Why I made a mountain of fortune cookies in my little London flat during lockdown—all in the name of art

Biscuit sculptures have sprung up worldwide as part of a global initiative to celebrate the late artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres

The kitchen chair was chosen as the best location for the stack of 271 fortune cookies Photo: Gareth Harris

The kitchen chair was chosen as the best location for the stack of 271 fortune cookies Photo: Gareth Harris

It was all very last minute. I was told just over a week ago that I was one of 1,000 participants selected for a global exhibition dedicated to the late artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres. The projectwhich entails creating Untitled (Fortune Cookie Corner) (1990)—is a clever and moving way of marking the launch of the Felix Gonzalez-Torres foundation’s new website. But how do you build an art work in the middle of a pandemic?

“If you do want to participate and have an opportunity to live with a work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres in a ‘place’ of your choice, it’s not too late,” said the email from Andrea Rosen Gallery and David Zwirner gallery, who co-represent the artist’s estate. At this moment in time—when the world is grappling with a virus that is exacerbating inequality across the world and empowering authoritarian regimes—nothing could be more comforting than building a mountain of biscuits at home.

Dilemma number one: sourcing more than 250 fortune cookies in a pandemic is not exactly easy (shout out to Thai Smile supermarket in Hammersmith, west London, for providing 21 boxes which we hauled back to our west London flat). Dilemma number two: where to pile this cluster of cakes in a shoebox-size space.

"Why the f*** are we bothering, I’m going to watch Bargain Hunt, this won’t work."

The “parameters” for installing the work are fairly strict and rightly so—us FGT guinea pigs are all part of an interconnecting initiative due to run until 5 July. All of our chosen installation spots are “places” in the total “site” as the project statement says, commemorating an artist who focused on the broader notions of public and private, individual responsibility, and a sense of what unites us—could anything be more apposite in the circumstances?

The roof terrace seemed a logical location but we did not want to startle the blue tits that commune there at dawn. Using the bathroom made me feel queasy—nobody can concentrate on their ablutions if a mound of shiny cookie packaging is staring right back at you. The kitchen won out in the end; the chair beside our breakfast table seemed the most unobtrusive, manageable spot and it is nestled in the “corner” of the table after all…

Dilemma number three: how to place 271 cookies on a chair. My partner fastidiously placed and re-placed the little packets, and stayed cool as cookies tumbled and scattered. My impatience grew: why the f*** are we bothering, I’m going to watch Bargain Hunt, this won’t work.

And then the mound became a strangely beautiful little stack that took on its own guise and meaning. We eat a cookie every day with coffee, a ritual that is keeping us sane. On 14 June, the pile must be replenished (all those breakfast treats must be accounted for; “regenerating” the heap is key, a reminder that things endure, keep going, rejuvenate).

Some family members just don’t get it (“your flat is tiny, why are you taking up all that room with bloody biscuits?”). But waking up daily and seeing Untitled (Fortune Cookie Corner), sat alongside the Nutri-bullet and washing machine is truly transformative. All we need during lockdown are positive aphorisms encrusted inside crisp and sugary biscuit layers. Life-affirming confectionery is saving me; thank you Felix Gonzalez-Torres.

• Gareth Harris is The Art Newspaper's chief contributing editor