This article was originally published in Dutch on MUNCHIES NL.
Artist Arjen Boerstra will soon travel to the South Pole to make fries. Earlier this month, he kicked off his project during the potato-harvest festival in Groningen in the Netherlands. He parked his French-fry stall two kilometers away from the festival. The stand looked a bit sad, as it stood there in an empty field. However, some festival attendees managed to find it. This was all just a trial run for Arjen’s ultimate goal: selling chips in no man’s land at the South Pole.
I was wondering why the hell Arjen would like to make fries on the other side of the world, between glaciers, in the freezing cold. So I called him to find out.
MUNCHIES: Hi Arjen, could you explain what this project is all about?
Arjen Boerstra: In 2004, I began to think of all the things I could become. As an artist, you don’t really become anything. An artist doesn’t really participate in society. I had the idea to create roles that allowed me to occasionally participate in life—but in an unexpected way.
I started by putting my car in the middle of a potato field. That’s how the final product, fries, got in contact with the beginning of the product, the potato. In this way, the farmers were able to eat their very own harvest in the form of chips. When you put a chip shop in town, it means nothing because there are so many of them. Only when you take the stall from it’s familiar surroundings and put it in an unexpected place, it becomes something special. I did the same thing during Oerol [a cultural festival on the Dutch island of Terschelling. My stall wasn’t parked amidst the festivities, but on a secluded beach. Visitors of the festival were welcome to pick up fries, but passing boats could also moor there to order some fries. I think it’s got a romantic element to it.
Why does a French-fry stall inspire you as an artist?
I’ve got some nice childhood memories of these stalls. We used to live in a neighborhood where you could find fry stalls regularly. Where someone else might have fond memories of the ice-cream man, I’ve got that of the chip shop. We also used to eat fries on the beach frequently, but the fact that I was on the beach of Terschelling during Oeral was actually just a coincidence.
The potato is like a red thread through your life as an artist, why?
The potato has an important place in the Netherlands, both in the lives of many people and in our diet. I’ve actually done more projects with potatoes, such as a potato morph, where my head turns into a potato. You are what you eat, literally. My whole life, I’ve been told that my rather bulbous head looks like a potato. So it’s simply a matter of self-mockery.
What is the ultimate goal of your project?
I would like to be completely rigged on a glacier in Antarctica. I can already imagine how that would be: I’m looking outside and get completely lost in the view of the landscape. And then I’ll make some fries and sell them in the middle of nowhere. It’s got a raw feeling to it. The journey itself will be a great adventure as well. We’ll travel with three people—I’m taking a camera crew with me. They’re going to film everything. Eventually, I want there to be a documentary and a series of photos.
Antarctica is a big trip. It is likely that relatively few people will come by for a snack, but when they do, wouldn’t they be scared of a French-fry stall? You see them abroad rarely, let alone at the South Pole.
I want to translate the traditional Dutch street scene to Antarctica. That’s the ultimate goal for me. French fries are low culture and art is high culture. I would like to connect the two cultures.
Is it actually possible to make fries in the cold?
I have no idea what the gas and deep-frying fat will do at a temperature of minus twenty. It’s part of the adventure; I see it all as one great discovery trip. I plan to rent a car to transport the fry stall, and go through South America toward the South Pole, but I can always deviate from this plan. The route is at least as important as the goal itself with this project. If we go towards the South Pole by ship, we will at some point sail into an area where it’s freezing. I must cut the potatoes and have them peeled before then. I think it’s a romantic idea to cut and peel potatoes on board. I can imagine myself sitting there. I will of course make some tasty fries for the crew.
How much do people actually pay for the fries?
They pay two euros for a portion of fries and the mayonnaise is for free. They may also have as much mayo as they want. You don’t get a lot of mayo on your fries nowadays, and I think that’s nonsense, so I don’t ask for any extra money for more sauce.
Are you planning to also make fries at other places on your route?
I’ll see what I encounter, and from there I’ll look at which options I have. It would be awesome to stand somewhere on a cliff. But everything is fine, as long as it’s just far away from civilization and deep into nature. I’ll be dealing with primal forces, which I find exciting. It reminds me a bit of a painting by Caspar David Friedrich, ‘Wanderer above the Sea of Fog’. Although the man is prominently displayed, he’s still insignificant and small. That image fascinates me. Many people don’t understand my project. ‘What’s the point of it?’ I often hear. But you don’t ask that question for everything in life, do you? If you are going to think of all the senseless and impossible things in life, I feel sorry for you.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Follow and support Arjen’s project at www.antarcticpotatoeater.org.