Observations: Chip-lit is in the bag at this year's London Word Festival

Nancy Grove
Friday 19 March 2010 01:00 GMT

Now in its third year, the 2010 London Word Festival has been serving up the kind of verbal gastronomics we have come to expect from the east end's most collaborative literary event, with Toby Litt, Iain Sinclair and physicist Brian Cox just some of the treats on this month's menu.

But it's the Chip Shop – a live installation from the resident Henningham Family Press – which is satisfying the biggest appetites. This life-size replica of a traditional chip counter has been dishing up people's favourite words, screen-printed onto chipboard and wrapped up in newspaper to take away, for just £1 each, roughly the price of a bag of chips.

More used to printing small editions from their Dalston workshop, the Henninghams (David and wife Ping) cooked up the idea while waiting in the queue at their own chippy. "We suddenly realised that not only was this technically the perfect set-up for live printing, but also an environment where everyone knows how to behave," says David. "Performance art can be quite alienating. We wanted the opposite of that."

When the Chip Shop popped up at the festival launch party, guests could choose from five words chalked up as Catch of the Day, with "archipelago" proving most popular. But at Toynbee Studios on Sunday, more than 130 people lined up to order their own – crepuscular, incandescent, pigeon – and by 5pm, the shop had sold out. "Even the man who sells us veg at the market turned up," reports Ping happily. "Everyone was standing around chatting while they waited for their words."

The couple are back behind the counter in Stoke Newington tomorrow for the all-day Keep Printing and Carry On event, which sees musician Darren Hayman collaborating with master lithographer Murray Macaulay and the screening of the short film Sister Corita the Screen Printing Nun. Then, on 31 March, the poet Ian McMillan is in Shoreditch to premiere "The Chip Shop Poem", a new commission composed from all the words dished up over the month. It's literature – just not on a plate.


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