The title of the exhibition Wait Later This Will Be Nothing: Editions by Dieter Roth befits a number of the works on display that are slowly decomposing in front of spectators’ eyes. This post is dedicated to one particular pocket-sized perishable—Roth’s Pocket Room (Taschenzimmer) from MoMA’s Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection. In 1968, Dieter Roth—who challenged the boundaries of printmaking and publishing by integrating cheese, fruit, sausage, chocolate, and other organic materials into the process—released an unlimited edition comprising a banana slice on stamped paper tucked inside of a plastic container small enough to fit into the owner’s pocket. Pocket Room can be seen as an artistic, and irreverent, take on a doggy bag. At the same time, it can also be considered one of the slowest-cooked meals in history, stewing in its own juices for over three decades. Although the contents were once prêt-à-manger, 30 years of aging has left these bananas far past ripe, and far from appetizing.
Pocket Room is an apt title for this three-dimensional edition, or multiple, for two reasons. First, as I mentioned above, the work can fit inside a normal-sized pocket. Second, the object itself is virtually a miniature room. The stamped piece of paper, on top of which the banana slice rests, depicts a dining table, suggesting that the space inside the container could be perceived as a micro-sized kitchen or dining room. It makes sense that Roth would produce a mini-kitchen, as he saw his own studio as a space for both artistic and culinary experimentation. Roth invented his own experimental recipes of sorts to create his hybrid editions—mixing elements of printed matter with foodstuffs. In the Literature Sausage (Literaturwurst) series, Roth imaginatively reinterprets traditional sausage recipes—substituting ground books and magazines for meat and allowing the printed pages to marinate in gelatin, lard, and spices. While Literature Sausage and Pocket Room have a lot in common—blurring the boundaries between artistic and culinary practices—Pocket Room is a special series in that it was an unlimited edition.
The German publisher VICE-Versand, which specialized in unlimited and affordable editions, commissioned Roth to produce Pocket Room in 1968. Because the multiple is an unlimited edition it is also one of Roth’s most widely distributed works and speaks to the democratic potential of the print medium. Having worked in advertising, Roth recognized that “power=Quantity,” and he saw editions as a means of disseminating his ideas to a broader public. But quantity is not to be mistaken for a lack of idiosyncrasy. Pocket Room may be an unlimited edition, but each one is unique in the way it accumulates mold, degrades, and slowly fades to nothingness. These discrepancies can be seen between the four variants currently on view in the exhibition.
Sharing Roth’s affinity for repurposed edibles, Fluxus-affiliated artists Daniel Spoerri, Claes Oldenburg, and Alison Knowles, among others, often operated in the interstitial space between fine art and fine food. In 1964, Spoerri, founder of Edition MAT—a multiples publisher to which Roth contributed—held an exhibition at New York’s Allan Stone Gallery entitled 31 Variations on a Meal. The exhibition consisted of the leftovers of 31 different meals eaten by artists and figures in the art world. Fluxus founder George Maciunas photographed these remains, printing them onto tablecloths or photo-laminating them onto tabletops. These works, such as the tablecloth Meal Variation No. 2, Eaten by Marcel Duchamp, were then distributed as Fluxus Editions. Their valorization of waste resonates not only with Pocket Room, but with Dieter Roth’s oeuvre as a whole.
Although Roth did not consider himself a Fluxus artist per se, Pocket Room shares the aesthetic packaging as well as the anti-institutional potency of Maciunas’s Fluxus Editions, which were also published en masse and sold at modest prices. Even though Maciunas designed an official Fluxus name card for Roth, the two had a less than convivial relationship, and Maciunas is said to have rejected the Literature Sausage series as a Fluxus Edition. Despite Roth’s somewhat precarious relationship with the Fluxus cohort, his works are an undeniable complement to the many food-related experiments performed in the name of Fluxus and housed or documented within the Silverman Fluxus Collection.
Pocket Room and other Dieter Roth multiples are on view in Wait, Later This Will Be Nothing: Editions by Dieter Roth now until June 24, 2013 in the Michael Dunn Gallery on MoMA’s second floor.