Soupkitchenwork
1980

Bornstein’s second performance was developed with the emerging homeless residents in Seattle’s Cascade community. It was presented at Cornish College, Seattle Theater and the Cascade community center.

Soupkitchenwork, the artist’s first public piece, was an early example of what has now been dubbed “new genre” public art. It was inspired by her “discovery” as a long-time Seattle resident, of the Cascade neighborhood, just below (literally) the “nice” neighborhoods in the hills. (It is now newly developed as South Lake Union) She became aware of it through a community mental health class. “While the class was investigating whether psychotherapy interventions could be made on a community level”, she recalls, "I was testing the waters and learning whether art could also make interventions”.

The neighborhood had been rezoned in the 1970’s to make room for a freeway.  [Landowners and] The Seattle Times Corporation were buying up property in the area, demolishing buildings and creating parking lots in a holding pattern for resale.  Arson was common. Old people were losing their homes and communal lives. Bornstein began to visit weekly with the regulars at the community center’s soup kitchen, getting to know them and taping interviews that were eventually scored into a sound piece by composer David Mahler. The senior citizens of Cascade were the old-time riggers and builders of Seattle. One for instance, was a Cherokee woman who had been a logger. Another lived in her camper, depending on a friendly neighbor for water. Michael Minnard filmed the interviews and a huge Thanksgiving dinner at a local church, underscoring the ironies of plenty and scarcity. The most poignant experience for the artist was when she first projected the film for the residents on the refrigerator door in the soup kitchen and watched their reactions to seeing themselves as “stars.”

Bornstein was teaching a performance class in the interdisciplinary program at Cornish School and wanted to bring this discipline, and her students, into the piece. Uncomfortable with using the residents as actors, she developed a shadow play incorporating the film and sound score to inform the audience about homelessness in the community. Cartoonist Payton Wilkinson developed large black figures (bosses walking off with houses, a giant tea cup) on the model of the “tombstone houses” carried by residents in a protest march. In the performances at Cornish and at an old theater in Cascade that was demolished soon after, all these images were silhouetted against a rear view projection screen. Bornstein recalls Soupkitchenwork stirred up discussions in the local art community about how far “out” art could go and still be art. These are discussions that continue today, nationwide, despite the number of such projects 35 years later”.

Lucy R. Lippard, "Sliding Into Place", 1998

Visual performance and shadow play on film inspired by Bunraku, a form of traditional Japanese puppet theater, Soundtrack by Gloria Bornstein and David Mahler
Cutouts projected on film screen designed by Payton Wilkinson.
Funded by Office of Arts and Culture, Seattle, WA and Washington Arts Commission, Olympia, WA

Copyright © 2017 Gloria Bornstein