Kearny Street Workshop and SOMArts: A Sensory Feast

Art in general, and the art reviewed here at CatSynth in particular is very focused on sound and sight. “A Sensory Feast”, an exhibition co-presented by our friends at Kearny Street Workshop and SOMArts Cultural Center, expands into other senses, including touch, smell and taste. Each piece in the show touches in one way or another on the subject of food, sometimes directly with scents and textures, sometimes indirectly through memories, metaphors and cultural contexts.

[Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik, MCDXCII, chocolate wrappers, sugar, curry powder, and acquired objects, 2010.  Press image courtesy of Kearny Street Workshop.]

Aroma along with taste and sight featured prominently in Sita Kuratomi Bhuamik’s site-specific installation MCDXCII (1492). The central material of the installation, curry powder, can be very powerful – cooking with it will fill a room with its scent, touching it leaves a lingering yellow stain. Here the artist has blanketed surfaces with both intricate floral patterns on the ground and abstract geometric textures on the wall. In the middle is a bench covered in a combination of gold wrappers and curry. The installation also referenced one of the most powerful and captivating food substances of all: chocolate.

Curry also featured prominently in a sound piece by Brandon Bigelow. Sound is a bit more detached from food than the other senses, but is nonetheless interesting to hear “sound of a curry dinner” decomposed electronically. As a musician, I tend to get more into the structure of the sounds themselves rather than the source – I would not have necessarily placed the sounds in the context of food without the associated description – I mostly thought of it as an escape from the other senses during the opening.

[Yosh Han, installation view with perfume bottles.]

Yosh Han’s fragrance bar was all about scent. Guests were invited to sample and choose on of her scents to carry on a cardboard mustache. It was clear that the scents evoke very strong identifications, some seemed more “right” than others, but there was still room for surprise. My initial assumption is that I would find the strongest resonance with the “Intellectual”, which did evoke cooler colors and flavors (rosemary was one of several components); but upon trying the “Bon Vivant” I immediately knew it was right. The scent had layers of spice and tomato, in other words rather fiery. And while I don’t really associate myself with jeux de vie, it did fit with my being a “pitta” in Ayurvedic terms. Maybe the sense of smell tells us things we otherwise overlook or hide.

Amy M. Ho’s Collection of Food Costumes focused on the tactile sense through fabric. It was quite popular, with people takings turns embodying a pineapple or a slice of pizza (just don’t ever put the two together, as pineapple pizza is an abomination). In addition to the human costumes, she did have at least one intended for cats.

[Amy Ho, Food Costume for a cat.]

I thought this durian for cats was very cute, though I doubt I could convince Luna to wear it.

A cat also featured prominently in Catcakes, one of several works by Kira Greene.

[Kira Greene, Catcakes, 2010.  Image courtesy of the artist.]

The piece is an interesting play on space and dimension. The cat, fish and surrounding elements are very flat and reminiscent of Asian paper cutouts. The plate of three cupcakes, however, is very three dimensional, and realistic enough to evoke the sugary texture and aroma. Nonetheless, I did see the cat first, texturally camouflaged but very prominent with its blue color.

In 2002 Diet as a Periodic Table, Arthur Huang recorded and classified all the food he ate in 2002 into a table with three-letter abbreviations and numerical and spacial classifications reminiscent of the chart we know and love from science classes. There different classifications for diffent foods, such as fruits, vegetables, meats, condiments, etc. I tried to follow the color and number pattens and had fun with some of the symbols: “Pzz” for pizza, “Ccc” for chocolate chip cookies, and “Cos” for a cosmopolitan among many others. The piece fed into my interest (no pun intended) in statistics and information as artistic material.

Rounding out the exhibition were Jean Chen’s Food Coloring Photographs and live tattoo applications during the opening; a rather pornographic video featuring fruit by JD Beltran, Vita and Bryan Hewitt and Emannuelle Namont-Kouznetsov; and a presentation from the National Bitter Melon Council including videos, small cultures a manual “Better Living through Bitter Melon”. I know this vegetable by the name “bitter gourd” as a very strong Indian side-dish to be enjoyed in small doses.

The exhibition will remain open through Thursday, February 24 with an artist talk and closing reception that evening.