Installation at the National College of Art & Design, Dublin.

The Food for Thought Café and Shop was an installation produced for the artist’s Degree Show in NCAD in 2000. The artist ran the café, cooking, cleaning and serving customers. At the back of the café, playing continuously was a video, entitled I imagined if I kept smiling I would become a millionaire, which showed the artist trying to smile for as long as possible, until she was unable to smile any longer. The same video of the artist smiling was played simultaneously beside the cashier counter in the Bank of Ireland in Dame Street, Dublin, for the duration of the exhibition. The artist had been inspired by the many corporate-style, in-house videos played in Irish banks during the Celtic Tiger era, showing smiling women offering various bank loans to customers.

O Donohue had completed a Diploma in Limerick School of Art and Design and had worked as an artist before returning to NCAD as the parent of a young child, to undertake a BA in Fine Art. For her end of year exhibition, she wanted to create an interactive space that would highlight the fact that many artists have to undertake a variety of different low-paid jobs, often within the service industry. It’s generally not acknowledged in art college that many graduates will have to work various non-art jobs, in order to survive as a practicing artist.

At the back of the café there was an office table, full of business cards. The cards advertised the various types of jobs the artist had worked, to financially support her practice as an artist. While at college, the artist had worked as a dishwasher in Bewley’s café in the city centre. At the time, Bewley’s was temporary closed for renovation work and so donated tables and chairs to furnish The Food for Thought Café and Shop for the duration of the exhibition.

O Donohue’s café provided delicious fresh homemade food and proved to be extremely popular – it was packed for lunch every day. Many students didn’t realise the café was actually an artwork and thought the college had opened a new restaurant. In fact, the NCAD canteen had just been taken over by a new multinational catering company. They were very unhappy with The Food for Thought Café and Shop, claiming they had the sole contract to sell food on the campus. The company made a complaint to the college authorities and sought to have the café closed down.

The Sculpture Department lecturers were very supportive and tried to negotiate the situation, explaining that the café would only be in existence for the duration of the exhibition. The registrar of the college moved to close the café. The artist received a letter stipulating that food could not be served in the café. Noticing that the letter didn’t say anything about serving drink, the artist decided to contact Jameson Distilleries – NCAD in situated on the grounds of the old Jameson distillery. A couple of boxes of Jameson whiskey was gifted for the exhibition launch, a DJ was organised and a variety of complementary whiskey drinks were served to visitors. For the week of the exhibition, the artist served complementary tea, cake and biscuits, and welcomed non-paying diners at the cafe.