Performing Ethnography at Hunt & Darton Café

By Catherine Wilkinson

On Wednesday 25th March, I took up my Researcher in Residence placement at Hunt & Darton Café in Manchester. Hunt & Darton Café is an award-winning pop-up café which unites art with the everyday. Despite being an installation, presented by artists Jenny Hunt and Holly Darton, the café is fully-functioning with a range of food and drink. Through performance, Hunt and Darton showcase the ‘behind the scenes’ of the business; for instance, displaying their profits for the day on a blackboard for customers to see. It was my task to explore methods of documenting and archiving the live art and performance. During my ethnography of the café, I participated as a customer yet made audio recordings; took photographs; and made field diary entries. Because it was the 25th of the month (March), Hunt & Darton café naturally celebrated Christmas Day. In attempting to capture my observations from the day, in a way which does justice to the performativity of the café, I present to you a poem.

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As I approached Hunt & Darton Café I could tell I was in for a treat,
Before I knew it I was greeted with “Happy Christmas, take a seat!”
There was a Christmas tree in the window, mulled wine, and mince pies,
I thought “It’s March, not December”, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Perhaps more strangely, I saw two ladies in broccoli dresses,
It was Hunt and Darton – they even had broccoli branches in their tresses.
The artists approached me, asking “would you like coffee or tea?”
“I’d love a cuppa thank you, with milk, but no sugar for me”.
As I sipped on my brew I marvelled at the crockery,
Then they commenced the quiz and I soon was made a mockery.
“How many sides does a snowflake have?” they asked.
“I know this, I thought…12” – “No, it’s six” – my knowledge was surpassed.
Question number 5 and my score was still zero,
Then a stranger sat down next to me – John – he fast became my hero.
John was getting questions correct left, right, and centre,
I mean – he even knew the name of the mince pie inventor!
The quiz was terminated momentarily as Hunt and Darton took their break,
John got up to leave “back to work for me” he said “I’ve got money to make”,
The quiz was resumed and without John’s presence I felt defeated,
I have to confess that (with use of good old Google) on at least one occasion I cheated.
It was somewhat a relief when the quiz came to an end,
My performance had been poor, there was nothing to commend.
“20 minutes until unhappy hour” Hunt and Darton declared,
“Unhappy hour, what’s this?” I admit it – I was scared.
I was told “the mood gets very sombre and you’re not allowed to laugh”,
At first I thought “forget this, get me out this caff”.
But as the clock struck 6.30pm I soon realised it was nothing malicious,
Hunt and Darton simply wanted to know “what has been your worst Christmas?”
As they walked around the café evoking stories of great sadness,
I couldn’t help but think “what on earth is all this madness”.
It was soon time for me to leave in my getaway car,
But truthfully I loved every second, no matter how strange, how bizarre.

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Moving forward with the project, I have a few aims to keep me busy:

  • I will use the audio recordings, in the form of vox pops and soundbites, to produce an audio documentary which captures the atmosphere at the café.
  • I will create an ‘uncomic strip’, continuing the theme of ‘unhappy hour’, to document my ethnographic findings and the ‘characters’ I met.
  • I will be visiting Hunt & Darton café in Folkestone 9th-10 May to continue my ethnographic observations.

I look forward to working with creative methods to document the performativity of Hunt & Darton Café.

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