Kirsha Kaechele’s surreal recipes to save the world
Artist and curator Kirsha Kaechele has always been fascinated by invasive species. As a little girl growing up in Guam, invasive species made a lasting impression. “We had brown tree snakes that had taken over the jungles and were devouring all the birds... the native bird of the island couldn’t fly and became extinct because of the snake,” Kirsha tells The Wayward. “That was really at the forefront of my consciousness, because it was all over the news, and the stories were so crazy, they were so captivating. They were taking mice, and lacing them with paracetamol and dropping them from parachutes all over the island to try and get the snakes to eat them. I never thought of this snake as an asset. I never thought, ‘oh, wow, we could really do things with the snake.’ I mean you can cook them, but nobody was.”
Later, when she was living in New Orleans, the idea of invasive species sparked her interest once again. “Nutria, a kind of giant swamp rat, were destroying the wetlands, because they eat the roots that hold the soil, and the soil dissolves away. There's no land left, it just all returns to water, so Louisiana is literally disappearing as a result of this swamp rat invasion,” says Kirsha. “But the rats are quite large and have a very lush fur coat. And so I just couldn't help but think, this is a beautiful ecological fur industry. Because of course, you know, there were government programs to try and cull, eradicate the swamp rat, the nutria. But it was hopeless. So it was kind of a sustainable resource, really, if you contextualized it properly.”
“So all of this shit, on every level, metaphorical and literal, is being transformed into gold. And so you are too, as the guest.”
These two pervasive experiences proved pivotal in inspiring Kirsha’s latest exhibition, Eat The Problem. The work explores our relationship to food, particularly meat, and unpacks the social conditioning around what we deem “edible”, and what we don’t, challenging us to reconsider invasive species already being killed by the thousands (think: deer, cane toads and even feral cats) in the name of sustainability. “Why are we raising cows when there is an endless supply of venison, which is an ecologically fantastic meat,” says Kirsha. “Whereas cows, you know, they wreak havoc on the environment, and there's all kinds of ethical issues attached to it. The deer are being killed anyway, to protect the environment. So, you know, eat them.”
The work takes the shape of an epic 544 page book containing recipes from some of the world’s most revered chefs – Heston Blumenthal and Andoni Luis Aduriz – using invasive species as the hero ingredients, along with essays, poetry, interviews exploring why we fetishize the flesh of some animals, whilst wildly rejecting other.
It’s a beautiful, confronting exploration of our obsession with consumption, and the social and environmental impact of our gastronomical neurosis. “Eat the Problem is a way of dealing with the need for more sustainable acquisition of resources, and also the need to eradicate or deal with the overabundance of particular plants and animals,” says Kirsha.
The book is accompanied by an exhibition at Tasmania’s MONA (Museum of Old and New Art), infamous for its visceral often challenging pieces, exploring all of life’s juiciest material – sex, death and the shadow of the human psyche. Gallery goers will be invited to take part in a feast sampling recipes from the book, with an elaborate degustation being held to celebrate the launch. “The feast is a ritual. It's a transformative experience. And the guest is transformed through the process. In the same moment as the invasive animal, the problem, is transformed into a culinary delight, a food, something to celebrate,” says Kirsha. “So all of this shit, on every level, metaphorical and literal, is being transformed into gold. And so you are too, as the guest.”
Community, sustainability and activism are a recurrent theme in Kirsha’s art, with many of her previous works evolving from installations into projects designed to support growth and education in underprivileged areas. All proceeds from the sale of the Eat The Problem will fund 24 Carrot – a kitchen garden education program created by Kirsha servicing disadvantaged neighbourhoods in New Orleans and Tasmania.