Aleksandra Mir

Ironic Chef

By Molly Birnbaum
Artnews, Vol. 109, #8, New York, September 2010

Aleksandra Mir made pesto in her kitchen in Palermo, Sicily, one Sunday night. The 43-year-old Polish-born artist had spent the weekend on a farm with an old country cook, who sent her home with the recipe and a bag full of ingredients. But when it came time to eat, her two guests struggled to keep a brave face. The pesto was lumpy and inedible. The artist was inspired. “There is something very artful about this situation,” Mir recalls thinking. “I can’t be alone in this.”

She was right.

Mir began to collect stories of kitchen failure from around the world. The contributions were gathered into The How Not to Cookbook, first presented at the Collective gallery in Edinburgh and being released by Rizzoli on September 14. There are entries on bread (“A cucumber is a poor substitute when making zucchini bread, no matter how similar they appear”), coffee (“Do not rush a French press”), and cake (“When making coconut cake, do not leave out the coconut”). The book also addresses the topics of proper attire (“Do not cook naked. Hot oil always finds its way to your most sensitive parts, and that can hurt!”) and family (“Do not tell your wife she is doing it wrong”).

“I am just interested in people out there in the world,” Mir says, “the various and unlimited ways they are dealing with the same universal problems.”

The How Not to Cookbook is Mir’s first foray into the culinary arts, though she has made participatory and text-based works before. She distributed copies of the Daily News (2002), her own version of the New York tabloid, filled with words and images submitted by friends. For the ongoing Naming Tokyo series (begun 2003), she has made handout maps of the Japanese city with Westernized street names suggested by friends. In another conceptual piece, First Woman on the Moon (1999), she spoofed earth art by turning a Dutch beach into a lunar landscape for a day. And she proposed a replica of Stonehenge, in which tourists would play soccer with the stone formations as goal posts. Mir did not grow up in the kitchen, but since moving to Sicily, five years ago, she has been teaching herself to cook. Mir can follow her own book’s advice: "Do not forget that cooking is an art—not a science."