How many German food ought I to cook to become a German? How many German jokes ought I to know to be more German?

A two-channel HD video. 19'13"

Images: Videostills of How many German food ought I to cook to become a German? How many German jokes ought I to know to be more German?. 2017.

In 2016, I received an opportunity to undertake a three-month-long artist residency in Berlin. My in-between status shifted from being an immigrant who could confidently participate in linguistic conversations with the surrounding dominant culture, to a foreign tourist who could only respond to the surrounding social environment in a limited and naïve scope. This provided an excellent opportunity to challenge some of the thinking of this research, and in response to this reorientation of myself I initiated a participative project about the authenticity of German culture. The project was based on two questions: ‘How many German dishes ought I to cook to become a German?’ and ‘How many German jokes ought I to know to be more German?’

To start addressing these questions, I asked a number of people who identified themselves as German to name a German dish for me. Participants determined the amount of detail that they would convey about these dishes i.e. how it is prepared, what it tastes like.

Subsequently, the participant was invited to a dinner where their described German dish was cooked and served. At the dinner, the participant was asked to tell me a German joke.

In total, the project took place over five weeks. I had five German participants, cooked seven German meals (five for participants, two for myself) and heard five German jokes. 

From this ephemeral performance project, I developed two installation works using the collected video and photographic documentation of the cooking and dining events.

The first installation was constructed specifically for a group exhibition, titled Ohrwurm, at Meinblau Projecktraum gallery. The work consisted of a large photographic print pasted to the wall, a two-channel video work and the texts of the two questions printed onto two plates. At the opening event, Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes) were served under the condition that anyone eating had to use provided chopsticks as the tools for getting the Kartoffelpuffer from the plate to their mouth. 

The second work developed from the residency project, is a two-channel video work. On one channel, the process of cooking the meals is shown; while on the other, a puppet head made from a potato is delivering a monologue. In the monologue, the corresponding cooking experience and the associated dining experience with the German participant, is reviewed to assess the intakes of German quality in the Self. After the video of the cooking actions and speeches are played, photographs of the completed and plated dishes are shown with complement of the voice narration interrupted by the video clips of the collected jokes being told. 

With the hunch that I would not be able to become a German, I devised an in-between psychological site where the German identity and culture were discussed and negotiated with the cultural identities that I was carrying. Through a series of bodily experiences, I diminished the presumed ‘clear’ boundary between myself and a ‘genuine’ German; and as result, I discovered the position of the Self in relation to the German. In this scenario, the cultural engagement was interwoven with the interrogation of a selfhood. The cultural difference was articulated through the journey of self-forming.

The definition of the German culture is questioned and destabilised by the translated English recipes that are obtained from Google, the idiosyncratic operation of cooking, my personal taste and the participant’s divergent understanding of the German culture. Meanwhile, the idea of the Other becomes ambivalent. In fact, in this journey of approaching the Other, I invent the Other inside me as a different self. There is an intimate similarity between the process of self-formation and the production of culture. According to Bhabha, culture is a knowledge field that appears incomplete and is constantly replenished in the act of signification and of producing symbols.[1] The development and formation of a culture is not only created in relation to the contradiction of other cultures, but also influenced by its own interpellative activities. Interpellation is a translational process. In order to reify cultural meanings, there is ‘the process of alienation and secondariness in relation to itself’. [2] By splitting multiple cultured selves, the cultural translation is internalised and transformed into an internal interrogation between the multiple selves. In the two-channel video work, this introspective activity is presented in the scene where the potato head, in my voice, asks ‘am I more German?’

From the project question: ‘How many German dishes ought I to cook to become a German?’, the activity of eating is posited as the main method of cultural engagement, as well as the transformation of one’s cultural identity. In this method, the mouth provides an important in-between space connecting the external world and the internal organic mechanism and psychological being.

In Jacques Derrida’s interpretation of Jean-Luc Nancy’s Ego sum, he states that the mouth is understood as an agent that allows the idea of uniting the soul and the body.[3] The mouth is the place that transfers ‘quasi permixtio’ (the mixture of some parts) into ‘unum quid’ (one thing).[4] Derrida suggests that ego is exposed, perceived, touched and changed through the opening of mouth.[5] By opening the mouth, one dislocates the internal and the external; thus, eating becomes a process of mixing the internal and external elements through the natural mechanical process of oral muscle movement. It changes the self in both psychological and biological ways. As particular food carries a particular cultural value, this value is considered to be inherited by the eater.

In the Berlin project, as the German dishes are not-quite German, consumption of the not-quite German results in becoming the third other. I am no longer ‘me’ before these German food, nor the German I thought I would become. The installation of the video work therefore becomes a physical representation to the third other. 

‘When you have one, you get one. When you have two, you have got something else.’[6]

Here, Roni Horn describes the reasoning for using the doubling aesthetic as a conceptual strategy in her project titled Bird, where she places photographs of bird models in pairs to ‘invite careful scrutiny form the viewer’.[7] Horn suggests that an incommensurable new can be generated in a binary relationship of the two alike components. This new, as an extension of the existing discourse drawn from the constitutive elements, in return, destabilises and re-contextualises the definitions of the elements. Using the logic of Horn’s work, I play the two-channel video work on two TV sets that are placed face-to-face. The TVs position the audience in the mist of their ‘conversation’. The search for German selfhood in the video becomes complicated through the spectator’s gaze that bounces between two screens. It does not only identify someone who is cooking, nor the one after eating the food, nor the one potato head, nor the one who is hidden in the darkness. The depicted self is not quite German yet and no longer the original self any more. The third other is potentially imagined.

In the interpellative process of forming a self, the incommensurable new might not always be immediately detected by the Self, but is easily observable to others. The third other can be informed internally through the slippage between the perception of oneself and one’s interpretation of others’ perception of the Self.

1, Rutherford, “The Third Space. Interview with Homi Bhabha”. 210

2, Ibid. 210

3, Jacques Derrida, On Touching, Jean-Luc Nancy,  trans. Christine Irizarry (Stanford: Stanford University press,

2005), 26-28

4,  Derrida, On Touching, Jean-Luc Nancy, 26-28

5,  Derrida, On Touching, Jean-Luc Nancy , 32-34

6,  “Roni Horn Interviewed by Dayanita Singh,” YouTube video, 10:56, posted by Louisiana Channel, October 1,


7,  Philip Larratt-Smith and Roni Horn, Bird,  (G.ttingen; London: Steidl; Thames & Hudson, 2008)


Thank Megan Gorham, Piotr Pietrus, Clemens Wilhelm, Adrian Schiesser and Richard Rocholl for participating in the performance project and generously sharing your knowledge about German food withe me!

This project is supported by PICTURE BERLIN.

Images: the installation view of How many German food ought I to cook to become a German? How many German jokes ought I to know to be more German? in the exhibition Ohrwurm, at Meinblau Projecktraum gallery, Berlin. 2016. Photography by Richard Rocholl.

Images: the installation view of How many German food ought I to cook to become a German? How many German jokes ought I to know to be more German? in VCA Master Graduation Exhibition 2017, Melbourne. Photography by Janelle Low.

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