Gil & Moti in the Kitchen
William Easton, director of Tensta Konsthall, Stockholm

Published in: Gil & Moti: Totally Devoted to You, monograph, 2011, Hatje Kanz Publishers.

Imagine a bowl of chicken soup. It’s flavoured with cliché, seasoned with stereotype and matzah balls, - a democratic dish, something that we all can share, family and friends. The recipe handed down through generations, grandmother’s cure for virtually anything, but especially for lost love. It’s something that Claude Levi-Strauss would have seen greasily slipping into his ‘triangle culinaire’ the raw, the cooked and the rotten. As such it would be plebeian, firmly placed in the part of his diagram marked rotten! According to Levi-Strauss when you add water it brings raw ingredients closer to a state of decomposition and thus a soup is something on the way to being putrescent. In cooking terms it also stands in opposition to roasting – another point of Levi-Strauss’ triangle - the cooked. Roasting is wasteful, you loose fat and meat juices and thus it is an aristocratic form of making food, but when you boil things, particularly when you make soup, you conserve the blood and the fat, and body fluids, and the marrow. One chicken can make a meal for a crowd. So chicken soup is a culinary egalitarianism, sustenance in a bowl. And here it is, a galline worldly metaphor, replete with too much association and loved from Tel Aviv to Rotterdam.
Gil & Moti have been cooking, and serving, eating and making art together for many years. When they moved to Rotterdam from Israel in the late nineties they searched for community and brought with them Middle Eastern hospitality. Their home became an open gallery, their bed a work on full view. When they married the whole of Rotterdam was invited, the mayor conducted the ceremony on the Queen’s balcony and their wedding bed was open for all to lie in. The impetus can be reduced to something like ‘sharing’. And whilst this might initially sound unbearably twee or precious on closer scrutiny this simple demand underpins work of the highest integrity that challenges our preconceptions of identity across sexuality, ethnicity and national heritage. Sharing is a gesture of both separation and union. Its derivation is the Old English ‘scearu’, meaning cutting and it is linked to other similar actions such as shearing or the movement of the ploughshare slicing though the earth. The artists have ‘cut themselves off’ from their original home, and have divided their identities. In the process of grafting their selves onto each other something is cut away. The entity of Gil & Moti is a sharing both in the sense of being a cut, a division of self and a commingling, a separation and a synthesis. They live parallel lives, eating, dressing, acting in unison. If Gil chooses figs for breakfast Moti follows, if Moti picks out five cherries from the bowl Gil picks the same. In this mirroring of actions the self is effaced and cut away or cut off and is replaced with a performance that balances between synthesis and the synthetic. Their joint lives stand in for their own selves substituting and being a substitute. The act of performing is always a surrogate in some way or other, no less so in the continuous lived experience that the duo stages every moment of every day. Meeting them is not like meeting a married couple, they do not compliment each other but rather they are a double image, doppelgangers. Their sharing comes at the price of self-determination and sovereignty.
For Gil & Moti it seems that the performance that is their lives is almost a form of limerence, an infatuation where both parties have willingly surrendered parts of themselves to each other to create union. They have extended this desire to include a third part. Posting on the net a wonderfully corny movie replete with images of sunsets and the couple biking through a park they set out on a quest in 2005 to find an Arab lover. Using gay chat sites and with the offer of meeting anywhere, they found a number of contacts including Oliver who visited them in Rotterdam from his home in Lebanon and ended up living with the couple for almost a year. One of the intriguing aspects of this ‘ménage à trois’ is the way that Oliver expressed that his relationship was with them both not as two individuals but as Gil & Moti. This may also be the reason why the relationship ended, as being together with such an inseparable couple engaged in a full-time performance of mutuality, would put a strain on any love affair. What is also important is the way that this tripartite ‘affaire de coeur’ challenges heterosexual norms of monogamy. The debate has raged for many years concerning attitudes towards promiscuity or multiple partners in gay relationships. On one side the argument is that there is no inherent reason why homosexual relationships should mirror heterosexual ones and on the other, that promiscuity helps to feed anti gay rhetoric. Gil & Moti’s relationship with Oliver goes one stage further adding the aspect of ethnicity. The other of the relationship becomes not just a mark of libidinal excess but also the ‘eroticised’ and ‘exoticised’ imago. The couple have been criticised for the orientalism of their actions, a charge they repudiate in the name of love. It is hard not to see the complicity of Oliver in their work and the deliberate naïveté of the romance as ameliorating this excoritation.
