Soft Service

In collaboration with Alex Reed
Ceramics Cafe & Gallery Design
Unbuilt, 2019

Soft Service is a cafe proposal for the Rosenfield Collection, a newly acquired functional ceramics collection that brings together dining and display developed at the invitation of the Everson Art Museum and Syracuse University. Soft Service blends the encyclopedic tendencies of museological displays with the dining and display habits of kaiten sushi, offering cafe visitors an opportunity to participate in the curation and presentation of the ceramic collection.

A Mobile Still-Life
In kaiten sushi, the sensuousness of raw sushi is put on display and into service through its constant rotation between the restaurant and the kitchen, transforming dining into a creative and social act. In our proposal, the experience of visitors are similarly transformed through a mobile station which circulates the ceramic pieces (put into use) for display and dining. During open hours the mobile station allows visitors to order and receive their food while simulteanously “browsing” the Rosenfield collection. The curation of the works in relation to one another can be semi-random, determined by the order of visitors orders, or presents an opportunity for a curator to “program” the conveyor belt. 
    The rotation of the ceramic pieces allows the vibrant colors, textures, forms and silhouettes to circulate through the cafe in serial presentation. This seriality of forms harkens to the long history of precedent studies that form the core of a potter’s education, and also alludes to the iterative process of ceramic making itself. Consider, for example, Phillip Rawson’s taxonomic chart of ceramic forms on the front cover of his classic tome Ceramics, where an original form (a bowl or cylinder) is crafted into an infinite field of formal shapes via deft hands. The mobile station offers an opportunity to present this seriality of making through a seriality of viewing, producing a mobile still life.

A Station of Relations
A second but equally important stationary system is the encyclopedic wall. The wall is a cellular grid which presents the ceramic pieces in relation to one another under a more distinct organizational system: the matrix. The matrix allows for a more “complete” view of the collection’s pieces in relation to one another, an arrangement which emphasizes the relational agency of curation and the possibility of a “comparative” view.

Soft Surfaces
The encyclopedic wall and the mobile station are designed to fit within a landscape of soft seating and dining furniture. These soft pieces are constructed of playground rubber and insulation foam to minimize the hazardous collision of ceramics and hard surface, while infusing the cafe with the inviting and warm atmosphere of playscapes.
Back of House
In the back of house, the mobile belt becomes infrastructure for cafe service, used by cafe staff for the bussing and cleaning of dishes,but also by curatorial and registrar staff in selecting, presenting, handling and storing the collection between exhibits and/or rotations. Cafe workers, servers, curators, and art handlers share the same “workspace”— collapsing institutional hierarchies—while visitors interact with the infrastructure that services the collection. When the conveyo belt is not “programmed”, cafe workers are empowered to select and deploy objects of their choosing. This modest creative act of choosing and creating an experience based on their own taste will serve to add creative texture to the workday of cafe workers.
    These categories of stationary and rotational systems are not fixed. Ceramic pieces from the encyclopedic wall might exchange positions with the mobile system as they move from their stationary placement into circulation in the cafe. Beyond the novel effect of ceramics on rotation, this system of display also invites visitors to experience the collection through the cafe activities of ordering, serving, and bussing — coupling the activities of consumption with activities of curation. These two display schemes present an opportunity for curators and visitors alike to curate through selection and arrangement, putting material, color, form, and silhouette into intentional and accidental contrast with one another for visual reading. Thus the everyday use of the work of art inevitably reorganizes the canon.

Public Programs
The dual systems services a range of audience sizes, as easily serving two people as twenty. Some possibilities of specialized programs include:
• a curation of ceramics coupled with keseki or ritualized multi-course meal
• “chef selects” evenings where a chef searches the collection and curates ceramics that they respond to and work with in their meal design • ceramics workshop where the shared surfaces offers itself for group exercises or an art class that uses the conveyor belt to play “exquisite corpse” games on paper or with clay
• when stationary, the conveyor belt system offers itself as a venue for vendor or retail display.

Public Trust
The Rosenfield’s stipulation — that the collection be used in regular cafe service — places remarkable trust in the public. Our design contributes and supports this generosity by offering the public a tactile, sensory engagement with the objects in the museum. The collection has served as a valuable index for students and ceramicists in its online form for years, and we look forward to ushering the collection into a new physical home at the Everson, where it will continue to nourish students and diners alike.

PROJECT TYPE Cafe & Gallery 
STATUS Unbuilt
DATE 2019
Jia Gu, Maxi Spina, Alex Reed and Nancy Ai