Yellow Cake Street is a proclaimed site-specific endeavour by the Japanese trio Nadegata Instant Party (NIP) at Perth’s Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA) exhibition Alternating Currents; Japanese Art After March 2011. NIP has converted the institute’s bar and performance area into a café serving coffee and yellow cake during the week, opening the central (yet often closed) bar out to the public area of Perth’s Cultural Centre. Yellow Cake Street works to activate the space as an area open to flow, daily consumption and conversation over coffee and yellow cake.
Ordinarily, the general area of Perth’s Cultural Centre is an awkward space. Even though it is located in the centre of the city (its borders are defined by the state library, art gallery, PICA and central train station), the space is often stagnant at night, and a transitory pedestrian space in peak hour. While the space does cater for festivals, markets and public art engagements, on the whole, these are regulated special occasions. This is not indicative of PICA’s attempt to support and nurture collaborative community arts (it has in recent years explicitly focused on collaborative communal artistic experiences).
As a collaborative work, NIP engaged with the community over the meaning and making of yellow cake. For some, the phrase is associated with uranium protests in Ontario, while for others this connection sparks concern and conversation over Australia’s record of exporting uranium for the construction of atomic weaponry. The ethical connections between yellow cake and the effects of nuclear trade and power have been explicitly discussed by PICA as a connector between Perth and NIP – a way of encouraging art-goers to associate this work with ‘higher’ socio-political and environmental questions.
For most, and for NIP themselves, making, giving and eating cake is a loaded ritual. Cake is commemorative, a symbol of decadence within the domestic, traditionally a source of comfort and (usually) not eaten alone. Likewise, Yellow Cake Streethas activated the cultural centre by encouraging people to come in and spend some time in company, rather than using the space as a transitory area between home and work. If this is an indication of Japanese art after the earthquakes earlier this year (as the exhibition title suggests), NIP foregrounds the fluid nature of how communities come together, rebuild and connect naturally when they are not in isolation – that these currents strengthen when they are heterogeneous and open, rather than dictative, regulated or performative. Yellow Cake Street has become a symbol for gentle negotiations of community progress, rather than harder methods for bringing people together.