Sharing the burden of work has a long and powerful history from the labours of Hercules through the flight from Israel to doctors without borders. Sharing food is a gift. It falls well into the category of obligation and exchange that Marcel Mauss recognised in the 1920’s. We give food and enter into an exchange that can build relationships. Sharing food is the cement that binds together families, friendships, from the Eucharist and the loving cup to a tea ceremony. In their 2008 work Available for You Gil & Moti undertook both acts of sharing. First serving bread and humus in the predominately Arab run supermarkets of Nørrebro in Copenhagen, and later offering their services to local residents as babysitters, gardeners and cooks. These performances have a ritual element. They function as acts of atonement. But as such they break with expiation of past sins through fasting as with Yom Kippur, Ramadan or Lent. Rather than abstinence, food, shared, or cooked as service, becomes the act penance. It is a move of generosity in part. It is worth remembering the old joke. What’s the difference between an Italian and Jewish grandmother? The Italian grandmother says “eat, eat or I’ll kill you”. The Jewish grandmother says “eat, eat or I’ll kill myself”. Or what a Turkish grandmother would say when she sees her grandchildren refusing to eat “Ölüni gör”, “See my death!” Sharing food has the power of insistence. It is hard to refuse such intimacy, such an expression of trust. The bread of Available for You was marked with words “respect”, “accept”, “listen” and “tolerate”. We are cajoled into breaking bread together. The symbolic act of sharing food echoes and marks equally the Jewish Seder, The Turkish Bayram, The Muslim Eid, or Easter Sunday. It is hard not to be persuaded to take part, to enter into communion and who refuses his or her grandmother. There’s always room for another bite, there’s always another place at the table, as the one set aside for Elijah. The act of eating is dramatically intimate, so much so that in Bunuel’s Phantom of Liberty it becomes something that has to be done in private whilst defecating becomes public. We imagine the star-crossed lovers popping morsels into each others open lips, mothers chewing something before placing it in their baby’s mouths, the loving cup and the shared strand of spaghetti in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp. Eating together is the conflation of the ritual and the familial - the ceremonies of maternal, grandmaternal, brotherly, sisterly love. And what to serve? – bread, the staff of life and humus. Mixing crushed boiled chickpeas and sesame paste is an age-old recipe, some even trace it to ancient Egypt. It is also amazingly good for you, the chickpeas rich in protein and dietary fibre and the sesames perhaps our best source for the essential amino acid Methionine linked with everything from stopping memory loss to improving one’s sex life. Hummus-bi-tahini, humusiot, bridges the Israeli, Arab divide, claimed by both, loved by both, to such a degree, that even at the height of the Intifada young Jews cross into Palestine to get the best. Served warm as masubha or mashawsha or topped with olive oil and sumac, humus is a loaded symbol of middle-eastern unity. And again as with much of Gil & Moti’s work a seemingly simple gesture opens up to be a rich and nuanced performative act. The American writer and performance artist Michael K Meyers has a delicious line in one of his monologues the mother, grandmother insisting “Eat! Eat how else can I show you that I love you!”
“Kindness and love, the most curative herbs and agents in human intercourse, are such precious finds that one would hope these balsamlike remedies would be used as economically as possible; but this is impossible. Only the boldest Utopians would dream of the economy of kindness.” Reading Nietzsche’s remarks from his Human All Too Human one might think that he was well considering the dreams of bold utopians like Gil & Moti. Their acts of enforced reconciliation, deliberate provocations of love, crafted gestures of effacement and bravado are necessarily in vain. The hopelessness of bringing Arab and Jew together or traversing homophobia are the reason their work is important not the measure of its success. It is in the sense that these tiny gestures manifest a greater concern that the power of their actions lies. They become fragile, fleeting moments that can reveal and reinforce the angels of our nature, our better sides. They are reminders of the magnitude of the challenges that we face not a capitulation. The ‘documentation’, ‘extension’, they make in paint or photography or video, become the testament to theses acts. They are ‘exhibit A’ of the scene. Their works are the evidence that alternatives are possible or that seemingly futile gestures of generosity and kindness can have consequence beyond their ostensible significance. We are invited to share, to see their double life as series of acts of resistance. Recently when Noam Chomsky was confronted by the futility of civil disobedience, of opposing the super powerful, he replied that the only way to continue to make a difference was to continue to make a difference. If we surrender to the might of those we oppose or to the problem at hand we have already lost. When Gil & Moti offer us themselves, the altruism of their performances is a double rejection of the status quo. Their own refusal to be positioned within an orthodoxy is simultaneously introspective and didactic. When they oppose forms of bigotry for example we are aware of the self-examination of the inquiry and of its correlative invitation for us to be part. The apparent small scale of these acts of helping one person, or loving one person, or showing their love for each other make the forms of opposition approachable and human. So rather than seeing these moves as something playing to the gallery they are something that can touch us on the personal scale of a conversation.
Chicken soup is great! From the canja of Brazil, the ros of Poland, the samgyetang of Korea to the tinola of the Phillipines and the cock-a-leekie of Scotland it is loved worldwide and loaded with local myth. The Jewish penicillin is curative, reparative and palliative. What better to serve to the hungry in the bread line or soup kitchen. Our reaction to being served a bowl can be a mumble of gratitude, a remark about how good it tastes or a simple thank you. In Turkey when someone has cooked a meal the guests will turn to the cook and say ”Elinizi saglik”,”power to your hands” Looking at the work of Gil & Moti one feels, in the name of love, like saying the same thing!

Selected Essays
Mariette Dölle- Gil & Moti: Future Line Tours
Catrin Lundqvist- When Personal Becomes Political
Hans Günter Golinski- Who Makes Whom the Minority?
Elisabeth Delin Hansen- The Triple Heart
Mariette Dölle- Social Dynamics as Agents for Artistic Practice
Tali Tamir- (Israeli) Artists at Your Service, or In Praise of Exile
Maaike Bleeker- Let’s Fall in Love: Staging a Political Marriage
Selected Reviews