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15 December 2016
By Lee Walton
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Life/Theater: Hot Dogs, 2014

Buildering: Misbehaving the City, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, Ohio



As part of the exhibition Buildering: Misbehaving the City at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC), I created Life/Theater: Hot Dogs, an interactive public event for the city of Cincinnati.

The objective for this event was to engage a broad non-art audience through a game that brought attention to the everyday happenings in the park.


The work was developed and performed in collaboration with Artworks, an award-winning non-profit organization that employs and trains local youth and talent to create art and community impact through public artworks. I also worked with the CAC to procure a donation of hundreds of hot dogs and buns from Kroger.


For this project, I worked with Artworks and CAC staff to design and building a portable and extremely colorful, portable hot dog stand. On the day of the event, we set up the hot dog stand in 2 locations: the center of a downtown public park and a grassy area near a historical museum.


The hot dog stand had a large storefront announcing “Life/Theater FREE HOT DOGS.” Over the course of the day, we grilled more than 500 hot dogs and gave them to the public.


The free hot dogs were not the art works, but a vehicle to transport secret messages as to where to find the art. Inside the wrapper of each hot dog was a description of a person or group of people in the park performing specific actions. When the recipient of the hot dog wrapper looked around the park, the described events were happening. These scripted performances appeared routine at first, part of the fabric real life and probably overlooked, but when re-framed as art, they became spectacular in their artificiality.


After noticing the 8 different performances stamped on the hotdog wrappers, participants shortly realized that actions around them were scripted, thus activating all of the actions in the park as potential theater.


Students from Artworks, a few local actors, and I acted out the performances in the park.


Conflict Kitchen, a project by Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski, heavily influenced this project. Conflict Kitchen was an establishment that only served food from countries in conflict with the United States. This work engaged a broad public through food, utilizing the food wrappers to tell stories about the culture of various countries. Additionally, Christine Hill’s Volksboutique Small Business (2012) installation that took the form of an art shop and Stephanie Syjuco's Shadowshop (2011) exhibition at the San Francisco MOMA. Life/Theater: Hot Dogs was an extension of a course I developed and taught at UNCG in which we created a mobile storefront called Frontbird. This mobile storefront facilitated the exchange of experiential services, given away free.


The theatrical method employed for this project draws from my Life/Theater works. Life/Theater, created in New York in 2003, is a series of projects in which I direct actors to embed themselves into real life, thus blurring the line between what appears real and unreal. These performances are a visual homage to John Cage’s silent musical composition 4’33”, in which silence re-frames the sounds of the environment as music.

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