christian communion and the Biblical Last Supper.

The first course is a beautifully presented offering of sushi, perhaps a nod to Kenny Kunene’s well-documented penchant for this Japanese delicacy and naked women. The audience is invited to help themselves to the food and wine on offer. A lonely sparkler, clenched between Krastin’s now clearly trembling thighs (Grahamstown in July is no joke), is lit while we gather around him to hesitantly sing Happy Birthday.

The atmosphere changes abruptly and Die Antwoord’s "Rich Bitch" is now blaring from the sound system. The performance itself plays out as an awkward and intimate social gathering. Groups split off to sip wine and gossip about who is taking more than their share of food. Some are bopping to the music, while others are greedily eyeing the Steers burger perched invitingly on Krastin’s chest.

The artist is inviting us to not only to partake of the food on display, but also offers his body as source of sustenance and spectacle, to be exploited and devoured. Fingers are trailed through the mashed pumpkin on his stomach, the apple is unceremoniously snatched from his mouth and he is surrounded by gnawed chicken bones and dirty paper napkins. I am worried that he is too cold, and it seems that someone else shares my fear, because his icy feet are carefully covered with the towel meant for drying our hands.

It is made clear that photographs are not discouraged and the "partygoers" are soon merrily snapping selfies with Gavin Krastin’s pale form as backdrop. The title, referring to a trend that sees people sharing pictures of their food on Twitter and Instagram, lends itself to online sharing. How convenient. The feast will now continue on social media platforms, to be consumed by an entirely new audience. #foodporn #omnomnom #yummyinmytummy

#omnomnom showed at the National Arts Festival from 8 to 12 July 2014.

Pictures supplied by

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