The waiter’s palm on the back of my head pushes me close to the pigeon, served up whole: claws, beak and all. I’m eye to eyeless socket with dinner. Tucked beneath is a pucker of pink tortellini, filled with possum and hare. It’s doused in spiced starling consommé with a scattering of nasturtium petals and a pine twig garnish.
A server approaches with a teapot of feral cat consommé. The cat course is optional – the only dish in tonight’s invasive species degustation for which we’re offered veto rights. I accept. A single slurp is poured into a spoon. Looks like broth; tastes like gravy. Now the feral cat is inside me.
I’m among 72 guests at the first in a series of feasts as part of artist Kirsha Kaechele’s exhibition, Eat the Problem, at Hobart’s Museum of New and Old Art (Mona).
Kaechele’s 544-page book is a hybrid cookbook/artbook with contributions from Germaine Greer, Yves Klein, Tetsuya, Tim Minchin, Marina Abromovic and more. The recipes use species considered pests such as cane toad, lantana, camel and carp. “On one hand they’re a problem, on the other an abundance, if you can reframe your thinking,” says Kaechele.
Like the recipes, feasters must be monochromatic. I’m told in advance to wear “head-to-toe” green. A wardrobe dig, some loans from friends and I’m done. I wondered how the male guests are faring. Shirts would be easy, but legwear? Who among the blokes you know have pants of all shades of the colour wheel? “This exhibition is extremely female centric and full of feminine energy,” says Kaechele.
We disembark the ferry at Mona to performer Maria Lurighi singing a gospel sermon about how we’re about to eat the problem. The stomachs of the vegetarians in our midst, making tonight an exception, must be turning a little. Employees wear beige skivvies tucked into utilitarian beige slacks – reminiscent of the Delta caste in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – and move in a kind of groupthink sync.
We neck a test tube of mezcal and ant carcasses and swap our shoes for socks. In the exhibition room a giant glittering glockenspiel awaits, its vertebrae cords of colour made from the boiled-down fat of camel humps and deer. The instrument/dining table slants along a multi-coloured staircase with velvet ottomans mushrooming up like Rubenesque butt cheeks.
Irrespective of Brian Ritchie, Mike Noga and others donging up a vibrational storm on the glockenspiel as we enter, just being in this colour-rich space begins to do its transformational work. Or perhaps it’s just a wickedly fun to role-play in dress-up? We form loose colour blocks on either side of the glock like crumbs of the same dish swept together.
The green tribe starts with sow thistle taco with camel milk ricotta, dandelion tea quail eggs, fermented hedgerow salsa and crickets. After a while, the gong is struck and Lurighi intones “All rise!” We move four places to our right, where the next monochromatic course awaits.
The hours are devoured by an exquisitely plated menagerie of new meats and sea critters. We drink sheep’s whey vodka and a black margarita with an ice cube enclosing a boar’s eye. The feast is so far past the picket fence of standard epicurean pretension you find yourself reaching for a new #foodie vocab. “I can’t tell if this is infantilising or adults-only,” I say as we suck camel milk horchata from a metre-long pink straw. “Erotic baby?” my neighbour suggests.
The black course – consumed on the top few rungs of the glockenspiel – tastes like foraging through the Australian bush on your hands and knees after a bushfire has been through. My neighbour eats a dense, dark crescent she describes as Lazarus: “Like it was dead and then it came back.” Meanwhile, during the brown course, I give my all to grinding up what I think is pepper berries in the mortar and pestle given to me, only to discover it’s fecal transplant (it’s taken away after). How often is our food unknown to us on a daily basis? I assume this is Kaechele’s question.
Our servers enact a kind of enigmatic calisthenics, jogging up the stairs clashing cutlery, making buzzing noises as they serve certain dishes and tracing reiki gestures around our heads. At night’s end they do a victory lap and we rise to cheer their discipline – the art feast version of joining hands to say grace before dinner.
When a naked woman begins a long, swaying walk up the table, everyone quiets down, literally chewing over the fact, perhaps, that humans are the deadliest invasive of all. It’s not the first time Peter Greenaway’s 1989 film The Cook, The Thief, The Wife and His Lover comes to mind.
Overall, the experience is so over-stimulating – yet diffused by dinner-table chat – that I don’t deep-think the issues Kaechele invites us to consider. That happens afterwards – and I’m not alone. “I had to give my cat a lot of attention over the weekend because I felt so strange,” says another guest.
There is a visual art component to the exhibition as well, free with museum entry. Visitors to the museum during Dark Mofo can take part in the grand feast for $666.66 or a tasting selection for $111.11. There are also lunch feasts available on Sundays until September 2 for $222.22.
Feral cat is not part of the menu for public feasts as it not legal to sell in Tasmania.
Looking for an art experience closer to home? Check out the best art exhibitions in Sydney this month.