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The Room: Cooking Liberty, a Surrealist Dining Experience at Art Dubai

Atfal Ahdath, A Pillar of Salt, Installation for Art Dubai 2017. Courtesy of the Artists. 

By Ruba Al-Sweel

Each year, Art Dubai hosts The Room, an immersive, large-scale interactive installation, adopting a different theme and delivered in intricate and elaborate ways. For its 11th edition, Art Dubai presents a visual and gastronomic installation, Cooking Liberty, created by Atfal Ahdath, the moniker Lebanese artists Vartan Avakian, Hatem Imam and Raed Yassin choose to go by when collaborating.

Roughly translating as ‘children of events’ and much like their name suggests, the trio incorporate elements of buffoonish, kitsch and over-the-top eventful performances that push a predetermined threshold.

Taking cues from Salvador Dalí’s cookbook, Les Diners de Gala, as well as his surrealist oeuvre in general, Atfal Ahdath will serve guests edible dreams and absurdist opuses in an immersive setting, reminiscent of the grandiose and opulent dinner parties thrown by Dalí and his wife and muse, Gala. In the book, Dalí combines food and surrealism, sprawled over 136 recipes in 12 chapters, accompanied by illustrations of his opulent musings on subjects such as dinner conversation, to which he says, “the jaw is our best tool to grasp philosophical knowledge.”

In Cooking Liberty, the recipes of his famous dishes will be reconstructed with the use of exaggeration and repetition to create contradictory flavors that push the boundaries of familiarity and expectation into the realm of exoticism that outlined Dalí’s notorious gatherings. In so doing, Atfal Ahdath comment on the art scene that empties works of their symbolism, while maintaining their intact shallow shell. The trio grew up in a time where iconic surrealist images were liberally recycled and re-purposed in mainstream media, from advertising to viral internet memes.

Atfal Ahdath, The Shape of Liberty I, photo montage for Art Dubai 2017. Courtesy of the Artists.

Widely recognized and successful in their own rights as solo artists, Atfal Ahdath came together as a collective to combine their diverse academic backgrounds of cinema, food, music, painting, theater and urbanism. The group talk openly about the conflict of their equally strong opinions: “We fight. It’s sometimes unbearable. A very undemocratic process unfolds. We do not vote; we have to agree.”

And then came Cooking Liberty. What started off as an idea flourished into two thematically transformed rooms: a unique drinks reception and a seated 12-course gala dinner with bespoke cocktails, music, moving image and a plethora of art forms on the menu. Reluctant to let out any spoilers, the trio say they are thoroughly enjoying the process and insist on including the audience in on the fun – Dalí, they say, requested his invitees to dress up for the occasion and the trio remind the audience that it is an integral element to the work – an installation in the form of a staged dinner, animated by performers who are also members of the audience.

Avakian and Yassin are no strangers to Dubai – both created work for the Abraaj Group Art Prize, Avakian in 2013 and Yassin in 2012, and their work has been showcased in the city. “We want Dubai and The Room to create memories, then we want to trade those memories with the guests,” say Atfal Ahdath.

Tickets for the sensorial experience of Cooking Liberty can be purchased here.

Don’t miss out on the most global gathering of art galleries from around the world. Buy tickets now and explore Art Dubai 2017 Click here.

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