BFA Fine Arts Chair Suzanne Anker and UCLA’s Victoria Vesna recently hosted “Molecular Cuisine: The Politics of Taste,” a multi-course sit-down dinner held in conjunction with Leonardo’s Education and Arts Forum (LEAF) for the College Art Association (CAA) conference. Held at SVA, the evening’s courses and speakers explored the cultural and scientific implications of food and how it affects communities and human bodies.
Anker was the first speaker of the night, offering an introduction to how food has served as both an artistic subject and a source of social and scientific experimentation. Vesna followed, discussing her Hox Zodiac dinners, a series in which participants examine the Hox Gene, which is uniquely responsible for humans and animals having unifying traits such as two eyes, two ears and the same number of limbs.
Robin Khan presented images from the making of her cookbook, Dining in Refugee Camps: The Art of Sahrawi Cooking, based upon her travel to the Western Sahara and her friendships with the women she met. Elaine Tin Nyo showed a thought-provoking silent video stemming from her in-progress work, This Little Piggy, in which she adopts and documents five pigs “from birth to ham.” Stefani Bardin demonstrated her work in “making the invisible visible” by showing the audience such things as the lengthy ingredients needed to flavor a Burger King shake and an image of a whole gummy bear still undigested after 2 1/2 hours in a GI tract. Lastly, Natalie Jeremijenko presented a number of her renown projects promoting biodiversity, healthy environments and social change, among them xClinic Farmacy, an urban farming system which allows participants to grow plants and flowers from high-rise windows, balconies and fire escapes.
In between each speaker’s presentation, courses were served, often accompanied by a short demonstration at each table. Dishes varied—some visually beautiful or unusual, others involving the science of taste. A salad was dressed with pearls of balsamic vinegar suspended in chilled olive oil and a meatball was served with three candy corns. Another course offered the choice of a dish of bacon or crunchy kale; this selection was later revealed to determine political leanings—those who chose bacon were often Republican and those who chose kale were most likely Democrat.
Participants also tasted yogurt and grapes with an Aroma spoon, containing a changeable cartridge that can be drenched in flavored aromatics—like butter, ginger, basil and passion fruit—which alter taste. The final course involved a chewable “Flavor Tripping” tablet that reconfigured taste buds: a wedge of lemon became as sweet as a ripe orange and a sip of Guinness beer was transformed into a chocolaty surprise.
Images from top down: Suzanne Anker, Sea Rose, 2008, inkjet print, 24 x 36 inches; an aroma spoon.