Die finnische, in Berlin lebende Künstlerin Nina Backman lud am 4. November im Rahmen des Jazzfest Berlin 2018 in ihrer Performance dazu ein, sich beim Essen – einem gehobenen Drei-Gänge-Menü von Culinarium – ganz auf die eigenen Sinne zu konzentrieren und sich in der Kunst des Schweigens zu üben. Holger Schulze war dabei und hat seine Eindrücke und Beobachtungen aufgezeichnet.

 

Last sunday I had the honour of partaking for the third time at a so-called Silence Meal, a performance by artist Nina Backman. This time the meal was part of the Jazzfest Berlin 2018, in the main building of the Berliner Festspiele on November 4th, 2018 – and for the very first time not as a dinner, but as a lunch. On top, this “Silence Meal” was not an invitation only, like most of the earlier ones, but any curious and adventurous person could purchase a ticket for this meal.

Nina Backman, „Silence Meal“, Jazzfest Berlin 2018 © Holger Schulze

These meals are a core element in Backman’s ongoing artistic work called “The Silence Project” including exhibitions, events, public lectures and artist talks. With these elements she works on the traditional Finnish concept of “freedom to roam” or “everyman’s right” (jokamiehenoikeus) that allows free access to forests, waterways and the right to collect natural products, regardless of ownership of land: “To experience silence and to roam in silence” is for her one crucial if not existential “everyman’s right”. Backman has been working on this project since 2013.

Again, like in 2016  I allowed myself during this meal to take some notes on what I could observe – in the behaviour of others as well as in my own drifting sensibility, in my inclinations and inhibitions in this situation of eating four courses with a larger number of other guests in radical and unfamiliar silence. The courses had been provided this time by Culinarium Catering. And these are the 11 earlier and the 6 new notes – in German as I wrote them (and below translated into English):

I.

Wenn die Stimmen der 27 Besteckpaare gegen Ende der Vorspeise sanft verstummen.

Wie schwer fällt es Dir, vollständig schweigend, Augenkontakt mit Fremden zu halten?

Das Anstoßen der Weingläser geschieht nun mit gesteigerter Klanglust.

Kellnerinnen & Kellner stehen nun unter besonderer Beobachtung.

Was machst Du mit Deinen Händen, wenn Du unter Fremden schweigst und den Hauptgang erwartest?

Die duftende Sauce erfüllt Dich ganz.

Wenn Dir sprechen verboten ist, schließt Du die Augen & Deine Blicke beobachten ungehindert.

Das kleine Theater der Toilettenab- & -zugänge.

Du versenkst Dich in Dich selbst, wenn Du längere Zeit nicht sprachlich in Kontakt trittst.

Du möchtest jeden der anderen – unbekannten & fremden – Gäste umgehend duzen.

Gegen Ende des letzten Ganges werden die Herren unruhig & müssen die Gläser orgeln lassen.

II.

Beim Servieren der Gänge und beim Einschenken der Getränke steht das Personal mehr im Mittelpunkt der gesamten Aufmerksamkeit aller Gäste als gewohnt: Die wohltrainierte Performance des Personals wird sehr sichtbar.

Die „Krugenden Krüge“

Ab dem zweiten Gang, ab dem Hauptgang, beginnen die humorigen Spiele mit Gläsern, Besteck, Klängen. Das zweite oder dritte Glas Wein hilft.

Im Hauptgang versenkte ich mich unwillkürlich in einige Gedanken zu künftigen Vorhaben und vergangenen Begegnungen.

Der immer wieder neu begonnene Reigen des Anstoßens der Gläser.

 

I.

When the voices of the 27 pairs of cutlery are gently silenced towards the end of the first course.

How difficult is it for you to maintain eye contact with strangers in complete silence?

The clinking of the wineglasses is now taking place with an intensified pleasure in sound.

Waitresses & waiters are now under special observation.

What are you doing with your hands if you are silent among strangers and you expect the main course to be served?

The fragrant sauce pervades you, it fills this space.

If it is forbidden for you to talk, you can close your eyes – or your eyes can observe everything without any hindrance.

The tiny theatre of going offstage to the toilet and returning onstage from the toilet.

You actually immerse yourself in yourself if you cannot stay in touch with others verbally.

You feel the urge to approach any of the other guests, be they unknown to you & alien as can be, without any formal restraint.

Towards the end of the last course the gentlemen at the table become more and more restless. They feel the urge to play music on all of their glasses.

II.

When serving the courses and pouring the drinks, the staff is more the focus of the overall attention of all guests than usual: the well-trained performance of the staff becomes very visible.

The „Mugging Jugs“

From the second course onwards, from the main course onwards, the humorous games begin with glasses, cutlery and sounds. The second or third glass of wine helps.

During the main course I involuntarily immerse myself in some thoughts about future endeavours and past encounters.

The round dance of the glasses touching and sounding that started over and over again.