I have a Celebrity Crush. Well… maybe she’s not really a celebrity, but Sophie Herxheimer is a London artist who works with people, stories and food. She’s an incredibly creative artist and poet, and I get that tingle of excitement and possibility when I see or read her work. It seems like her talents, interests, politics, and spirit are united and energised in a way I aspire mine to be. She works with topics beyond food— but I wanted to share with Kitchen Counter Culture readers some of the work that might interest us the most.
I first “discovered” Sophie’s work when I saw on-line the food stories she was collecting and drawing as Artist in Residence at the 2015 Gefiltefest Jewish Food festival. I followed her on Twitter and we somehow began to “chat.”
“I have a few projects coming up,” Sophie wrote me in an email, “and am really keen to try and get my listening paintbrush out into the world so I can collect stories from new arrivals and old saucepanhandlers alike. I have collected over 1200 [!] food stories so far, and now I often expand into different topics, (for particular projects or places) but food of course is great because it is the most universal – innocuous, despite it’s indubitable emotional weight, at least in terms of questions to ask strangers! … I cook the same way that I paint, quite loosely, but with my best attention!”
(Hey Publishers and Exhibition Designers, take heed: What a treat it would be to see the Herxheimer Food Stories oeuvre massed together for our viewing pleasure! Hint, hint.)
Sophie’s a writer too. Here’s a short film of the poem she wrote in the voice of her grandmother, upon early days as a newcomer from Berlin to London. I love the scenes in which she is chopping carrots and onions. And you can so feel the relevance in this to the current urgency to understand Britain as a country of generosity and welcome to people desperately in need of a new home:
And in this video below, five years old now, Sophie talks about her work making a tablecloth as big as Southwark Bridge, with place settings comprised by individual food stories of Londoners. (Would love to see this next to Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party as an interesting curation).
Somewhere among the links I read about Sophie’s Mrs Beeton work and felt that pictures should be on the internet for curious searches like myself. She herself describes the piece:
“I made dolls house tableaux vivants in the slots in her crinoline, like little jazzy peep shows! You can’t really see these in the pictures. I screen printed poems onto textiles in doll, teapot and jelly shapes,to hang on the line and flutter domestically alive, amongst the dead, in honour of all the women in the cemetery who had ever cooked, cleaned or attempted to follow a recipe. I also tied little laminated snippets of her pages into the tree that hangs its branches over the Beeton grave. It was quite a celebratory installation and I was touched when people chose to come and bring their picnics there.
I made it the summer after my mothers death, and it was a homage to her too.”
On making Paper Mache Mrs Breton
I travel up and down your cracks and wrinkles
lick you with my brush, invest the duck-egg green
of your imperfect surface with my spilling everywhere
emotion-varnish. Great gloops of grief, gleaming pools
collect in your pretend skirts. I’m all alone with you,
I’ve called you forth, and yet you won’t appear.
You and her in league now, mother gods. Hers, whose
dishes I resisted, laden as they were, like her bosom, with
silken buttery badness, I now miss. I try these stirring spells
to bring her back or meet her in some halfway kitchen. Ply
cream into my sauce, furnish harmless veg with wine and
parmesan. Dismay- I see I’m daring my own heart to stop.