Aleksandra Mir

Lessons learned the hard way

By Hazel Saunderson, Glasgow, August 2009

The How Not To Cookbook
6 Aug 2009
Collective gallery, Edinburgh

I discovered the most beautiful and insightful book today, an art piece by Aleksandra Mir - The How Not to Cookbook, Lessons Learned the hard way.

As it states in her synopsis:

"Recipes are designed to facilitate immediate success, they rarely document the ways in which it can fail. Based on Aleksandra's personal history of cooking disasters, the project invited 1000 people from all around the world to offer advice of how NOT to cook. "

What I like about this project is that the artist engaged with a range of people in order to learn from them and subsequently there are examples of 'what not to do' from all around the world including entries from: Brazil, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, France, Italy, the UK and the US. The book is also split up into a range of unconventional cookbook chapters, from dating to drugs and everything in between!

As an art project, what complements the book, is that they took some of the 'lessons learned' into the community in Edinburgh to share the myriad of methods for learning how not to cook with members of streetwork edinburgh.

This book was set in a lovely gallery space in the Collective Gallery in Edinburgh, and more information can be seen here on the Collective Gallery Website. Where there was a bit of library feel, although all of the books were the same. Quite nice.

The concept of this book started me thinking; it is not a new concept to 'learn from ones mistakes' and we all do it, yet it is often a very good way to learn, if not always the easiest. However, there are no formal study pieces that I know of that present a series of things "not to do" in order to move forward. Particularly, in response to a specific topic.

Could learning from a collective of many people’s mistakes prove to be as valuable as the endless series of how to's.

As it is of course good to learn from positive stories and routes for success. However, when trying to follow specific directions i.e. a recipe (to success?!) it is often the case that you have to substitute one part of the recipe, to change the quantities, to perhaps just add what you have got together and hope for the best. Now this does not always end up as a bad combination, in fact it could and certainly should work out better than a prescription recipe. But it certainly is valuable to have the knowledge that things do not have to work out perfectly on the first attempt. That in fact there are alot of people that could pass on positive advice, through sharing perhaps a negative story.

As Scott Berkun discusses in his blog post How to learn from your mistakes:

"What’s missing in many people’s beliefs about success is the fact that the more challenging the goal, the more frequent and difficult setbacks will be. The larger your ambitions, the more dependent you will be on your ability to overcome and learn from your mistakes."