The Knowledge Emporium

This project has a marvellously appealing idea behind it: first, open a shop where people 'buy' sweets, not with money, but with knowledge. Then, perform some of what you've learnt to an audience who may or may not have taken part earlier in the process.

Slung Low is a company from Leeds who have taken their sweet shop to various places in the UK. Entering the old-fashioned Airstream caravan that houses their shop is an extraordinary experience. There is a large red book and you can write anything in it: they don't specify what kind of knowledge they want and there is no fact-checking.

There is something very attractive in being able to impart knowledge in this way. You don't know whether it will be used or not, but most people who write in the book seem to consider what they will use carefully. The large volume has a sense of permanence to it, which makes you feel that you are contributing to something grand. Naturally, once you have entered something into 'The Big Book of Everything We Know', you get to choose some sweets from the jars on the shelves.

The show performed at the end of the Emporium's stay in any particular place combines readings of randomly selected entries from the book with demonstrations of some others. Some people write down recipes that may be tried out during the performance. Assertions about physical acts, such as ‘It is not impossible to lick your own elbow’, are also included; this particular example was proven by a brave (and presumably quite limber) audience member at the Edinburgh show.

There is a lot of interaction, as audience members are invited to take part in the readings and might even be asked to do some cooking. The most fun aspect, however, is simply hearing what people decided to write in the book. Some write down jokes or short statements full of potential, such as ‘MacBooks are wine-proof... to an extent’. Others write childhood memories, such as a touching description of one person's realisation that she would be living with her grandparents from that point on. There are animal facts, medical facts, obscure details from various fields of knowledge, and historical anecdotes. There are also motivational slogans and people arguing the case for something that is important to them, such as the person explaining how the art world should learn from the culinary revolution in order to keep the work created in the UK fresh and relevant in a global context. The team from Slung Low do not edit or censor the knowledge they are given and the statements are not checked for factual accuracy. The point is to share what we know, even if someone else knows better.

The performance could be planned better; there is a haphazard feel to things, as the table is in the way of passers by, the pieces to be read are selected out of an ugly cardboard box, and there is quite a lot of bumbling from the presenter. If the performance was better rehearsed, the whole experience would become more entertaining. As it stands, a rather brilliant idea is let down by sloppy execution, although it is still great fun to participate - and I'm not even saying that because of the sweets.

The Blurb

A sweetshop inside a 1960s airstream caravan, The Emporium doesn't accept money - you trade stuff you know for sweets. Then we'll perform a reading at the end of the week from all the knowledge you've given us.