Ukrainian artist sits consul at the negotiating table and feeds him soup

23 december, 2023

One winter day, two people met in a room at a table to eat warm soup. However, the room is not just a room, but the Automat gallery in Saarbrücken, and the table is not quite a table, but a balancing structure that looks like a children's swing for two. And the two are not casual acquaintances, but the artist Maria Leonenko and the French Consul in Germany Sébastien Girard.

Maria Leonenko, “Negotiation Table,” video documentation of the performance, 2023. All photos courtesy of the artist.
After all, soup is not just soup either, but an invitation to a conversation or negotiations. The Ukrainian artist Maria Leonenko, who is currently in residence at the independent art space Automat in Germany, conceived the performance “Negotiation Table” as an attempt to invite a European diplomat to the negotiating table. “I am concerned about the topic of negotiations as such because the next chapter of history depends on them, so I want to know what kind of communication forces and talents will be on our side and what I can personally influence, at least at the local level,” Leonenko comments.

According to the artist, the very first stage of understanding between people is formed at the metabolism level. Food is a great social glue and a reason to get to know another person better. “It's always interesting to discuss who eats frogs and who eats lard,” Maria adds. During the performance, everyone could choose a soup to their liking: Maria chose goulash, and the consul chose mushroom puree soup.

However, in order to maintain the atmosphere of tense balancing of the interlocutors' positions inherent in negotiations, the artist created a moving table based on the principle of a seesaw scale, placing plates of soup on both edges of the board. During lunch, while the table was swinging back and forth, Maria talked to the consul about food, the relationship between the conflicting parties, and success in negotiations. “I was most interested in the consul's mention of Talleyrand Perigord, a famous negotiator and French foreign minister under Napoleon, who always fed his guests deliciously to achieve his goals,” the author notes.
Balancing tables for the exhibition by Maria Leonenko at the Automat space in Saarbrücken.
The performance “Negotiation Table” became the basis for the artist's upcoming exhibition as part of the residency. At the opening, the artist will prepare a borshch she will cook herself, inviting everyone to taste it at one of her balancing tables.

The full documentation of the performance and the installation of the moving table will be presented at the opening of the exhibition "About Us and Our Neighbors" by Alevtina Kakhidze and Maria Leonenko, which will take place at the Muzychi Art Space (Muzychi village, 9a Luhova St., Kyiv region) on December 27 from 13:00 to 22:00.

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