Supernatural cuisine on Rhubarb menu

David Frankovich’s tarot cards and tinned treats

Of the many unpredictable unions of artist and audience member the One-to-One Series at the Rhubarb Festival promises to create, David Frankovich’s Psychic Cooking Show seems perhaps the simplest and strangest.

“I have a specially selected ‘deck’ of canned food with all the labels removed so you don’t know what’s inside,” he explains. “You choose three cans, which I then use to give you a tarot reading. I tell you your fortune and cook you something with those three ingredients.”

Each of the 22 different cans, Frankovich says, has been chosen to correspond with a card from the Major Arcana tarot deck. These, he notes, are the most archetypal images. “Some of the symbolism is more overt, some a little more loose
. . . for death, I chose baked beans. It’s a bit of a joke,” he deadpans.

Out of respect for vegetarians (and those with taste), there will be no canned meat, but there are still, the artist says, “a lot of possibilities for different combinations.”

As with a deck of cards, where the backs are all the same, the label-less cans present uncertainty. “It introduces the element of chance and possibility,” he says. And while that includes, of course, the possibility that the subject will dislike the contents of any particular can, Frankovich says, that becomes part of the reading, the way an upside-down card inverts the meaning of the tarot.

Frankovich says it’s “transitions and transformations” that drive his work, and here, in these sessions of about 25 minutes with each audience member, “this idea of bringing a stranger into a room, doing a tarot reading and serving them food is, on the surface, very simple, but underneath there’s an exchange that happens between us through these rituals of reading and eating . . . it becomes something ‘other.’”

Frankovich, who started out in film and video, has embraced performance. In a previous piece, Grey Cup Party, he deflated the macho ritual of the football championship with a delightfully fey Earl Grey tea party, serving snacks to his audience. “I like the idea of working with food and creating a new kind of hybrid ritual,” he says. One-to-One at Rhubarb was a logical next step.

“Rhubarb and Buddies both are very much about experimentation and pushing boundaries, very open to possibility,” Frankovich says. In the Psychic Cooking Show, “the boundaries being pushed are more about personal space and tastes . . . It’s not a queer piece, but I think my aesthetic is formed by a queer sensibility, and when you’re working with more experimental forms as an artist, you’re entering a queer territory.”

Viewers of the shows are entering queer territory as well: the One-to-One programs are being held not at Buddies in Bad Times, but at the 519 Community Centre.

“It made perfect sense,” says Mark Aikman, head of marketing for the theatre. “When people walk into a theatre, they come in with certain expectations, behave in a certain way, but when you take things out into the larger community, you’re totally changing that relationship.”

Matthew Cutler, director of development at The 519, agrees. “You’re really engaging with the art and experiencing the performance much differently than you would in a standard theatre,” he says. “The idea that you can experience theatre inside our elevator was fascinating to me. I mean, every day of riding the elevator at The 519 can be theatre,” he laughs, “but not like this.”

The Psychic Cooking Show, says Cutler, “is happening in our community kitchen, where we do a lot of food programming, so the folks in our Fabarnak restaurant are really excited to see what it looks like.” Like most of One-to-One, he says, the synopsis of Frankovich’s show is “delightfully cryptic, but it’s that curiosity that will draw people in.”

Scott Dagostino
10 February, 2012