Artsy 80s lunch leftovers, food for archeology

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An avant-garde offal-heavy art banquet laid for 100 that literally wound up underground is giving new depth, three decades later, to "garbage archeology".

Pigs' ears, smoked udders, veal lungs and other assorted offal tidbits left over from the luncheon are currently under the scrutiny of a team of French archeologists working hand-in-hand with anthropologists, art historians and the organiser of the banquet himself.

On April 23, 1983, Swiss artist Daniel Spoerri, a key figure of post-war European art and renowned inventor of the Eat-Art concept, invited artists, gallery-owners and critics for a lunch-cum-performance where guests buried the remains of the banquet underground.

"My wife didn't eat a thing," said Peter Knapp, a Swiss photographer of 79 celebrated for his work at Elle magazine who was one of the 80 there. "He wanted it to be different and probably hoped people would feel sick just looking at the menu."

This week, with 80-year-old Spoerri looking on, a team of diggers led by prominent French archeologist Jean-Paul Demoule excavated part of the artsy site -- "to see what the remains tell us about artistic circles in the 1980s", said Demoule.

The lunch leftovers, or the work now known as "Lunch Under The Grass" -- a play on the famed Manet oil "Lunch On The Grass" -- was buried in a 40-metre (-yard) long trench in sumptous gardens south of Paris.

By day three of this week's digs, the team armed with brushes and tiny trowels had excavated assorted plates, glasses, bottles and cutlery, and even a well-preserved plastic cup.

"We are learning in the first place how things from contemporary times are preserved in the earth," said Demoule, the former head of the National Institute of Preventive Archeological Research (INRAP), who is submitting samples to a dozen specialist laboratories involved in the project.

"Plastic it seems lasts longer than aluminium."

Beyond pure science, archeologists believe they also have a role in establishing historical fact and adding to social knowledge.

"This is what you could call garbage archeology," Demoule told AFP, referring to schemes underway across the world to examine society by perusing its rubbish.

In the case of the offal banquet, Demoule added, surviving witnesses of the luncheon had totally mistaken where the trench was dug and offered false and often contradictory information on the event.

"Archeological techniques and scientific methods have set the wrongs right," Demoule said. "Historians will often rely solely on written testimony but archeology can confirm or add to existing information."

Spoerri himself was one of the founders of the 1960s New Realism movement, artists active in the post World War II boom years who drew their inspiration and drive from the thriving consumerism of industrial society.

Born in Romania and now living in Austria, Spoerri became best known for his so-called "snare" pictures, fixing a group of objects or the remains of a meal left haphazardly on a horizontal board, and then hanging them vertically on a wall.

"I wanted this meal to be bourgeois, in pinks and lilac," the artist said at the digging site. "I'd brought cloth tablecloths, there were vases of flowers."

The tablecloth has been eaten by time and the flowers disintegrated into pollen.

Spoerri as well as Demoule hope to see the parts of the trench already dug up re-filled again for posterity.

"In 20, 30 or 50 years, science will have made new inroads and archeologists will be able to take a new improved peek at all this," Demoule said.

© 2010 AFP

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