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  Richard Layzell – Art Work / Work Art

Day Four
Monday 18th August 2003
Park Cafeen
Lillehammer

 
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The new look
The new look

Hands high
Hands high

We insist on being served by him
We insist on being served by him

 

The early morning clouds gradually lifted above the mountains to reveal a clear morning. Monday was expected to be a quiet day in the Park Cafeen. But there was a long table already set up outside, before the official opening time of 11.30, with about 20 people drinking coffee and eating cake. This was to be a theme for the day. People kept on coming. It was hard to know why beyond the weather.

With just one person working at the counter, and a long queue of customers forming, there was a clear need for help. We were short of staff and I enthusiastically stepped in to fill the gap. I served food, cleared tables, talked to people and had a very clear focus. This may have been partly because I’d made some adjustments in my uniform. It looked near perfect to me now. I wore braces and arm bands (holding up shirt sleeves), a large back apron and a smaller white one over it. I felt like a professional and quite a good one. And the sun was shining, people were enjoying being outside, and I was enjoying being a slightly larger-than-life waiter in a cafe without waiters.

Everything else went on hold. The inside art-table was there, but not so active. The outside art-table was never installed. I decided this was the opportunity to let my service become more expansive. I would allow my arms to elevate very high as the plates were carried, to make slow circular movements around doorways and steps, to see the journey from kitchen to table as an adventure in poise, timing and space. As the plate arrived on the table I adjusted it slightly with a small rotation, making sure the picture was up the right way. Only I knew the absolutely correct alignment. It was a waiter’s secret.

Continuing the theme of ‘serving the Park’ I went off on one of my circuits and stopped at the band stand, where there were four teenage break-dancers, with a ghetto blaster playing strangely familiar 80s hits. They looked worried as I entered the arena, but were keen to take me up on the offer of a personally delivered cola a few minutes later.

This sense of an extended ‘patch’ was expanded further when I walked into the city centre a couple of hours later. It seemed a hassle to take off the uniform and I now felt in full ownership of it. We were in harmony. As I passed a fellow waiter at a neighbouring restaurant delivering food to an outside table I found myself suggesting to him where the order belonged. “Try that table over there”. Lillehammer was now my oyster. I could serve the whole community. I was indomitable.

Back at the Park, the sun was still shining and I decided to wear dark glasses. They added slightly sinister Reservoir Dogs references to my uniform, but you didn’t see those guys carrying trays of food with this kind of panache.

There were many opportunities to join strangers, acquaintances and fellow artists at their tables for an intimate chat. This was now becoming a significant extension of my role, and of the project. People like to talk. Some people are lonely. Some were intrigued and bewildered at my unfailing lack of Norwegian and unabashed use of English. It was a good opening. My whole relationship with customers was slightly ‘other’. But only slightly. If you were ‘in the know’ it was obvious. If you weren’t, it wasn’t. To explain it as an artwork was a complex business. Not everyone can grasp it.

But then there was the lady in the purple hat who said to me with a quiet intensity “service is the highest form of work for a man”.

 

     
 
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