Vegetable Love (1986)

Vegetable Love  publicity photo by Dan Mills

"Had we but world enough and time," begins Andrew Marvell's poem "To His Coy Mistress." In this poem, Marvell explains that, if we lived forever, he would be in no hurry to consummate his desires. He notes that his mistress could refuse his advances "Till the conversion of the Jews," and after setting this apocalyptic deadline, he says: "My vegetable love should grow/Vaster than empires and more slow." This line caused me to reflect on the nature of a vegetable love, and exactly what that would mean. The phrase crops up again in Gilbert & Sullivan's Patience, their satire of the Aesthetics, particularly Oscar Wilde. "If he's content with a vegetable love/Which would certainly not suit me/Why what a particularly pure young man/This pure young man must be."

In my own version, a Vegetable Love is one that exists outside the norms of traditional heterosexual passion, as well as one in which food, sex, and language are all equally involved. This piece probably represented a culmination of my early performance work, combining original, autobiographical elements with borrowed texts and music (including Sade and Carla Bley), and making use of formalist elements to hold the "collaged" materials together. The work was described by a friend as my "most visually luscious" work, thanks to the ongoing slide show that ran behind the action. 

The piece was structured into three large sections, based on my structuralist description of a meal into a Pre-Meal period, followed by the Meal Proper, and then the Post-Meal (or Dessert) section. This tri-partite structure also led to the use of 3 geometric shapes (square, circle, triangle), and was, in my mind, related to a sense of male, female, queer division of culture.

So the Pre-Meal period found me in a black suit, giving a pseudo-lecture on structuralism, in front of a rectangular chalk-board. (This contained the first segment of You May Be Tested Later On This Material.)

"The Meal is divided into three parts..."

Then music began to play, and the Transitional Figure (Nana Shineflug) appeared, and the two of us performed a tango, during which we stripped to our underwear and swapped clothes.

The Meal Proper began with me in a restaurant, being served by a handsome, distracting waiter, who keeps turning everything I want to order into some kind of double entendre. This segment involved stories about restaurants, and flirtations over food.

Me reading the very complicated menu, while the Waiter (Ric Menke) ignores me...

The restaurant scene builds to a climax where the Waiter throws a huge mess of silverware onto the stage. The Transitional figure returns, dressed in a large square of silver mylar, and the two of us try to sort out the chaos of cutlery. By the end, all the silverware has been arranged into a configuration on the floor in which a large triangle encompasses both a square and a circle.

Sorting it out...

Completing the floor installation.

The finished arrangement...

As I complete the arrangement of silver on the floor, the Post-Meal period begins with a kind of bizarre, sado-masochistic cooking show, in which the Chef (played by Lorel Janiszewski), assisted by the Waiter, is systematical destroying a series of phallic-shaped vegetables. The Chef's presence was one of the show's more controversial elements, deliberately so, though my inclusion of a woman who undid phallic power was read by some as anti-feminist. Interspersed with the Chef's tirades, I recited often poetic stories about her various ingredients. Most memorable of these was a short piece by M.F.K. Fischer about eating a raw onion.

At the end of the evening: embracing the final result.

At the end of the work, with the silver finally arranged on the floor, the Waiter and Chef come over with a Vegetable Aspic - a large, quivering ring of vegetables in gelatin. I removed my jacket and shirt, and clutched the aspic to my chest in the final blackout.