Dirty Cookies

Dirty Cookies


Dust, Dialogue and Uncertainty, an exhibition at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery in New York, includes Julia Mandle’s piece Dirty Cookies, a version of a project first conceived in 2008. The Pratt Gallery piece might quickly be described as a long dinner table mostly covered with a large pile of dirt, with, down at one end, some place settings, a bit dirty and offering dirt food.

I quote from Mandle’s “Project Summary“:

Like many of Mandle’s projects, the inspiration for Dirty Cookies was a news article and photograph—a story of a teenage mother in Haiti, unable to produce milk due to undernourishment. Desperate for food, the young woman made “cookies” out of clay, salt, and lard to fill her stomach, as many poverty-stricken people resort to doing. Theirs was the “cookie” recipe Mandle appropriated for this project.

A previous exhibition of this work was staged as a faux dinner party —

Guests arriving with bags of their local soil, tested it for dangerous metals, learned how to make “cookies,” skill-shared soil treatment and composting tactics, and created geographical soil maps of the participating neighborhoods, while deliberating on issues of soil quality and ways of effecting positive change in the environment.

A sceptic might say that there are more political ideas heaped on Mandle’s table than an art gallery artifact can support. But the visual, sculptural image in the gallery was strong, and a fellow visitor and I both quickly noted the connection to my recent piece On Savoring, which proposes that an ethics of savoring could:

heighten our sensitivity not only to good (“tasty,” orally pleasing) things, but also to what can be called bad or off, unwelcome tastes. One of the chief arguments against savoring, and indeed one of the reasons many people rarely bother with it, could be this feature: the less one seeks to savor the foods one is eating or the life one is living, the less one will have to confront the complexity of the flavors, the complexity of our interactions with the world around us, and the not always sweet or even healthy aspects of life that we are ingesting.

— Wm. Eaton

William Eaton is the Editor of Zeteo. A collection of his essays, Surviving the Twenty-First Century, will be published by Serving House Books. For more, see Surviving the website.



bamboo sculptureDust, Dialogue and Uncertainty will be up at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery, on 144 W. 14th Street, through February 2015. One of the other highlights of the small show were Dutch designer Maria Blaisse’s bamboo sculptures (human not included; the picture at right is from a video). The top photograph, of Mandle’s work, is from a Dirty Cookies gathering that took place at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn in October 2014.

Click for pdf of Dirty Cookies

One comment

  1. Thanks for writing about this piece from slowLab’s current exhibition!

    Points of clarification: ‘Dirty Cookies’ was initially conceived in 2008. That year, an event took place at the Old American Can Factory, which was documented and appears on Julia Mandle’s web site.

    Mandle’s current exhibit at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery presents traces of soil research in Fall 2014 and a second ‘Dirty Cookies’ gathering (also at the Old American Can Factory), which took place in October 2014 as part of slowLab’s research residency at Pratt Institute. The image you show here is from the October 2014 event


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