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The raw, the rotted and the interruption of cooking : a visual investigation

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Rewald, AR 2011 , 'The raw, the rotted and the interruption of cooking : a visual investigation', Coursework Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

Food is a language, not just sensory but a physical and visual language as well. Humans feed on symbols and myths, and enact food-related rituals and taboos on a daily basis. As food sharing in most cultures and religions is a ritual act, usually involving the family, this is a form of positive communication. On the other hand eating can be a dangerous, manipulative, and disturbing indicator of social dysfunction and individual disorder.
Utilising the performative language of food this project implicates the body as a site of curiosity, consumption, digestion and creation. As a chef! work with the understanding that cuisine is not static but a constantly changing hybrid of influences, and that cookery is a multi-layered reflection of a place and time. Throughout the research food is presented as revealing our strengths, weaknesses and desires involving not only individual bodies but also society as a whole.
The research is also informed by personal experience. Personal narrative enters from two different but related directions. The first is my background as a chef, the second being formative childhood memories. Even though my work responds to (or is mediated by) personal experience it does not deal with autobiography but the presentation of an altered 'other' self. This creates a paradox, particularly in my performances, as I work with something only I know, in order to say something that represents others as well. By using my own body in the work I orchestrate a form of self-exposure; in doing this I glorify while denying my identity, seeking ways of presenting my body as more than my individual self, while acknowledging the ever-present narcissism latent in the action.
I use performance in context with food because both subjects foreground the body and provide a platform for observing food meanings in art that transcend simple representations of things to eat. Food is also considered for its religious and sexual associations because of its power to stimulate imagination and provide pleasure at the limits of experience. In conjuction with this, the body is used to explore boundaries of taste, in the sensorial, the metaphoric and the visual sense.
Susan Stuart's book On Longing [1993] significantly considers memory, nostalgia and the temporality of daily life. Food within art history is also considered for the powerful emblematic significance attached to it by the European tradition of still life which is also discussed in Norman Bryson's book Looking at the Overlooked [1990]. Bryson explores meaning in the piles of fruit, skulls and game birds of still life and vanitas painting. Within this context I refer to the performative nature of objects and materials, pointing to the transformative processes of composition and decomposition. Episodes from cinema are similarly used to reference life and death.
The Raw and the Cooked [1964] by French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, presents food habits as indicating ritual, taboo and myth-making. In particular Levi-Strauss's essay The Culinary Triangle from his book The Origin of Table Manners [1968] have been very significant for this project. This 'triangle' has as its cardinal points the raw, the cooked and the rotted. Each point represents a meaning for the various ways that food is prepared and consumed for the individual, family or social group, thereby implicating cookery as a type of language. The culinary triangle also provides a framework for this paper to present relationships between food, the body and objects through the underlying contrasts of self and other (raw), composition and de-composition (cooked), concealment and elaboration (rotted).
Within the three theme areas of Raw, Cooked and Rotted the work of influential artists, who approach their practice with social, artistic and culinary concerns, provides a context for my work. Aliists Daniel Spoerri, Mella Jarsma, Rirkrit Tiraivanija, Catherine Bell, Cindy Sherman, Janine Antoni, Mona Hatoum, Antony Gormley, Ana Mendietta, and Wim Delvoye engage the diverse social, sensual, and emotional meanings of eating and communality and in addition present relationships with the mechanations of food as cultural artefacts, on, in and separate from the body. The work of Farren Adria also negotiates the sensorial, culinary world of Molecular Gastronomy, and Paul McCarthy transgresses accepted boundaries of taste. Throughout this paper I also refer to other practitioners and their work, and episodes sourced from art history, particularly Philipo Marinetti and the Futurist Cookbook [1932].
Within this project both body-art and performance art are considered. Most of the artists referred to, including myself, work with their own bodies in a variety of ways. Through this process I aim to investigate the inter-subjective nature of contemporary life as it is suggested through the behaviour and gestures connected to eating. The diverse dichotomies between the 'individual and collective', the 'raw and cooked', the 'fresh and rotted' and 'nature and culture' provide a platform for this investigation.
Significant to this research is To Eat or not to Eat [2003], the catalogue for an exhibition of the same title held at Centro de Arte, Salamanca, Spain 2002, that examines food as a model for art reception throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Into Me/Out of Me [2006], also titled after an exhibition at P. S .1 Contemporary Art Centre, New York 2006, explores abjection, sexuality and bodily transgression in art. Various writers of specific texts have also informed this research. Roland Barthes' extension of Levi-Strauss' semantic language as a semiotic food language, and also his exploration of myth as a kind of speech in the book Mythologies [1957] play their part.
Sex and transgression are considered in the writing of Susan Sontag in The Pornographic Imagination [1967], an essay that responds to Story of the Eye, by Surrealist author Georges Bataille [1928] in which he exposes the erotic and the dangerous appetite for the human body.
Various authors have contributed to ideas and theories in relation to Perfonnance and identity. These include Anne Marsh, whose Body and Self: Performance Art in Australia 1969-92 [1993] charts this subject and places the contemporary artist's body within an historical context. Marvin Carlson's Performance: A Critical Introduction [2004], Lea Vergine Body Art and Performance [2000] which defines performance as centred on the body; and Amelia Jones Self/Image: Technology, Representation and the Contemporary Subject [2006] places the artist body within a context relating the 'self within postmodemism and popular cultural discourse. Louise Tythacott provides historical insights into the Surrealist preoccupation with primitivism and 'otherness', in Surrealism and the Exotic [2003].
The resulting body of work portrays abstracted food preparation and consumption processes and investigates issues, both historical and contemporary, implied by cooking and eating. This strategy is employed to create a tension with the use of oppositions, presenting what is obviously myself standing in for an-other, referring to a 'self to implicate a universal 'other'. This is presented as a "body without organs", a body explored inA Thousand Plateaus [1998] by Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. My body is also presented as ajlaneurial body, one that experiences 'difference' as a consumer novelty and notions of 'self as interchangeable in a constant state of transformation and self examination. This idea derives from writings on the jlaneur by both Charles Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin that present the modem individual as one that validate their own presence and that of others within designated zones of conspicuous consumer participation, not unlike our current habits of conspicuous public dining.
The process and experience of this project raised a number of questions: How to present diverse food meanings and relationships, developed from my personal experiences, that have in turn evolved from Western modernization and its associated mediation of food, and art production alike? Also, do we define our selves and others by what we do, or don't eat, in relation to how we appear to and see others? Can I present these concerns in a performative context that acknowledges the historical significance of performance art while addressing contemporary performance strategies, and current associations with media and technology?

Item Type: Thesis - Coursework Master
Authors/Creators:Rewald, AR
Keywords: Cooking in art, Food in art, Food habits
Additional Information:

Thesis (MFA)--University of Tasmania, 2011. Includes bibliographical references

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