A pop-up Peckham exhibition and café blends food and art

A pop-up Peckham exhibition and café blends food and art

A fully-functioning temporary café has opened on an urban corner of Peckham. But look closer, and it’s also a gallery space and shop, hosting a multisensory exhibition and social experiment that encapsulates community spirit whilst playfully blending food and art.

Spearheaded by contemporary arts platform Open Space, Tender Touches is part of the ‘Edible Goods’ series that investigates food as an artform. The project is the curatorial brainchild of art collector and founding director of Open Space Huma Kabacki and Portuguese artist Inês Neto dos Santos, who drew together a group of international creatives that had a connection with food, or a knack for breaking boundaries. ‘We talked a lot about touch and the body, and then we arrived at this amazing list of 11 artists,’ says Neto dos Santos.

The London-based artist was keen to distort the border between artwork and audience too, and what better way to do so than introduce food, and manufacture an environment of hospitality. Forever a tool for social engagement, she uses food here as a ‘connector’, styling the café as a curious laboratory with an array of quirky designs, many of which were specially commissioned for the show. The aim? To see ‘how differently we relate to each other when food is involved in an art context,’ she says.

Installation view of Tender Touches in Peckham
Installation view of Tender Touches. Photography: Tania Dolvers. Courtesy, Open Space

Table settings in the bistro are a playful party of gherkin (and slightly phallic) shaped resin and ceramic cutlery by sculptor Lindsey Mendick in collaboration with David Mellor. These are scattered on vibrant table designs by Coco Crampton. Guests can mop up their meal using napkins by Athens-born Sofia Stevi, while admiring the whimsical wallpaper, designed by Italian illustrator Marco Palmieri.

Neto dos Santos adopts these blurred lines in her career too. While working as an artist with food, creating performance and installation-based pieces, she also moonlights as a chef. ‘As you will all witness, food is a powerful tool for togetherness,’ she claimed at a supperclub launch of Tender Touches. ‘Bringing food into a gallery space can change the dynamics of the space’. Naturally this ignited conversation among diners. Focusing on fermentation for most of her practice, Neto dos Santos enjoys the artful nature behind its process, the chemical reaction between oxygen and enzymes.

Never-Let-Me-Go-(2019),-by-Lindsey-Mendick
Never Let Me Go, by Lindsey Mendick, 2019

The menu is an additional artwork by Neto dos Santos too, an array of experimental dishes that act as tributes to each artist. A plate of turmeric labneh and cornbread is inspired by pigments and paints used by by Mexico-based Magda Skupinska, while goats milk panna cotta, lemon verbena with strawberries and honey alludes to the calmness of Clementine Keith-Roach’s work and processes – she designed the centrepieces, terracotta, jesmonite and beeswax candles.

When cooking up their concepts, both Kabacki and Neto dos Santos, who met at an exhibition themselves, took cues from Gertrude Stein’s book Tender Buttons, a book known for mystifying familiar and unfamiliar. This, plus other culinary manuals picked up by the pair find themselves on a bookshelf in the pop-up as well.

Open until June, Tender Touches is as much a social investigation as it is café and exhibition. Both curators are intrigued to see how the Peckham locale will respond – will they just come for the food? Will they buy an artwork? Will they want to dig deeper? ‘It’s a symbiotic exchange,’ Neto dos Santos muses. §

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