Mooshi—a plush, burlap mushroom with two buttons for eyes—leans over a bowl of tom yum soup at a corner booth in Greensboro's Pho Hien Vuong restaurant. Real fungi bob in the dish below him, blending the real and imagined. It is a preview of the puppet's formal debut this month as part of A-LIVE in the Kitchen, a cooking show created by the Elsewhere Collaborative, a museum and artist residency program in downtown Greensboro.
A-LIVE will stream on Elsewhere's website, in its museum and at other locations, including the Scrap Exchange in Durham, where, on March 15, the pilot episode will be taped live. Segments from that show will be edited with other interviews and performances to create a full episode.
As A-LIVE co-creator Chris Kennedy explains over dinner, the program will be a cross between Sesame Street and the Rachael Ray Show. Puppets and people will use cardboard pans and ovens to whip together "ingredients," such as cloth and scrap videotape. Then, employing a bit of TV magic, the ingredients transform into real meals that incorporate "alive" foods including cultures, yeast and fungi.
Elsewhere is housed in a 1930s thrift store started by Joe and Sylvia Gray. Under the direction of George Scheer and Stephanie Sherman, Elsewhere invites artists in to repurpose the couple's collection of army surplus goods, textiles, books and so on, which line walls and hang from the ceilings. As a rule, objects never leave the building but continually find new life in artworks and installations.
Stacked in the middle of it all, a few steps from a bin of toys and a crafted TV tower, is the Elsewhere kitchen, where staff and residents collaborate on meals. "We encourage people to be performative and have fun," says Emily Ensminger, Elsewhere's hospitality curator and the co-creator of A-LIVE.
That's because the residents-turned-cooks often have an audience. Museumgoers wander past the open kitchen and dining room en route to other parts of the collection. As they do, they're invited to watch as food is prepared or, when space and supplies allow, join artists for a meal and conversation.
It's that creative engagement with food—particularly for children—that Elsewhere hopes to expand beyond the museum through A-LIVE. "I think a lot of the cooking stuff out there is interesting and relevant, but it's not engaging to a kid who's always drank Coca-Cola and could care less about sustainable food systems," says Kennedy, who, in addition to his work at Elsewhere, is pursuing a doctorate in education studies at UNC-Greensboro.
Inspired by television shows such as Pee-wee's Playhouse and Chic-A-Go-Go, a cable access dance program for children in Chicago, Kennedy and Ensminger envision A-LIVE as something that will be playful and participatory as well as educational and experimental. "One of the big conceptual pieces of Elsewhere is what can we do with at-hand, everyday items that everybody already has in their basements and attics," says Kennedy. "So by reimagining Scrap Exchange materials as the contents of recipes, it's really invoking this idea of storytelling and imagination in a very tactile way."
For the first episode, all of the materials used in the show will be sourced from the Scrap Exchange, including those used in the making of puppets such as Mooshi, Kim (kimchi) and an old, wise elderflower yet to be named. As Kennedy sees it, incorporating elements from the Durham shop—which has a similar aesthetic and collection as Elsewhere but a different mission to resell such goods—will help tackle an ongoing challenge for the Greensboro museum: "How can we translate Elsewhere to other places using these at-hand materials and finding new meaning in them?"
An exhibition scheduled through April 13 at the Scrap Exchange will invite visitors to participate beyond the taping and to create their own two-minute cooking programs using craft materials made available on a set in the gallery. Video cameras and television monitors will be installed to allow visitors to capture and screen their films. There will also be the possibility to email short works to Elsewhere.
As both a one-night event and a series, A-LIVE promises to be an ongoing experiment, like any new recipe. The casserole may fail. And kitchen fires may bellow from a cardboard oven (the smoke machine is a promised prop). But Kennedy sees that as the point.
"I think what happens, especially when you go beyond 8, 9 or 10 years old, you're taught not to play with your food, not to do anything kind of out of the ordinary," he says over soup with Mooshi in hand. "Elsewhere is really interested in reactivating that sense of play, even if you aren't a child."
Correction: The thrift shop was started by Joe and Sylvia Gray; Elsewhere was founded by George Scheer and Stephanie Sherman.
This article appeared in print with the headline "The kitchen comes alive."