Reinventing the chocolate printing press

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by Eric Ginsburg

Leave it to Elsewhere to figure out how to screen-print with chocolate — and onto a pancake, no less.

If Peter Pan’s Lost Boys somehow landed in art school and were then thrown into the weirdest museum in the region (Elsewhere, of course), they’d probably create something like the recent Pancake Social art/food hybrid event.

Mitchell Oliver and Valerie Wiseman make a mean screen-printing team — they’ve cranked out bags and posters for such venerated entities as Triad City Beat before. One can only imagine the goofy, late-night conversation where someone jokingly raised the idea of swapping chocolate sauce for ink, or the subsequent testing where they realized the eccentric idea would work better with Nutella and chocolate syrup combined.

Plenty of things separate Elsewhereans from everyone else, but a defining characteristic is that when they have a ridiculous idea, these kooks just go for it.

And so it was that on a recent Saturday morning, with Elsewhere’s Emily Ensminger wearing a hat shaped like a triple stack of pancakes a few feet away, Oliver stood over a screen, donning a denim apron, and pressed the words “Where is this from?” onto a fresh, golden yellow pancake. Next, a preteen with his hair gelled up in the front pointed to the question mark on the screen, indicating he’d like the symbol on his circular breakfast.

The pancake social, held at SECCA in Winston-Salem on the last morning in February, brought together the two museums, Wake Forest University’s Campus Kitchen and an intergenerational group of audience participants.

Pushing strollers or holding the hand of tots, attendees strolled up to the pancake station, undoubtedly the highlight of the event, to observe the process unfold and snag a snack. But the casual event offered more than that — DJ Raspberry Beret spun a playlist that would make any baby boomer proud with tracks by Paul Simon and the Clash before switching over to Grits and Wayne Wonder.

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At one table, people were asked to pen haikus about oddly shaped food. Someone offered, “Gin-gia-li-cious one, you are like a spicy branch, offering greatness,” and another wrote: “I am a flat peach, but James thought I was giant. Don’t I look like fun?” Nearby, a small TV next to a pineapple played an episode of Elsewhere’s “Alive in the Kitchen,” the artist haven’s bizarre-o series full of made-up food puns like “Psychadelicatessen” and “The decision was bananamous!”

Attendees were also asked to answer questions like “How does it taste?” posed by the screen-printed choco-topping, by writing with a marker on the paper plates. The procession of children literally ate it up, and also opted to scribble art onto spare plates after licking their fingers.

“Have you ever eaten a question mark before?” one mother asked, but her son was too busy eating a pancake off his open palm the way a dog would, so he simply shook his head. Soon after, the chorus of Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” blared from DJ Raspberry Beret’s station: “B-A-N-A-N-A-S!”

The announcement for the event did indeed say there would be “screen-printed pancakes,” from which it would be more reasonable to conclude that there wouldn’t be any food provided at all but instead just the production of images celebrating the breakfast staple. More reasonable, that is, if we weren’t talking about Elsewhere.

The event tied into SECCA’s larger Collective Actions exhibit currently on display in the adjoining room, one that explores the relationship between art and collective action. It only made sense to rope in the Campus Kitchen, a Wake Forest initiative that takes leftover cafeteria food and transforms it into meals for local social service groups. Think of a Food Not Bombs of sorts.

Elsewhere has pulled off stunts like this before: There are already five episodes of “Alive in the Kitchen,” and they sewed their own puppets for a live cooking show in Durham a while back. But there’s nothing comparable to a successful collaboration between two museums and a student group, bolstered by a diverse mélange of guests that all somehow harmonized and enhanced each other.

That’s all well and good, and is exactly the kind of thing the Triad needs — especially the interplay across city boundaries — but it will be hard to top the chocolate screen-printing. Fortunately, the zany minds of Elsewhere are likely up to the challenge.

Find the Campus Kitchen on Facebook. Visit goelsewhere.org and secca.org.