Apr 3, 2016
This essay was originally titled “Sex, Ecstasy & Agony: The Cuisine of Controversial Artists, Poets, Designers” and was a first year university (well art school) paper. I found the it interesting enough to post over here. The goal of the assignment was to create an art proposal and statement for an artwork. The “performance art” was never actually done unfortunately.
The Futurist Manifesto, authored by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, marked the start of the Futurist artistic and cultural movement as it strove to abandon all remains of the past in favor of all things that related to Modernization in the 19th century. This controversial manifesto sought to “destroy museums, libraries, academies of every kind (as well as) moralism, feminism.” (Marinetti) Instead it glorified “the beauty of speed,” and war, which he described as “the world’s only hygiene.” (Marinetti) Alongside speed and war, they were “championing over the machine, the machine and technology” (Jensen 2) Some Scholars consider the ideas of The Futurist Manifesto to have helped The Fascist movement. (Jensen 2) Although short lasting, the Futurism movement spanned across many mediums from painting and sculpting to photography and fashion. (Jensen 2)
Sex, Ecstasy & Agony: The Cuisine of Controversial Artist, Poets, Designers explores a lesser known field touched by The Futurists, food. Futurist Cuisine, called for the “importance of food for the creative, reproductive, aggressive capacity of the human race.” (Marinetti 29) The legacy of this cultural phenomenon was documented in Marinetti’s The Futurist Cookbook. The manifestos presented in book outlined Futurist ideas applied to the kitchen, this included: the incorporation of the use of chemistry “for providing the body with necessary calories trough equivalent nutrients in powder or pills,” “absolute originality in food,” “the abolition of knife and fork in eating food structures,” “the use of prescribed doses of poetry and music as surprise ingredients,” and “a battery of scientific instruments in the kitchen”. (Marinetti 35, 36, 38, 39) Futurist Cuisine was controversial in its era. Most infamously they also called for the “abolition of (pasta),” which they considered “an absurd Italian gastronomic tradition” (Marinetti 34) However, their rethinking of cooking, advocacy for science in cooking, and the way introduced they fine arts into cuisine could easily be called an early precursor to French Nouvelle Cuisine as well as modern Molecular Gastronomy.
This makes Futurist Cuisine an important, although underrated part of Modernist art. It’s unexplored by chefs for being too vulgar and at times disgusting. The recipe for The Italian Sea, Mediterranean Salad and Chicken-fiat for instance instructs one to place “a handful of ball bearings made of mild steel” inside the shoulder of a bird. (Marinetti 97) While at art institutions Futurist Cuisine is heavily overshadowed by the Futurist fine arts, painting and sculpting. These mediums are less troublesome and more widely acceptable to show, and have the benefit of no additional costs. Despite being ahead of its time in its belief of a complete culinary experience as well as the advocacy for science in the kitchen, Futurist Cuisine is in blind spot in the arts. This makes Futurist Cuisine an interesting form of “performative art” to explore and revive.
Sex, Ecstasy & Agony: The Cuisine of Controversial Artists, Poets, Designers is a modernized presentation of Futurist Cuisine that attempts to explore this uncharted territory, based around the ideas from The Futurist Cookbook. It consists of two parts, an actual multi-coursed Futurist inspired meal to be held at the Vancouver Art Gallery Cafe for one evening, and various recordings of the meal trough various mediums, including but not limited to photography, film, and sound. The recordings may be sold or licensed to other museums or be used for future exhibitions.
Although heavily modernized, the meal attempts to accurately portray the elements of Futurism in every aspect of the meal. A meal is not Futurist simply because it serves Futurist or Futurist inspired dishes, the entire experience has to conform to the ideas Marinetti presented which extends beyond the recipes. As Marinetti stated, there has to be “originality and harmony in the table setting extending to the flavours and colors of the foods.” (36) It’s important to involve every sense, and not just taste. Sound will be omitted while eating “to help annul the last taste enjoyed by re-establishing gustatory virginity” although will be used in between meals, in the form of “poetry and music as surprise ingredients.” (Marinetti 39) Following the manifesto, The sense of tactility will be enforced by the removal of cutlery, as well as the use of perfumes; both of these points were highlighted as rules 4 and 5 in The Futurist Cookbook. (Marinetti 38) Every dish a work of art, or a “food sculpture” as described by Marinetti, “whose original harmony of form and colour feeds the eyes and excites the imagination before it tempts the lips.” (37)
This culinary experience five courses being served in total; there are two appetizers, one main course, and two deserts. These rotate around three themes: Dreadnought, Ferrari, and Aeroplane. They’re based around the sea, land, and air respectively and are based around humans’ ability to conquer each aspect instead of aesthetics of nature itself. The room will change depending on the theme: different video will be projected on the walls of the room, different perfume will be scented, and different poetry will be read before meals.
