How Do We Take Our Coffee? Cup Thoughts and the Swedish Fika

Each Wednesday we share a classic post from the Eat Sunday Dinner vaults. This essay originally posted on January 31, 2010.

Tea Cup from Nadfly, Barnsdall Art Park, Los Angeles, CA. Photo copyright Susan Lutz, 2010.

I recently went to an amazing event at Barnsdall Art Park called “Cup Thoughts”.  I don’t get out of the house much these days, but I was so excited about this event that I wrangled a babysitter and requested to go to this event in honor of my birthday re-do.  (My original birthday celebration had been cancelled because we all came down with a nasty stomach flu!)

Cup Thoughts was essentially a giant communal coffee break with fellow artists, and hosted by a gracious and fantastically kooky artist named Nicola Atkinson.  Officially, it was a public artwork by Nicola Atkinson Does Fly.  Nicola and I will hopefully be having an e-mail correspondence to discuss the event and the concept of communal meals that I can post on this blog in future, but in the meantime, check out Nicola’s website  Nadfly Cup Thoughts  for more information and additional photos.

Cake and teacups by Nadfly, Barnsdall Art Park, Los Angeles, CA. Copyright Susan Lutz 2010.

The idea behind Cup Thoughts was simple, but its execution required a vast network of collaborators and participants.  Nicola hosted two separate events at which two different groups of people in two different countries would enjoy a cup of coffee from the same set of cups.  She served coffee from cups she made herself, and a special cake, which she prepared from a recipe she created for the event, and sang a song she wrote in honor of the event.  The project took place over a two year period and were based on the idea of the “Fika”, which is a Swedish tradition of enjoying a public coffee break with friends, family or colleagues.  As Nicola describes the project:

The starting point of Cup Thoughts is a simple question– how do we take our coffee?  Do we have it “to  go” as we pursue our busy lives or do we prefer to take a break and engage in a more socialized ritual?  What if we took a proper break with our work fellows for ten minutes every day?  What if we detached ourselves from our computers, iphones and Blackberries?  How much more productive and creative would we be together?  This art project sets out to discover the effects of the “Fika” on people and their work environment.

The first fika took place in Lidköping, Sweden, and the second event, which I attended, was part of the Fika Shop that Nicola created in the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery in Barnsdall Park.  Throughout the run of the show, visitors could buy coffee and cake, but on this night, a group of about 100 people got together to enjoy an evening of food, conversation and entertainment.  The overall feeling was that of good-natured excitement and slight confusion that is bound to occur whenever a group of artists are asked to participate in bringing someone else’s idea to fruition.  Before the event, Nicola sent out an e-mail reminder, along with a note encouraging us to communicate with the other people at our table about table decorations.  She told us that when she hosted the event in Sweden, she brought flowers from her own garden to decorate the tables, and thought it would be nice if we did the same here.  

My table-mates and I were quite active in gathering flowers, candles, and hand-made pottery vases to decorate our table and it turned out great.  Decorating the table gave us a goal and way to learn a bit about each other in a non-threatening, less awkward way than starting with the usual “Uh… so… what do you do?”  I met a number of fellow local artists as a result and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  The concept and entertainment was just unusual enough to force us all to  set aside our preconceptions about what art should be and get into the spirit of the event.

Nicola Atkinsonsingsatfika_creditSusanLutz
Nicola Atkinson sings for guests at the fika. Credit: Susan Lutz

Nicola helped encourage this communal spirit throughout the run of the show.  She offered haircuts to anyone who wanted one and on the day I visited, she was out on the gallery’s balcony giving her first haircut.  (There seemed to be a complex payment schedule based on a first-come, first-served basis, but the haircut I witnessed cost the recipient a dollar.)   We all chatted as she worked and I was asked to give an opinion about the haircut, which was quite nice and suited her client well.  Then I loaned them my compact mirror so the newly coiffed artist could check out his new do.

When the event was over, we were offered the opportunity to buy the cups we drank out of.  Apparently the fika participants in Sweden were jealous that we could buy the cups, but that didn’t stop me.  I now own Cup #35 and drink out of it every once in a while, but only when I have a rare moment alone.  Drinking out of this cup is not for the frenzy of my daily life with two toddlers.  I like to drink from this cup when the girls are napping and I can drink in peace, contemplating the event and wondering how I can incorporate more fika-esque moments into my life.  

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