If you go down to St Mary’s Street today – and that’s basically the road that the Pleasance turns into before hitting the Royal Mile, newcomers – you may be in for a surprise. Especially if you stop for a drink at what you might think is a standard coffee shop, only to discover that there’s a whole lot more going on, for The Hunt & Darton Café is a performance art installation. We put some questions to the duo behind it.
CC: Tell us about the concept behind the Hunt & Darton Café.
H&D: The Hunt & Darton Café is an interactive performance installation set up as a fully functional café where engagement, spontaneity and action meet great food and drink! We are creatively exposing the inner workings of the whole Café business, and presenting everything as art. We want to celebrate ‘The Café’ as an iconic and socially important hub for creative productivity and conversation. Food and drink is at the heart of the majority of social activity, and we love good food and drink and the social occasions that are created by this.
CC: What can we expect if we come along?
H&D: We’ll be there to greet you, plus we have artist waiters who bring Martini readings, radio shows, extendable forks, relationship advice and the swivelympics. Large blackboards expose takings, profit and loss, complaints and covers. And dotted around the Café are various visual art commissions to discover as you experience the cafe.
CC: And what’s on the menu? How did you decide what to serve?
H&D: Roast dinner sandwiches, beans on toast, toad on the hole, Battenberg, Tunnocks tea cakes, rice crispy cakes, sugar finger sandwiches and Coco Pops are served all day. All the items on the menu relate to our experience of home cooking, or the biscuit tins of our 80s childhoods!
CC: You have guests working in the cafe, how do you pick those, and who have you had so far?
H&D: We pick some from the artists we have known and loved for years, but we also asked local arts centres located in the city to recommend people too. So far artists have included Bryony Kimmings (with her only Edinburgh appearance in 2012!), Richard DeDomenici and many others.
CC: How did you go about finding a space for the installation in Edinburgh, and how did you decide how to fit it out?
H&D: We made several visits to Edinburgh to find a space. The strategy was to make a list of any empty shops we found and liked the look of, and to then start a conversation with the agent that was handling the property. Lengthy and risky, but we managed to find a space that surpassed all of our expectations, including wheelchair access, and secured it just three weeks before we were due to open. Once we secure a shop, we take over and bring in carefully foraged equipment, plus install any toilets and kitchen sinks if they are not already in place. One very clear rule for us is that there can be no art that is explicitly art, such as a painting on the wall, only art that responds to Café infrastructure.
CC: How is the Edinburgh audience taking to the venture?
H&D: We have had a fantastic response here. One concern was that the subtlety of the project might get lost here, but really has not been the case. People come, get it and then come back again with more friends. We are half way through now and the café has a really buzzy vibe with people positively responding and interacting with all aspects of it. And we are now hosting this years Total Theatre award ceremony and two Buzzcut evenings.
CC: But have you had any confused customers who just came in for a coffee?
H&D: Oh yes.
CC: You originally ran the cafe in Cambridge for four weeks – how has the project developed for Edinburgh?
H&D: Its much bigger here, part of an international festival and creating its own community which has a much more diverse mix of regulars than in Cambridge.
CC: Tell us about you two – how and when did you start working together?
H&D: We met at Central Saint Martin’s and have been collaborating for the past eight years on live art projects. We work with spoken word, movement, sound and installation, inspired by a shared interest in what it means to be human. We make work about common problems, embarrassment and human behaviour, often tending towards the deadpan and the absurd.
CC: And finally, have you any future plans for the cafés?
H&D: Definitely, we are planning on touring the café to other towns. We are already set to pop up at Brighton Festival next year, and in Colchester, and we look forward to many many more.
The Hunt And Darton Café opened for the first time at 21 St Mary’s Street at Fringe 2012.
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