tisch im raum/the cake in the room
Kunsthalle Exnergasse (KEX) at 
Werkstatten- und Kulterhaus (WUK)
Vienna, Austria 2011     
drawing, dinner table, performance

Samuel Jablon of Bomb Magazine engages artist
Aaron Sheppard in a discussion about his new 
work the cake in the room, Alice in Wonderland, 
Jesus, and Miss Havisham.
This conversation began when I met Aaron 
Sheppard at an opening in Chelsea, and ended 
months later. In person as well as over email, 
we explored transformations and transitions 
from Jesus to Marie Antoinette for Aaron’s 
performance/dinner party, cake in the room part
of the tisch im raum (table in the room) series
at the Kunsthalle Exnergasse in Vienna, Austria.
Aaron’s performance, which occurred in mid-July,
highlighted stereotypes in physical appearance 
and explored the humanity hidden in the transi-
tions between transformations. As Aaron went to 
Vienna and I left for Beijing, our conversation 
transitioned to a cross-continental dialogue, 
but ultimately wrapped it up much closer to 
home, both transformed by our travels, chatting 
over a beer back in New York.
Samuel Jablon Could you tell me about your perf-
ormance in Vienna?
Aaron Sheppard tisch im raum (table in the room)
is an ongoing project/tradition for Kunsthalle 
Exnergasse which involves presenting an artist’s
work to 50 dinner guests seated at one long 
dinner table placed inside the gallery. Dis-
cussion of the art occurs around the table with
the artist either before or after the work has 
been viewed and food and wine have been consumed. 
Always a one-night event, the table and work re-
main on display for the duration of the exhibit, 
accompanied by video and audio of the dinner and 
For my own show at KEX it interested me to em-
body or narrate elements in my drawings. I want-
ed to explore further, performatively, my spe-
cific fascinations with the Austrian artist/ill-
ustrator Franz von Bayros (whose line etchings 
I have been studying for the last few years, 
serendipitously), Sir John Tenniel, of Alice 
and Punch & Judy fame, as well as Max Ernst’s 
books of collage. I first created one large 
drawing. The drawing collages elements from the 
artists’ works mentioned into one 3×15’ graphite
and red latex on paper work. Just as the table 
in the room is a meeting place for sustenance 
and ideas, my drawing represents this as well.
The drawing is source for performance and form-
ally acted as a backdrop to the performance. 
The shape of the drawing was bastardized/Amer-
icanized from the dimensions of the dinner 
table: 1 meter by 15 meters.Rather than occurr-
ing before or after the traditional dinner at 
the table in the room, I wanted the performance 
and actual work to BE the dinner, at which time 
transformations took place from myself into 
Jesus Christ into Miss Havisham/Edie Beale into 
Marie Antoinette into a Vegas vagabond, exposing 
my body as a malleable material or canvas—food 
and body, body and food for thought.
SJ Could you expand on the transformation you 
went through during the performance?
AS I was most concerned with the transformation 
in the beginning of the performance and spent 
the most time thinking about that. I wanted to 
create an unanticipated starting point so that 
I could more slowly change my viewers’ percep-
tions. I welcomed people to the dinner table 
after giving time for viewing the drawing on 
the wall. I began pouring wine around the table 
and personally addressing each guest as I moved.
As I removed my clothing, individuals adjacent 
to me first realized then that the performance 
had begun. My original plan to recite “Alice” 
by Tom Waits, line-by-line, changed the minute 
the door was opened to the gallery space. I had 
an immediate and strong interaction with the 
guests and understood at that moment that we 
were all in for a more spontaneous and interact-
ive evening.So my plan changed for the better, 
and became more intuitive since I was uncomfort-
able with transforming from myself into an actor
(in my mind) by reciting something from memory
as a way to introduce what was to come into the
first transition of the performance. Rather 
than what I somewhat anticipated (although I 
really had no idea what to expect), luring en-
gagement was not a problem.
Once nude, I donned a robe and a crown of thorns
as Jesus and at the dinner table toasted to 
Alice with slow outstretched arm gestures. Be-
cause a connection with guests had already been
somewhat established, a spontaneous decision to
ask each if they would like beard with their 
clam came about. (By this point the table had 
been served fresh oysters that had been shucked
by the chef in the same room.) With an electric
razor, I removed Jesus beard and other body hair
onto plates. 
The change from Jesus into Miss Havisham turned
more introvertive, ignoring the table completely
at times while shaving in a mirror, yet also in-
vading guests on an individual basis when runn-
ing to the table demanding assistance with the 
necklace or zip-up of the dress. Once complete
as Havisham, my attention was directed toward 
the individuals at the table without attending
to the comfort of her guests but rather pushing
on her guests her demands: excess of wine over-
flowing, switching of plates, more/less food.
Marie Antoinette put on lingerie, again self-
absorbed in the mirror. Behind a scrim Marie 
enters a table with cake as outfit and a plumed
wig. I exit the scrim to receive guests, walk 
around the table with a projection of Stardust 
Casino imploding on Marie and cake as she serves
up mega-oversized helpings of cake to each guest
as if cutting into her porcelain skin or dress 
to reveal red velvet flesh cake inside.
The last of the transitions had Marie climbing/
birthing out from over the remaining cake, onto
the dinner table… removal of the corset, wig, 
and gloves, grabing water guns filled with al-
cohol, spraying guests’ mouths and faces while 
rolling across the table. Exit room. 
This briefly outlines the two-hour performance
of transitions. I exposed the transitions and 
process to bring emphasis to it, from organized
presentation and planning into raw engagement
with material and body to show psychological 
