#42 Bobby Baker, An Edible Family in a Mobile Home (1976) at the Condor St. Prefabs
50 stories from The Acme Archive
In 1975 Acme acquired 7/8 prefab houses from the GLC (Greater London Council) in Condor Street and Camdenhurst Street in Stepney, East London. These were mark 2 prefabs from the mid 1960s, with one bedroom and unlike the earlier models, had central heating. On 11th March 1977 in the London Evening News, Irene Thompson, a young mum and her children had moved into one of these prefabs and declared “it’s like heaven!”. As testament to the quality and economy of space and layout, the design of Acme’s work/live units at the Fire Station building was directly inspire by these prefabs. The previous council tenants would have been fast tracked into permanent housing by the GLC, so the prefabs were temporary housing stock and returned in the last days of the GLC before it was dissolved in 1986, who build permanent housing in their place.
The artist Bobby Baker was living in one of these prefabs at 13 Condor Street, and it’s from her home that she planned a weeklong installation, being awarded Arts Council funding of £570 to do so. For this project Bobby Baker constructed an edible family of five - mother, father, teenage daughter, son and baby positioned around the house, set in separate scenes of papered magazines or newspapers relating to the family member themselves, baby magazine for the baby, teenage images for the teenage daughter, comics for the son etc, and decorated with pipped icing sugar. The bodies were assembled from chicken wire to form mesh skeletons to carry cake and biscuits, except the mother who was formed of a dressmaker's dummy torso, with teapot head and wooden stall legs on wheels who could move around the space, and a teapot head. Her torso also had open compartments that each day were filled with fresh food, sandwiches etc, and her head teapot was kept full of hot tea, so each visitor was served refreshments. The other exception was the baby, made of coconut cake without any internal structure, Bobby Baker expressed her upset that at the end of the week there was nothing left of the baby.
The event was publicised by Bobby Baker writing up the invitations herself and placing them in handmade boxes. It was well attended by London artists and lots of local people, and school children came in and sampled the edible family themselves. The installation received lots of press coverage, however no one from the art world came to review it. For an Acme house to be a place where art was made, morphed into a place that became art, subverted the expectations of where art happens by placing it in a domestic setting, not only that but the perennial gallery demand “Not to touch” the artwork also was turned inside out - here the viewers became literal consumers of the work, nibbling or grabbing bits of it and washing it down with hot tea.
From 8 November 2023, Tate Britain will restage this major feminist artwork which has not been seen for almost 50 years: Bobby Baker's radical sculptural installation An Edible Family in a Mobile Home. A replica of Baker’s prefabricated East London Acme house will be situated outside of Tate Britain as part of the “Women in Revolt” exhibition. (Further work by Bobby Baker will also be displayed inside the gallery). It will contain five life-size sculptures of family members made from cake, biscuits, meringues and snacks, which will be steadily eaten by the public. Visitors to Tate Britain will be invited into the home to sample the edible sculptures whilst browsing the interior, and talk to hosts trained by Baker herself.
As part of Acme’s 50 Anniversary activities, 50 Opportunities for 50 years, we will be sponsoring the employment of 2 aspiring artist hosts to be paid the London Living wage working as performative hosts in ‘An Edible Family in a Mobile Home’ and will be co-hosting a discussion event related to the project with Tate in early 2024