Picnic or ‘Le déjeuner sur l’herbe’ by Philippe Van Cauteren

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 a proliferation of art-oriented projects can be noticed in the former German Democratic Republic. The increasing devastating economical situation makes that art and culture apparently gains in importance and is considered the ideal agent answering this present reality of high unemployment and depopulation. One of these projects is taking place in the town of Steinhöfel, a gentle small community on the road between Berlin and Frankfurt an der Oder. Around the four streets that this village counts, one finds witnesses of the different periods of Germany’s history: the rough church reminds of Luther and the Reformation in the 16th century, the eclectical castle and park the Prussian (mainly expelled) nobility, the small Soviet military cemetery is a morbid reminder of the Cold War. The working terrain of the project ‘LandKunstLeben’ (CountryArtLife) though is a large piece of land surrounded by brick walls. A mixture of uncultivated grasslands, an orchard, vegetable fields and old greenhouses are the scenery for art and discussions. Installations, sculpture and video are absorbed (or even camouflaged) by the variety of green that nature offers us. Instead of playing this hide-and-seek Lina Kim and Michael Wesely decided to render the festive summer exhibition ‘LandKunstLeben’ with a culinary service. What could be named a performance-like interaction between the two artists and the visiting public became an homage to the bucolic restful gentle qualities of a sunny Sunday afternoon. For their project ‘Picnic’ Lina Kim and Michael Wesely cooked the combination of an exquisite salad and a plain Bavarian stew. Next to the free offered meal, each willing visitors got a colourful piece of cloth and the invitation to lay down in the grass and talk, drink, eat, rest, sleep, snore, smell, see and enjoy. As time passed by the land was wrapped in a patchwork of cloths with people sitting on it. As if one was in the middle of Jean Renoir’s film ‘Partie à la campagne’ or Eduard Manet’s ‘Le déjeuner sur l’herbe’. More important though is the approach of the both artists towards this context. With the simple direct act of a free picnic fundamental questions have been articulated as to exhibition contexts, as to the use and abuse of nature’s beautiful scenery in art, as to if an art project is indeed always the right thing to do. What was with no doubt the right thing to do in this context has been this picnic: a celebration of food, nature, time and colour. Lina Kim and Michael Wesely ‘performed’ this picnic on august 22 and September 19 2004. The weather was great and the food delicious.   

Hamburg, September 2004.