transitions of self—conversations with self and
material. Spending time looking at oneself in 
the mirror and projecting images and psycholog-
ies of self, engaging with other individuals and
space, roles to be played, expectations of self 
by the individuals or the group: these are 
thoughts at the core of the transitions in this
SJ Did you end up having live animals running 
around the venue for your performance?
AS In a way. 30 live snails, each about 3-4 
inches in length, were placed to crawl upon tea-
pots at the dinner table during the evening.
SJ The snails are a nice touch. I like how you 
decided to wing it. How did the audience respond
to your dash of beard?
AS Some guests asked for dash of beard on their
food, others wanted it in their hands or in a 
napkin, some didn’t want anything to do with it,
one guest demanded pubic hair. 
SJ Through your transformations were you attempt-
ing to show your different personalities? Or how
many different personas one person can have? Was
there any response you tried to elicit from your
dinner guests?
AS I think of the transformations as an inner 
dialogue between a variety of characters exist-
ing inside one that together create the self. 
We are all part female, part male, part nurtur-
ing, part narcissistic, part spiritual, part 
traditional, part sexy, part grotesque—and 
live in a world with others having their own 
specific balance of elements. I hoped to por-
tray, and be something of an example of, the 
way a history of individuals inform each of us 
in some way. To recognize the overall collective
pool we each as individuals are part of, the 
zeitgeist. The transformations hodgepodge spe-
cific personalities torn apart from the collect-
ive yet residing within each of us, informing us
in each decision we make that then define the 
self. The individuals I chose to portray in the
performance have been instrumentally at the 
forefront of my consciousness, informing my 
work. The spectacle of this performance may have
removed the guests from thinking about their own
informing personas during the action in the room
(or not), but symbols and clues remain for later
interpretations to this performance, asking “why”
or “what was that I just experience,” or “why 
did I respond the way I did to that type of ex-
Oh! And then there were the transformations in 
food: mushrooms on toast (Alice eating of the 
mushroom to become large/small), oysters (cur-
ious little oysters), rabbit (caught up with 
the white rabbit finally), red wine and bread
(last supper), cake (“let them eat cake”).
SJ Is there any connection to your paintings and 
multi/transgendered performances?
AS I feel my paintings and other object works
relate directly to my performances. Similar to 
conversing with material as paint, light, wood, 
plaster or aluminum, I converse with my body as 
material—move it, transform it, contort it, 
cover, or unveil it. This questioning of a mat-
erial’s potential also translates to questioning 
of the self’s potential psychologically. It de-
fines self and aesthetics. 
SJ Is this more of a personal transformation or 
do you hope your performances raise awareness 
and foster some sort of understanding between 
transgender, gay, straight, and pansexual 
AS The transformations are both personal and 
universal. Regardless of a person’s gender, sex
or various orientations with others, we each po-
ssess a physical body that interacts with the
tangible world. Some features we manipulate, 
decorate, or modify to suit our wishes for how
we want others to perceive us. Rituals and rites
of passage exist in each culture for sacrificing
a part of our physicality for spiritual advance-
ment or traditional connection. Society tells us
which presentations are acceptable. Many laws 
have been made and broken purely on outward 
appearances—judgments create stereotypes and 
divisions of people. This aspect of humanity 
interests me. The transformations are to raise 
awareness of this overall aspect. We all innate-
ly respond to visual, physical appearances for a
variety of reasons. For example, a person with a
beard means something different than a person 
without one, meaning that religion, gender, sex-
ual orientation, race, economic status, power 
stature, spiritual awareness, regional influence,
age, cleanliness, etcetera can all be factors in
question simply based upon whether a person has
a beard or not. (Which brings up an interesting 
oint about where the term “beard” came from for
hiding one’s own sexual orientation.)
SJ When did you start doing these types of perf-
AS I began presenting these types of performanc-
es in about 1996 while in undergraduate studies
at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington DC.
My professor, Kendall Buster, happened upon some
self-portrait photographs in my studio (that I 
had been staging only for myself personally for
the many years prior) and encouraged me to pur-
sue it outside of my closeted comfort zone. 
Years later, after moving to New York City, I 
pursued drag as lifestyle, entertainment and 
art upon being inspired, encouraged, demanded 
by Mistress Formika and Mother Flawless Sabrina.
SJ The combination of personas, food, perform-
ance, live snails, paintings, and the audience 
is pretty amazing. Did you have a plan for your
performance? Or is it more improvised? It seems
there are so many unknown elements like your 
beard shavings that keep things interesting.
AS For this project, nearly every element was 
planned out ahead of time. Yet it’s true that 
it’s in the details that make or break a piece.
Each character was realized and understood when
I went into this performance. I created ward-
robes for each with specific changing stations.
Improvisations took place as described earlier.
Overall, I look forward to discovering places 
where my concrete decisions will deviate into 
pure guts and glory, raw spontaneity, as if 
finding that same groove when spreading paint 
across a blank canvas, when it simply works and
paints itself and you listen and you follow. 

-Samuel Jablon
 Bomb Magazing-BOMBLOG
 September 6, 2011

all photographs by Songul Boyraz, Rachel Maki, Klaus Schafler 

Cake, 2011
graphite, acrylic on paper
36 x 240 inches