I was delighted to attend Chutney Preserves 5: The School Of Chutney this Sunday, on Camberwell Green. A slice of English surrealism has transformed my future memories of the Green into the venue for an off-kilter school fete... in many ways a simulacra of the real thing of my childhood, only a few feet parallel to this universe. Chutney is curated by Sarah Sparkes with great love for the subversion of the perverse and absurd rules of England - preserve and perverse, unerringly similar in spelling.
This year was a topical parody of the whole notion of education. The collected artists, vanguards and veterans of previous years. What made the event so engaging and heartwarming was the exquisite attention to detail of each performer. The spectacle worked as a whole and together with a graduation marquee gave the day a natural flow. One could follow the students of Chutney through each class until their big moment when they received their scroll, delicately put together by Miyuki Kasahara; enough to bring a tear to the eye of any proud parent. Indeed the tears may have been caused by the proximity of the graduation tent to the School Re-Onion marquee of PEPOMO - A bizarre stall honouring that most lachrymose of vegetables, hosted by the wonderfully creepy Richard and Rupert - one whole table was laid out entirely with onions, upon which a large axe has been placed. A sinister motif - invoking Columbine...
In order to graduate one needed to attend strict singing lessons by Miss Birch (Joanna McCormick) take time out in the naughty corner with Linda Barck and join the paramilitary gardening troop of Ian Robinson and Vanessa Scully. I particularly like the regalia of the Gardeners - camouflaged flak jackets with flowers on the back; the regiment flag - crossed trowels.
Out in the wilds, Two Lonesome Cowboys From Hell (Tim Flitcroft and Calum F. Kerr) , who had never even been to school, offered cattle brands to the attendees of their strange lessons in Rustler speak. Their performance culminated with their classic "Coffee And Beans" - think, Blazing Saddles meets Captain Beefheart. Lonesome Cowboy Calum - heroically downing a can of baked beans before the nauseous crowd at the finale.
There was even an unwrong quiz hosted by Frog Morris and Mark Dean Quinn- the winning prizes more queasy than Lonesome Cowboy Calum's dietary habits: yellowing cookery books by some celebrity who looked uncannily like Peter Sutcliffe; videos that would never leave the shelves of petrol stations; sleazy listening LPs.
As I said the delicious attention to detail was epitomised by the plate drawing class of Rachael House. The aim of the lesson was to create a gallery of future feminist icons and examples were setup with some icons of the past, including a lovely felt tip triptych of The Slits.
The vista took on its Dada-Burroughsian complete when the performers could be seen in harmony. At one point Miss Birch and the Lonesome Cowboys undertook a musical face off - the green uniformed teacher and the skeleton herdsman in the foreground, a forelorn dunce against a tree in the distance.
What was also great about Chutney was the subtle art editions many of the performers had lovingly created: Linda Barck's handmade badges for the naughty corner and photographs which will go on her blog; Sinead Wheeler's fascinating A0 posters of a notorious education pamphlet The Red Book, Miyuki's beautiful graduation scrolls with accompanying instant pic. I hope the students of the School Of Chutney will look upon their day at this seat of unlearning with pride and affection.
Perhaps my favourite moment that captured this surreal intrusion to Camberwell was when a couple of badass local kids walked passed the onion table and with great admiration asked: