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SAD: The Last Meal art exhibition serves up dystopian versions of beloved hawker dishes

The Last Meal is an interactive art experience that imagines a time when hawker food no longer exists.

Drink a packet of black carrot cake or chye tow kueh at The Substation Gallery, with hawker fare taking on a dystopian flavour this month.

The liquefied dish is but one of four dystopian hawker dishes that diners can get a taste of at SAD: The Last Meal, an interactive art experience by chef Ming Tan, 32, and visual artist Debbie Ding, 34.

Commissioned by The Substation, SAD: The Last Meal is part of The Vanishing, or Time Goes Away, the final instalment of the arts centre’s year-long exploration of heritage, called Cities Change. People Die. Everything You Know Goes Away.

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Mr Alan Oei, artistic director of The Substation, says the art experience will take guests to a time when hawker food no longer exists.

“Hawkers have been around forever, but recently, we’ve started to obsess and fear the loss of this culture,” he says.

Neo-hawker

Forty diners will be spread out around 12 cocktail tables during the one-hour dining sessions, where hawker food as Singaporeans know it will cease to exist. Instead, iconic dishes such as chicken rice and laksa will take on different textures, forms and ingredients.

These reimagined dishes are a response to issues facing the food industry, says chef Tan.

For instance, the blended black carrot cake, presented in a sealed plastic pouch, tackles the topic of efficiency.

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“Sometimes you don’t have time to sit down and eat and you want to have carrot cake on the go,” says chef Tan.

“Should we in the near future also realise that one uncle frying your carrot cake is horribly inefficient, as opposed to a factory where you can make these packets?”

Accompanying videos produced by Ding will also play on three screens before guests tuck into each of the four dishes, surrounding them with the manufactured sounds of knives chopping away and the sizzling of food frying.

Audio-visual stimulation

The videos, which feature chef Tan preparing the normal versions of each dish, are meant to be a contrast to the dystopian meals served to guests.

“The importance of these sounds is the materiality and textures of the ingredients being processed, such as the fat frying. That is changed in the final version of the dishes that guests will eat,” says Ding.

“It’s about audiences’ expectations of food and how it can deviate.”

While the dishes may take on an unfamiliar form, chef Tan hopes that diners will be able to step out of their comfort zones.

“These are versions of food that we can potentially have in the future. If I say that I’m not open to it, then I’m closing myself off to understanding how food may be in 50 years.”

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This article was originally published in The Straits Times.

Photo: The Substation