Scramble Scrabble Dinner – J. Morgan Puett | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

Every aspect of life is a rigorous engagement
with the banal. So at Mildred’s Lane, we make
that a creatively charged practice from washing dishes
out in the landscape to cooking a meal over an open
fire to learning how to clean out a toilet properly. Everything is rigorous,
whimsical, fun, engaged, and we do it together. Today, we’re in Beach Lake,
Pennsylvania at Mildred’s Lane, a 96 acre site
founded and hosted by the artist J. Morgan Puett. It’s named after
its former resident, and Puett, along with
her son and a number of other collaborators,
has transformed it into what she likes to
call a new art complexity. In the ’80s and ’90s,
Morgan lived and worked in New York City as an
artist and fashion designer and ran a number of
stores where she showed her seasonal
clothing collections But since 1997, she has lived
here and developed this site as an ongoing experiment
in living activated by the people who come here. Mildred’s Lane is a place
where Morgan and her friends explore the interconnection of
working, living, researching, and making. And they practice what she
calls creative domestication, bringing rigorous attention
to every aspect of daily life. This manifests in collaborative
dinner parties determined by algorithmic games, carefully
curating the refrigerator, and the collective development
of projects and events that question how we live,
divide labor, and relate to the environment. There are no art studios here. This whole place is the studio. And we have the privilege
of being here today and talking with
Morgan and seeing what aspect of her practice
you might bring to your life. Hey there. I’m J. Morgan Puett, and
just is your art assignment. Hoosh the way I use it is
quite different than the term itself, but it’s related to. But as an installation artist,
I’ve kind of tweaked it and reinvented the
term so as to help identify what it is we
do on a day to day basis here, which is we conceptually
and very intentionally arrange, rearrange, pull things apart,
put them back together again. Everybody collaborates on the
hoosh here in the landscape. It can be a table
top situation or it can be the entire landscape. A great way to have a
successful collaboration is by using algorithms. Algorithms, you can
make up rules and games to create new problems,
not just to solve problems but to create new
problems that also make it a socially democratic
landscape for everyone’s experience. So it’s a surprise in the end. It sort of creates a way
to do something together without any one person
taking authorship, that everybody is in it. Your assignment is to produce
a Mildred’s Lane scramble Scrabble dinner. You need to select a
nice cloth that you can wheat paste and
harden and spread out on a table or a wall,
and you’re going to be more or less
playing a Scrabble game, but the ingredients
are the players. If I were playing with
Sarah Green and Mark Olsen and myself, J. Morgan
Puett, then those names would be written
out on the cloth. And then we would make
as many food items as you can possibly
make out of the letters of that– that person’s name. Also include ways
of preparing food. Then you rotate the
cloth so that everybody can play each name. You use that list, and you
play– with a lot of room around it– you write that
word out very cleanly on the– towards the middle
of the napkin. And you keep rotating it
so that everybody’s playing and building on every dish. Pretty soon, you’ll
get to a point where dishes are
emerging, and you start sketching out
what the dish might look like on the cloth until
you get to the sketched, and even possibly the
way it might be served. Your collective
creativity starts playfully imagining what
this table top dinner will look like. That is the
collective experience that you’re going to have. All right. So I think we actually
have to do this one. Oh, we’re going to do this. Great. But it’s pretty
complicated, so I’m wondering if people can just
kind of use it as a framework. Yeah. It’s a little
confusing, but I think you sort of take this as
like a loose framework and then you play whatever
kind of dinner algorithm game you like. Also, I know that you
hate this question. I know it’s your least
favorite question, but I do. There is a little
part of me that wants to understand why
this particular dinner party game is art. OK. That’s a legitimate
question for sure. And I think you could play this
game and not consider it art and that would be
fine, but I do think that you might have a better
experience with it if you consider a little bit of
art history and the fact that Morgan’s practices
is very much informed by the Fluxus Movement that
was from the 1960s and ’70s. It was a loose
international network of artists, and their
leader, George Maciunas published a series of manifestos
that described what Fluxus is, and I want you to read
from one of them, John. OK. All right. This is some atypical
grammar here, Sarah, but I will read
it. “To establish artist’s nonprofessional,
nonparasitic, nonelite status in society, he must
demonstrate own dispensability. He must demonstrate
self-sufficiency of the audience. He must demonstrate that
anything can substitute art and anyone can do it. Therefore, the substitute
art amusement must be simple, amusing, concerned
with insignificances, have no commodity or
institutional value. It must be unlimited,
obtainable by all, and eventually produced by all.” So I assume that
this week’s artist is from this Fluxus Movement. You’re right. We’re going to be talking about
the artist Alison Knowles, who was a key member of this group. In October of 1962,
s Knowles first performed “Proposition No. 2” at the Institute of
Contemporary Arts in London. Also titled, “Make a Salad,”
the piece involved the artist standing on stage and chopping
the ingredients for a salad. It’s an example
of an open score, almost like a
musical composition, a template able to
be realized by others and open to interpretation. Like other Fluxus
numbers, Knowles was influenced by John Cage’s
teaching about indeterminacy and chance operations. Creating preconditions
for her work and not knowing exactly
how it will play out, she then served the salad,
welcoming the audience to be part of the
work and continued to act out the proposition on
a number of future occasions. Knowles, like Morgan,
takes something uneventful and domestic
and elevates it into an occasion worthy of
attention and great care. Morgan’s scramble
Scrabble dinner also encourages an
inclusive, collaborative, and improvisational approach
to the chores and activities of life, re-imagining
and re-contextualizing a thing as simple as dinner
into an unpredictable and multi-sensory event. Very important to try
to break your habits, not to predetermine what this
thing is going to look like or how it’s going to taste. Don’t try to go to
the conventional dish that you think is emerging
out of the Scrabble. Try to challenge the dish. So each person who plays it
should challenge the dish a little more radically
than the last. The less cooking experience
you have, the better because it’s just more fun. It’s just hilarious
what happens. So a naive approach is
sometimes the most profound. It’s kind of the word that
fills in the gap for, like, whatchamacallit, anything. Like, girl, you’re hooshed up. Or did you see how
hooshed he was?

