It was raining and I was slumped in my bed halfway through the newest episode of Top Chef All Stars.The thought of going to another lecture on art was less than appealing after spending four hours that morning in my Intro to Photography class critiquing mediocre college freshman art projects.Though tired, I finally managed to pull myself out from under my covers. I grabbed my umbrella and trudged to Nolita to Trade School, a pop-up bartering school where anyone can teach a class and anyone can attend with something to exchange in hand. For my class, Food in Art: An Edible History, taught by Tracy Candido, I was to bring gluten free flour to be donated for her monthly Community Cooking Club.
I walked into a bright, cheery classroom with canary yellow lined walls and chalkboards with a few periwinkle pews facing a projector in the middle. Child-size worn-in desks radiated out from the pews and were set with a plastic cup, a flowered dixie bowl, and a 60s inspired patterned napkin. As I sat down towards the back, a friendly volunteer promptly asked me if I cared for some jasmine tea. The fresh feeling of the room and jittery excitement of the students raised my mood. Being someone interested in both food and art, I am always fascinated in where the two subjects intersect. I was attracted to this class because of its multi-sensory approach–we were going to be tasting the food that was the subject of the art pieces.
Once half of the seats were filled with artists, teachers, chefs and students, class commenced running a few minutes behind. The relaxed group-led discussion covered everything from Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Condensed Tomato Soup” (1962) to Paul Shore and Nicole Koot’s “New York Brownie Room (After Walter de Maria)” (2010). The structure of the material was organic without any culinary or artistic order–we started off sampling generic white bread and butter while looking at the piece “Untitled” (1995) by Martin Parr, then moving on to munching on pickles and discussing Erwin Wurm’s self portrait, “Sebportrait als Esigurkel” (2008) and Jennifer’s Rubell’s “Padded Cell” (2010), complemented by cotton candy. From the art, a wide range of subjects such as sexuality, sustainability, capitalism, patriotism, and desire were illuminated. I was reminded of how food crosses almost every aspect of our lives–culture, history, religion, politics, economics, the environment to name a few. Day to day, I normally forget the outwardly radiating significance of the vegan hummus wrap I usually order for lunch at the dining hall.
Even though this class was no gastronomic adventure–we were chowing down on ordinary garlic deli pickles, Marciano cherries, Hägen Daz coffee ice cream–the tasting prompted interesting class discussion. We chatted about smell, taste, and texture, senses not normally engaged while viewing art. Personally, eating what we were seeing did not add much depth to my personal comprehension of the art, but it certainly sparked lively class discussion among others.
The class, as Tracy said, was an experiment. Even though I did not learn as much about art or food as I would have liked to, the multi-sensory approach was an original and fun way to discuss the material that brought up not only personal opinions but personal antidotes which enriched the dialog. If all of my classes were structured like Food in Art, I would definitely be more eager to wake up at 8am on a crit day in Photography.