I first met Patarita Tassanarapan – also known as KG – through De-Oriented, an exhibition featuring the works of sixteen London-based Southeast Asian artists that I co-organised and curated. I found myself coming back to her work Dinner from the Hidden Land again and again, impressed with her investigations into food culture and participatory art.
Combining food, music, cooking, painting, and film into a single installation, KG’s work often alludes to family and ritual gatherings. After studying landscape architecture in Thailand, she relocated to London to pursue an MFA in Spatial Performance & Design at the Architectural Association School of Architecture.
During her studies, KG discovered art installations based on landscape architecture through her lecturers, which included artists Sanitas Pradittasnee to Theo Lorenz. Nurturing her love for cooking, KG is currently a chef at London-based Thai restaurant and bar Som Saa while making art on the side.
Inspired by her passion, I spoke to KG about her practice, and how food culture relates to home and community identity.
You have a background in landscape architecture but now work as a chef and an artist. Could you tell me about your background and how you got to where you are now?
While studying in Bangkok, Thailand, I met my lecturer Sanitas Pradittasnee and was inspired by how her practice combined installation and landscape design. This cemented how I wanted to be an artist and create art that relates to landscape. When I graduated, I worked a landscape architect for over a year.
I then worked at an architectural firm that worked on urban design projects. There, I worked on a project to design a new art gallery. The project was exciting, so I decided to pursue further studies at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London in 2020.
There, I learned about interdisciplinary events that combined performance art, installation, and sound design. Anything that you can think of can be merged together.
For my thesis in 2021, I created the experimental event series titled Cuisine from Sonic Land. By hosting online open calls, I ‘foraged’ for visuals, sounds, recipes from different cuisines, and landscape images to serve on the performative dining table.
I wanted to show different landscapes and how food links with nature. I’m really inspired by foraging; gathering plants and fruits locally; and how we eat food based on our environments.
One of the events resulted in an unconventional multimedia dining installation and sonic-culinary performance, where five courses were plated as 5 five different soundscapes from the places where the food originated played. Due to the pandemic, the performance was recorded and streamed, instead of being performed live.
The series’ final curated event took the form of a website and workshop programme. It stemmed from many months of foraging, which I approach as a means of observing and synchronising with one’s habitat.
The overall participatory workshop programme raised awareness of how one connects to the landscape and community through food. The event series humbly celebrated the interactive relationship between people and the environment while highlighting simple home cuisine, which is slow yet joyous.
How has shifting from being an architect to a food-based artist affected your practice?
After graduating, I looked for workplaces that combined food and art or design. I found employment working on marketing campaigns for food, but I left after a month because I didn’t feel it was relevant.
Looking for a new job was difficult. I was no longer an architect and was just at the beginning of my artistic practice, making it tough to find a good job fit. I wanted to pursue my artistic practice, but I also wanted to work professionally.
When I was in Thailand, I never thought about cooking, though my parents are really good cooks and Thai food is very special. But, when I came to London, I missed my homeland and home-cooked meals. So, I tried to cook for myself, which made me curious. I wanted to study it more.
This led me to work as a chef though I didn’t have a culinary background. I started as a kitchen runner at Som Saa. I now work there as a chef and create art in my spare time.
Your recent work Dinner from the Hidden Land was accompanied by food, music, and painting at the showcase De-Oriented. It was a spontaneous interactive performance that ran without a script. Can you walk me through the process of creating it?
For me, De-Oriented allowed Dinner to be an interactive performance, as intended. Unlike Cuisine from Sonic Land, where I featured cuisine from around the world, Dinner from the Hidden Land focused more on cuisine from my homeland.
With Dinner from the Hidden Land, I wanted to evoke domestic life in Lablae with a dining table installation, a video montage of life in Lablae, a live sound performance based on Thai folk songs and ambient sounds from Lablae, and cooking that invited the audience to dine together.
It also let me collaborate with my father. I used video footage of him and recorded sounds of life in my hometown in Lablae District, Uttaradit province to create a film. I also composed music as a part of the installation.
The installation reflects the rural community in Thailand and my personal experiences in Lablae. Lablae, meaning ‘the hidden land’, is a small district in Uttaradit province that’s surrounded by mountains, rice fields, and rivers.
Lablae is not a popular tourist spot, but it bears a strong sense of home for those who live there — a sense of home that is woven into the community, agriculture, nature, and food. Whenever I taste flavours like sour curry, hear those sounds like wood sawing, or see its landscapes, I recall home.
I started by thinking of the experience that I wanted to share with the audience. Firstly, I wanted them to see the landscapes and hear the sounds of my hometown. At the end of the performance, I wanted the audience to taste the food. All of this reflected my rural background and food culture.
And there was the cooking too. Making homemade chilli paste was the most important. This made me recall the sounds of my mum pounding the mortar in the morning. I then combined this with the sound of the birds, insects, the wind, and songs playing from the nearby temple, to create the performance’s soundscape.
I then drew different landscapes from Lablae, such as the Mae Poon waterfall, rice fields, and Lablae fresh market, on the serving plates. Then, I plated the food on the table and allowed viewers to watch the process, which turned the dish into an intimate artwork.
Your 2021 work Kelab Malam was another food-based performance piece. Can you tell us about that?
I created the work for Kelab Malam (meaning ‘night club’ in Malay), a five-day residency programme at Rumah. It’s a creative event platform that aims to support Asian creatives.
I was invited by Rumah founder Khai as a soundscape artist to join Mae Williams, a Filipino chef and food Instagram influencer, and Anna Sulan Masing, a writer with a background in performative art. During the residency, we investigated our food cultures and how food could bring us back home. We shared the experiences of being members of the Asian diaspora in London and how food is the first thing we crave when we miss home.
We held Kelab Malam in Shoreditch, London in late 2021. It included multimedia installations and sound performances. After the audience entered, the live sound performance played a mix of cooking sounds, local Thai radio, and the three artists’ narration of memories of their homes.
We placed newspapers and sarongs on the floor, together with the banana leaves and dishes, to create an installation that imitated a local Southeast Asian dining scene. Then, we invited the audience to sit on the ground and touch, smell, and observe it. This made people feel comfortable enough to interact and have conversations.
At the end, we allowed audiences to bring some vegetables back home to explore Southeast Asian cuisine.
The event achieved its goal of spreading the story of Southeast Asian food culture, empowering members of the Asian diaspora to speak up for our cultural identity and emphasise ethnic diversity in London.
Looking to the future, how do you want to develop your practice?
I dream of owning a restaurant where I can combine food with art, sound and performance. I want to serve dinner while narrating the stories of the food I make.
I want to expand the scale of my performances. I also want to perform in non-gallery spaces, so the audiences can enjoy immersive full-course meals (rather than just snacks) alongside more audio and visual materials.
I want to create artwork that people can interact with more to enhance a sense of community. I enjoy how sounds and food transport people to a specific environment. I hope the audiences feel that they are at home with their family.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Learn more about Patarita “KG” Tassanarapan here.