About the author


  1. Is this the place you were telling me about at VidCon? The game reminds me of the conversation between Hank and John about the foldy-foldy-draw-draw game. Where it seems to be a simple party game, but it has much deeper meaning and origins.

  2. Hey Art Assignment Team,
    Have you ever considered a video where you sit down 10 or so established artists & ask them to respond to an Art Assignment? It would be especially interesting if they all work with different media.

  3. This is so beyond my ability, and it is wonderful. This is the human experience refined! This how culture grows. This is good stuff. "Hoosh."

  4. i think this may be my favourite art assignment to date.
    also are we going to get a video of john and sarah doing this? because i would love to see it.

  5. This is the first Assignment I am a subscriber for, and I think this is one that is within my wheelhouse. But since food can get expensive, I'm thinking there should be some twist. Not sure what yet. Sarah, John, thank you so much for making this program! The world is better for having you both in it!

  6. Hey! She was a guest in our class for a week at my school last year 🙂 We played this in small groups and it was a super fun collaboration! We made some very interesting amuse-bouches. Would highly recommend. Good to see her again!

  7. Recently saw many similar scores (Grapefruit) in the Yoko Ono exhibit at the MoMA. Really glad to learn some of the context for this work!

  8. This assignment is going to demonstrate how food items can be combined in unconventional ways and result in quite palatable and sometimes delightful meals. There will certainly be a few surprises!

  9. As a foodblogger, this sounds extremely interesting to me! The idea of creating new recipes, combining ingredients of which you don't if they match in the end, and eventually presenting the result in a creative manner sounds like a fun experiment! I might actually try this one with a group of friends.

  10. This seems very weird, but I suppose that is the point. I can see its appeal to those who enjoy wordplay and cooking challenges. I am reminded of a Hell's Kitchen challenge: roll a die with letters, very quickly come up with an ingredient that starts with that letter, combine about 5 of these into a dish.

  11. I couldn't help but connect the idea of taking a domestic space and elevating it to art as feminist because most domestic spaces especially the kitchen are considered woman spaces but chefs at restaurants are considered artist . This concept is like a way for women to also claim artistic identity with things that were mostly elevated and dominated by men.

  12. The videography at the beginning is amazing. Mildred's Lane is gorgeous. I also love the collaboration you're encouraging in these recent videos!

  13. You've created a great game for my ELL students. Thank you. But it's not art. In response to the Fluxus manifesto, Why all the obsession about artists and purity? It's a bit like the notion people espoused in the early 1900's that giving women the vote would lead to purity in politics. Why can't an artist be professional? How does paying her in any way corrupt her or make her a parasite? Should every artist have a day job, separate from the arts? How much time should be available for an artist to work on her art? weekends? An hour before bed? Can we please stop spreading the myth that making art shouldn't be a professional career? And please define elitism. Because I've sold around 20 works in my life, and I feel in no way elite, whatsoever, nor do most artists panning their wares at art walks and such. And, regarding art that anyone can do… Why don't we encourage everyone to learn a skill first, and then make something they can be more proud of than a kitchen fiasco that no one wants to eat? I'm afraid I might be critical of this show for a long time to come, but let me be clear, I enjoy these ideas very much, especially the chance to think about something new.

  14. Very very cool. I really like the deconstructivist aspects of this assignment (and Mildred's Lane!), intentionally taking apart and putting aside our usual notions of what "dinner" is, forgoing our automatic knowings about it, and following something rigorous to open up new, and fun, possibilities. A nice chance to break free. Love it!

  15. i immediately thought of Rirkrit Tiravanija. Relational Aesthetics too!

    Please talk about Bas Jan Ader, and art as failure, futility and existential.

  16. I feel like doing this at home when I go back for the holidays. My 14 year old brother likes to cook his own dinner sometimes and I feel like it'll be a fun bonding experience.

  17. This assignment is particularly appealing to me. I'm a gastronomy student and for a while I've been thinking of making some of these art assignments in a kitchen-y way, because I've always considered gastronomy a form of art. This assignment might be my starting point on this project 🙂

  18. This assignment makes me want to get the company together and do a Scramble Scrabble Dance – we could anagram verbs and body parts instead of foods and cooking methods, and go from there…hm…

  19. So, for me, this video raises the following question: Is art only art if it is intentional? The lady making a salad in a museum and serving it after, was art because she intended to make people think. But is me making a salad and serving it to my friends, which then makes one of them think more deeply about the meaning of the salad, also Art?

  20. This assignment terrifies me. I can imagine that the algorithm part of it would be loads of fun, and then I would be an anxious mess of a control freak when it came to the execution of the dinner. Letting go of what a meal is "supposed" to be is going to be so hard. I kind of want to try it out at Christmas with my whole family.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *