LEFT OVER MENU I & II explores the experience, which is characterized as mundane or ultra-ordinary. The premise is a café restaurant environment where comestible food is served and people gathered for provision and for social purposes. The relationship between food, eaters, servers, and observers, through considerably common and trivial, can be complex and intriguing.

Based on the artist’s personal experience, LEFT OVER MENU I & II explores the common social reaction to the project in various cafes or situations. Both texts and photographs were faithfully recorded light-heartedly through the eyes of the observer. Each of these events is reproduced on pages of color laser prints reminiscent of book illustration or the amateur menu design. Furthermore, the café environment is represented in an installation including restaurant sound, written description and images. Hopefully, the installation will allow the viewer to share and participate in these experiences with a new sense of perception and cognition.




You see a restaurant through the doorway-like setting. Sounds of conversation and the clatter of plates softened by muzak fill the room. There are two tables—each set for a single diner. The tables are diagonally opposed to each other and the pace settings are set opposite each other so the diners will be visible to one another around the side of the large menu. The overhead lights are dimmed and small elegant lamps hang over each table providing an intimate glow. The walls are hung with a series of framed laser prints (computer scanned images), photographs and text.

“Entree”, says the first laser print, and so you do, wandering at first and then settling into one of the seats and picking up a menu. The menus are a series of unbound laser prints similar to those on the wall, each with text and a photograph of a plate of leftovers—or more accurately the remains of a restaurant meal. The texts are stories, most only a few pages long, in simple, unpunctuated and slightly idiosyncratic English. The content of the stories is often the acquisition of the plates which are the subjects of the photos. (The plates were removed to a studio to be photographed from the restaurant where they were found)

This is what is was like for me to enter and enjoy Judy Cheung’s installation “Left Over Menu I and II” at the stride Gallery last December. The immediate impression was of the ease and pleasure with which I was able to enter into an environment, a scenario, and a series of ideas presented by the artist, The images and text then proved to by rich in metaphorical relations between the mundane events of dining out and more traditional concerns of art: consumption as death, superficiality as alienation, the economic as social exchange, solitude as loneliness, action as exhibition, gastronomic satiation as post-coital bliss.. These are things that I often see(k) in art and enjoy finding, But what interested me in Cheung’s installation was the way I found myself there.

In two respects the techniques used in “Left Over Menu I and II” to transform the gallery into another space were unlike those I’ve often seen in previous installations: they were subtler, and they were far more successful. Many installations seem to create an environment or set that then exemplifies or tells a story or makes a series of points. The problem with this is that usually the visitor to the this environment remains in the institution of the gallery or museum, and therefore stands at an inevitable distance from the work. The environment created by the artist fails to compete with or replace the institutional environment in which it is set. The reasons for this lie both within the viewer and the installation itself; the use of relatively private languages of symbolism or expression by any artists does not help. Cheung’ installation works so well in part because the language she uses is not private but is based on mundane and ubiquitous events that she shares with her audience.

Another part of the success of this installation lies in the artist’s control and the confidence with which she has manipulated the gallery environment in order to create the installation. Cheung has transformed the gallery into an illusion of a restaurant. She has made the gallery not a gallery: but also she has specifically not made the gallery a restaurant. By inviting the visitor to enter and sit by breaking the silence of the institution, by providing structures within the material of the installation that accommodate the visitor, she has overcome the institutional barrier between her work and her audience. The visitor becomes an interactive part of the installation, not just for another viewer, but also for her/himself. The narrative texts and the recognizable setting provide a role within the installation that the visitor can easily assume, and within their own imagination re-enact the open-ended variety of scenarios suggested by the installation.

The ability of the visitor to enter into and participate in the installation is a result of the very delicate balance between suggestion and closure. The soundtrack for the installation is a key factor in this balance. The clichéd muzak, the fragments of conversation, and the clatter of plates plays upon our minds in much the same way as radio sound effects do. In the absence of the visual compliments we hear, we invent them with a result far more vivid that representation alone can be. The menus are also important instruments of the balance between suggestion and closure. Combinations of text and photographs, they exploit the language, not of the fine art print, but of the print advertisement. This is a language we are used to reading in an active manner, where we fill in a semiotic structure with our own fantasies. This active, rather than passive mode of reading is enhanced by the relative placement of the place settings. The opposition between the tow place settings, and therefore between two strangers, creates a self-consciousness that heightens the sensitivity of the viewer to the narrative suggestions of the texts, photographs and installation. In this manner the visitor becomes not only an actor in the installation but is once again a watcher, this time of him/herself. The illusionistic quality of the installation allows the visitor to be simultaneously both inside and outside the installation: watching and participating.

The way in which the visitor is lead into the conceptual realm of Cheung’s installation is so effortless, so refreshing that it is almost not like art at all. The self importance of “art” is absent. Visiting “Left Over Menu…” is more like seeing a movie than an installation, yet it retains a conceptual intensity and interest that resonates long after one has departed. It is as if by merely viewing the leftovers one has eaten the whole meal.

John L. Heintz is a freelance architectural designer and writer.