The loaves and the fish, all for only $10 : Sonja Zlatanova

Fortner Anderson
October 14

Each year of the festival, before the evening’s events, the Viva Art Action festival invites the public to share a delicious and substantial communal meal with the festival’s artists, volunteers and participants. Each year this complex sometimes herculean endeavor is conferred to a different artist-in-residence. This year, Macedonian artist, Sonja Zlatanova took on the challenge to prepare the hundreds of dinners for the public as well as lunches and snacks for the artists and volunteers.

As an artist, Zlatanova’s practice is, as the Viva website says, « informed by everyday situations and actions, as well as by environments that concentrate and condition the body. » Into the Viva culinary project, she introduced a number of simple elements which enhanced relational aspects of food sharing and which underscored the social codes and relations involved in food preparation and consumption.

Sitting at large common tables placed closely together, each evening’s meal brought together approximately 100 people. The encounters and conversations in French and English and sometimes both, were long, loud and animated. Diners served themselves out of common pots and bowls. Several times during the week, long lengths of kraft paper set out in the center of the tables became impromptu serving platforms, upon which grilled root vegetables or steamed corn appeared. The first night, diners were asked to share with a dish with partner, a stranger. A sea bass, succulently baked in salt dough crust, provided a first course over which the diners negotiated the opening of the crust, the removal of bones and the sharing of the food.

For the last day of the festival, the crew prepared a whole roast pig. It roasted on a spit in the courtyard for most of Saturday. Warning signs and a fence prevented any unwary vegetarians from encountering the meat spectacle, a whole beast crackling as the spit slowly turned over the hot coals.

Each evening these shared meals helped to foster the creation of a unique, vibrant, and very good-humored community. Over Barley risotto or gravlax prepared with a beet marinade, Zlatanova and her crew provided a privileged space where artists could communicate and exchange concerning their work and their practice both amongst themselves and with the general public.

Feeding a two to three course meal with vegetarian options each evening to a hundred or more people, while also providing food during the day for artists and volunteers, involved a constant and considerable effort. Over the four days of the festival, Zlatanova and her staff, Marie-Michèle Beaudoin and kimura byol and volunteers worked seemingly without sleep as they purchased ingredients, prepared dishes and served the meals. After assuring each evening that everyone had been served and that everyone’s needs were taken care of, the crew bussed tables and washed up so that the performances could begin by 8PM.

Thank you!

(VIVA offered its meals this year for the very modest sum of $10.)