The first appetizer is entitled “Battle of The Mediterranean” This appetizer celebrates battle, it glorifies defeat over an enemy rather sadistically. This act start with a cook bringing an aquarium to each table with a few lobsters inside of it. After each patron chooses their lobster, they’re taken out of the tank. One by one, the cook starts cutting off the head and preparing the lobsters into bite sized pieces. The lobsters are then placed in rectangular wooden plates with a scattering of blue sea-broth jellies cut into the shape of battleships. Next, whole unwaxed lemons are placed in a high immersion blender with seasoning. The resulting juice is poured trough a sieve over the lobster pieces. The last step is to pound peppercorn using a hammer and sprinkle it over the lobster. It should be noted that the lobsters still move to a certain extend after their heads are detached.
The second appetizer, entitled “Dancing Italian Woman”, consists of consists of raw beef slices placed on whole grain bread sticks in an abstracted shape of a dancing woman. The female figure relates to the Futurists somewhat sexualizing woman and being anti-feminist. This connects to that notion trough the use of meat to signify flesh. The use of whole grain bread is in response to V. G. Pennino, a supporter of Futurist Cuisine, who was a bit ahead of his time when he opposing white bread by criticized it as being “a useless food which forms an indigestible mass in the stomach.” (Pennino qtd. in Marinetti 50) Prior to serving this dish, sounds of fast paced random violin noises will be heard while rose perfume will be sprayed in the air while serving this dish.
The main course is “Pigeon Messenger” consisting of deep fried squabs stuffed with zucchini and tomatoes. A cut is made in the middle of the meat with a piece of paper stuck onto it. A Shakespeare poem is written on it. After placing the dish on the table, the paper is removed and set on fire with a blowtorch. The server then proceeds to insert another piece of paper containing the principles of the Futurist Manifesto. The dish is served on an elevated platform. The temperature of the room will be dropped while this dish is served to emulate the wind.
The first desert is “Shrimp in Motion”. At each table a cook prepares live Amaebi shrimp into sashimi form and then drops them into a bowl of vodka. Cubes of frozen Bloody Mary cocktail are placed around it afterwards. Sugar is sprinkled over everything. This dish relates motion of the shrimp to mechanized battle in the form of perfectly cubed cocktails.
The second desert is untitled and consists of chicken breast marinated in (slightly acidic) cocoa powder cooked in a water bath, then cut into squares and dipped in spiced white chocolate with almonds. Although deceiving as chocolates, the chicken is meant to invoke the element of surprise. Unlike the other dishes, this is served casually to end the meal.
The greatest ideas come outside your bubble. This dinner was explicitly designed to be bizarre. Although this is not on the premise of attempting to do things for its own sake, rather, it’s an experiment into expressing an ideology. Yes this is an ideology that helped start Fascism, but also one that revolutionized many different fields. Most great ideas don’t ever spring out of nowhere; Black Square wasn’t painted because Malevich could, rather it was because he gained a new opinion on art itself. Black Square was created in response to an ideology.
This dinner is a move to accomplish two goals. The first goal is to highlight an important and curious aspect of Modernism that has never been touched upon before. Futurist Cuisine is strange but noteworthy, and its best to have people experience it themselves instead of critics who simply emphasize its ridiculousness due to their abolishment of pasta. The second goal is to critique contemporary art, or rather to push the status quo. Futurism is in a strange position. It’s not something which people can simply dismiss as just propaganda, in the case of early Constructivist posters, but neither can they appreciate it as art for arts’ sake because it wasn’t made that way. Futurism sits in an uncanny middle ground. This makes it more uncomfortable to look at.
It’s no surprise that stereotypically it tends to be wealthy people whom enjoy designs with more ornaments, more prominent brand names, and the concept of more. Value is placed on the ownership, wealth, power, the celebration of materialism. On the flip side it was historically the more the political left wing that experimented with the idea of less: Bauhaus in Socialist Weimar, Scandinavian design, and the Communist Constructivists. Different ideology produces different culture. This is not to say that one is wrong and the other is right. Rather, one cannot pull these art and designs out of thin air, they have to originate somewhere. By ignoring one group of artist or designers on idealogical basis you may lose great ideas that don’t directly relate to the ideology despite having originated there. Ornamentally rich artworks brought us highly skilled and precise craftspersons while “less is more” brought us the foundation of modern design. However, in order to most effectively learn something from such art or design requires looking at an accurate representation of the art or design in question. The creator’s subjectivity has to genuinely relate to the ideology in play because without the creator’s added subjectivity the required biases, opinions, and ideas are diluted. Even something as ridiculous as Futurist Cuisine has something valuable to offer.
Jensen, Richard Bach. "Futurism And Fascism." History Today 45.11 (1995): 35. Academic Search Complete. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.
Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso. The Futurist Cookbook. Penguin Group (Canada), Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 2014. Print.
Marinetti, F. T. "The Founding and Manifsto of Futurism." (1909).