December, 2010
Cour Mably,
Bordeaux, France

In December 2010, a strange, five-metre high, wooden box appeared in Cour Mably, in the affluent centre of Bordeaux. The box was as the square itself – tall, austere, formal and still – but at noon, it unfolded to reveal its red interior and its true nature.

Designed by the Australian architecture practice, Bark Design, the box was a semi-portable kitchen and dining room from which the two artists, Elizabeth Woods and Kevin Leong, invited all passers-by to share in a simple, common meal.

Unlike soupe populaire, this event was not primarily motivated by economic imperatives but by social intent: the artists were making a non-verbal gesture of welcome which signaled a moment for passers-by to pause and to take shelter from the cold. The gesture created a space of conviviality, inclusion and safety, where individuals could be free from the burdens of identity, individuality and social position, and could engage in free conversation with the court officials, public servants, street cleaners, bankers, designers, shop-owners, butchers, tourists, members of the gendarmerie or the homeless community.

By extending a mechanism usually reserved for circumstances of hardship and misfortune, The First of the Three Ways posed many difficult questions: has affluence removed something essential from the way we live? Is poverty a necessary condition for compassion? What does it now mean to give without obligation or to receive without question? Is humility an anachronistic value?

The text above is an amended press release for a project that was not realised due to the late withdrawal of French corporate sponsorship.

Project development was supported by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts and Arts Queensland.