Elena Kats-Chernin: Can food be art?

Elena will perform at Carriageworks Night Market - a feast of food and music



The Carriageworks Night Market promises to be an exciting night of Australian food, music and art: more than 60 food, beverage, and produce stalls will be dedicated to showcasing unique Australian ingredients and flavours and celebrating Indigenous cultures.

At the same time, new artwork will be unveiled by the Yarrenyty Arltere Artists; and music will be performed by local DJs and by composer Elena Kats-Chernin.

Elena will play a piano arrangement of her piece Road to Harvest. This work was commissioned for the Fair Trade movement by celebrity chef Kylie Kwong – former Ambassador for the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand, Carriageworks Night Market curator, and friend of Elena.


Hi Elena, thanks for chatting to us here at CutCommon about your upcoming performance at Carriageworks Night Market. How did you become involved with this special event?

It is my pleasure.

Kylie Kwong invited me to take part.  I did not even have to think about it. All I had to do is make room in the diary. Easy!

You’ll be performing your piece Road to Harvest, which was commissioned by Kylie Kwong when she was the Ambassador of the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand. What does the Fair Trade movement mean to you?

I really wanted to compose this piece for Kylie Kwong because like her, I am very passionate about people being treated fairly, ethically and equally no matter what. It is a basic human right, and I wanted to be able to help spread the message of the great work Fair Trade and Oxfam do in the world.

You’ve said previously that Road to Harvest is inspired by workers in harsh conditions who stand to benefit first-hand from the Fair Trade movement. What can music as a communicative platform achieve in telling the stories of these people?

Music can attract attention to a particular topic, and I hope that Road to Harvest in particular reminds listeners of the Fair Trade movement, and perhaps leads to more people supporting it.

You’ll be doubling as both composer and performer. How should musicians today approach musical careers that may require them to diversify their skillsets?

Today, it is expected that a musician multitasks. I don’t have a recipe on how it is best to create, build and manage a career. But I do know that one must grab opportunities for doing challenging and unusual projects if they arise. It is often those unexpected projects that lead to some amazing collaborations. And collaborations are for me the most important aspect of my professional life.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learnt over many years composing and performing is that people really appreciate a reliable working partner: someone who answers emails or messages promptly and arrives for rehearsals and concerts on time. I know this sounds prosaic, but rehearsal times are precious and using other people’s times with respect is vital for me.

The Night Market is dedicated to Australia’s Indigenous culture and local ingredients. How would you describe your own relationship to Australian food culture?

I was lucky to work with some extraordinary Indigenous Australian artists, like William Barton and Bangarra Dance Company. I have an immense respect for the Indigenous tradition and spiritual connection to the land and feel there is much to learn for us from the wisdom and richness of this culture.

Over the last seven years, I have been able to taste many of the amazing bush foods like saltbush and warrigal greens, Davidson plums at Kylie’s restaurant. Apart from enjoying the flavours and textures of bush foods, these culinary experiences have deepened my understanding of the true tastes of this country and the Australian bush.

The Night Market will be an exciting coming together of music, visual artists and food. Is food art? 

I think it can be. But not when I cook it. In some ways, there is one thing music and food have in common: once it has been enjoyed, it becomes a memory.

I hope the mix of art and food at the Night Market will be a fabulous memory for all.


See Elena Kats-Chernin perform Road to Harvest at the Carriageworks Night Market on February 9.

Image supplied. Credit: Bruria Hammer.

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