Critical Spatial Practice

Having not felt like eating, but eaten, I sat down to eat / tea … (2016)
  • Stephen Loo | Academy Gallery, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

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  • Having not felt like eating, but eaten, I sat down to eat / tea … (2016)
  • Stephen Loo | Academy Gallery, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia
  • The gut is ‘the nervous system that extends well beyond the skull, and as it so travels through the body, it takes the psyche with it.’ (Elizabeth Wilson, Psychosomatics: 47) Eating becomes a performative mode of (gut) re-thinking cancer as bodies being eaten from the inside; away from cognitively-based metaphysics, towards a psychical engagement with the corporeal.

    22 February – 15 April 2016
    Performance banquet: 12:30 – 1:30pm, 10 April 2016

    It was half-past noon, and the audience sat raptured as Dr Sue Collins led the Jan Sedivka Camerata string ensemble through the cadenza of Mozart’s Divertimento in D Major, K.136. These were the final minutes of the fund-raising recital for the Cancer Council of Australia, taking place within an art exhibition, called Navigating the Internal Landscape: an Artistic Interpretation of Cancer. Next to the ensemble, and around a dining table designed by renowned Tasmanian furniture maker Simon Ancher, were six chairs of sorts, and five guests for tea. The last seat was reserved for my mother who died of cancer a few weeks before the performance.

    The first course, bouillabaisse Chinois Orabase® gel, sushi rice water pannacotta and wakame foam with umami sprinkles, was served as the music changed into syncopated strains of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. The second course, cigar-smoke infused homemade ricotta with roasted beetroot pouring foam, served through robotic-arm shaped beef bone, asked the diners to feed each other which chopsticks, causing a few to dibble bright red liquid down their chins, as Pachelbel’s Canon boomed in the background. The third course caused the diners to negotiate while speaking, a couple gagging, an oversized three mouth-feel everlasting gobstopper wrapped in edible silver served with deep fried sage, to the wonky strains of the Oompa Loompa Song combined with Massenet’s, Méditation from Thaïs. Lastly, the diners had a cup to tea for exactly 4’33”.

    This work, as a piece of participatory performance art, provides ways to think about often inarticulable trauma associated with cancer as an aesthetic practice that allows a ‘thinking-feeling’ of the irreducible intersectionality of the disease. Encountering dimensions of cancer through writing and speaking through and with food and eating, the work does not aim to represent nor make clear the extensive dimensions of trauma. Rather it makes flow the intensitivities of the situational, using a-grammatrical practices with a seeming absence of style and consistency, in order to produce desire as bodily pressures that open up possibilities for unanticipated and sometimes serendipitous thought and therefore action: an aesthetics that is an ethics.


    Stephen Loo is Professor of Design at the University of New South Wales. For more than 25 years, he has researched, taught and practiced in the transdisciplinary nexus of design, philosophy, art, performance and science. He has published widely in architecture and design theory, biophilosophy, posthumanist ethics, ecological humanities and experimental computational and digital thinking. He holds a PhD in architecture and philosophy from the University of Sydney. Recent books include Deleuze and Architecture (ed. with Helene Frichot 2012) and Poetic Biopolitics (ed. with Peg Rawes and Tim Matthews 2016) and is currently working on Speculative Ethologies (with Undine Sellbach) on the relationship between entomology, psychoanalysis and ethics. 

    Stephen is a founding partner of award-winning design, architecture, interpretation and exhibition practice Mulloway Studio, whose projects have featured in the Venice Biennale in 2008 and 2014. He has a performance-philosophy based art practice and has shown internationally in Paris, Berlin, London, Sydney and Adelaide, and is part of an international collective, The Food Project. His most recent work is Careful Whispers with the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Sensory Orchestra (Melbourne 2019). Other performance-based work with Undine Sellbach include The Blind and Deaf Highway Woman (Perth 2016); A Grasshopper Cabaret: The Inaudible Worlds of Jakob von Uexküll (Melbourne 2016) and Mistress O and the Bees (London 2010)

    Stephen has played a key role in national and international policy settings in architecture and design education. From 2010-2016 he was Chair of the National Education Committee, Australian Institute of Architects (AIA); and President of the Australian Deans of the Built Environment and Design (ADBED) from 2013-2016. Stephen is a Research and Teaching Fellow of the PLuS Alliance, and has been a Visiting Professor at the Bartlett School of Architecture University College, London, and External Examiner at Goldsmiths College, London.


    Having not felt like eating, but eaten, I sat down to eat / tea … on one hand gives an account of the self as a site of contestation, its form given by the multiple negotiations between what we as human beings can know, and what we can imagine. One the other, the work offers multiple sites in which the self is produced, that is an offering of a terrain in which the minute perceptions of linguistic, material, social and psychic,al propensities and affordances draw forth the otherness always already within any conception we have of (our)selves. The work is a site of perdurance – relationalities of perseverance and resistance – ontologically productive to all life.

    Gut thinking, minute perception, food performances, performativity, ethico-aesthetics


    Elizabeth Wilson, Psychosomatics: Feminism and the Neurological Body (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2004).

    Jean Laplanche, ‘The Unfinished Copernican Revolution’ in Essays on Otherness (London: Taylor and Francis, 1999).

    Jacques Derrida, Hélène Cixous, Aliette Armel and Ashley Thompson, “From the Word to Life: A Dialogue between Jacques Derrida and Hélène Cixous”, New Literary History Vol. 37, No. 1, Hélène Cixous: When the Word Is a Stage (Winter, 2006), pp. 1-13

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