Cuore Smeraldino, (Smeraldic Heart) this little painting is called. I purchase it after we exhibited Matteo Bergamasco's paintings in San Francisco in 2007. I immediately loved his work, it’s the fantastical I’m drawn to.
His imagery popped into my mind, when I thought about what would create an interesting correlation to the Alchemist Experience Dinner I created as a graduation project for an Advanced Food + Design course. In the archive, I found this PR text by Bonelli Contemporary in Los Angeles for the exhibition GOLD! in 2008:
“The title of the exhibition Gold followed by an exclamation point (!) refers to the discovery of a treasure, an unexpected find made after an extended exploration. In particular gold is light, perfection, accomplishment and therefore often considered the image of the divine. Gold is the culminating point of the alchemist process and it expresses the deep implications that this vortex represents.”
That makes sense!
Alchemy, commonly referred to the ancient natural sciences, is also mentioned in all kinds of new age spiritual schools and psychology. C.G. Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, believed in a dual nature of alchemy: chemistry/natural philosophy and mystical components as well. He referred to the stages of the alchemy (making gold, or turning common metals into noble ones) as a guide for individuation, and as a metaphor to the transcendent nature of our psyche.
The painting Cuore Smeraldino is from a series, Bergamasco called an Etherial Portal, in which he aimed to convey the possibility of personal change, allowing new and freed perception to access new reality layers. Multicolored portals or doors become symbols of a dimensional gateway, a threshold beyond with new spaces and worlds appearing.
Our culture these days promotes a kind of quickly attained individualism. It seems fake and contrived, as if people can shop for outrageous creative ideas. Is our Self more and more formed by aspects on the outside: well designed for social media platforms, with believes and realities, one can orientate themselves after? I find it fascinating watching people so confidently stating all kinds of bs ...
AND LET'S MAKE THAT CLEAR: THE EARTH IS ROUND!
What does that have to do with Matteo's work? Because, art (all forms) is the place where ideas can be turned upside down, taken down the rabbit hole, examined, explored, transformed into mesmerizing visuals and stories, prompt a critical scientific investigation, and point to a collective reality that makes sense.
Artists need to keep the ability to dive deep into inner realms of creativity, thought and imagination, without fearing to appear 'off', 'strange', 'not to be taken seriously'? I believe anybody is an artist, who lives or practices exactly that. Creative and imaginary thinking remains to be a substantial building block to our human psyche, making us true individuals. We live this when being 3, 4, or 5 years old, discovering our world in multiple realities.
LET'S TREASURE THIS PLACE IN OUR PSYCHE
Matteo’s work reminds me of intelligent and fantastic science fiction. Hyper spaces, where I look at sound. And my little Smeraldic heart looks like a fantastic depiction of an alchemy process, or a wonderful, naively painted version of what might go on inside the neuron fusion tanks and tubes at Cern.
FINDING THE OPUS MAGNUM
During the Advanced Food + Design course with Marije Vogelzang, we looked at all kind of aspects of how food can be used as an artistic medium. Because it’s ephemeral, its often bound to an experience one can have, rather the something to view or listen to over a longer period of time.
As my graduation project, I created an experience dinner, called Life Celebration Dinner. It tool some time and thought to come up with this idea. At first, I wanted to figure out how to internalizes a dream by eating it. This still roams my mind and might follow soon. Then I attended a glass molding workshop and created vessels made from vegetables. The sugar turnip turned out looking like a heart. The next thought was, that I let people drink out of it, and that let to the association of an elixir. From there on – a no-brainer– it was alchemy.
Not knowing much about it, I was surprised to learn, that C.G. Jung had used alchemy as a metaphoric tool to illuminate the processes our psyche goes through to becoming an individual. I choose the Jungian approach, as I’m much more interested and knowledgeable in psychology and less in chemistry.
In alchemy, four colors are assigned to the four stages leading to transformation: Black for the first phase Nigredo. White for Albedo. Yellow for Citrinitas. Red for Rubedo. When you have gone through all four phases, you achieved the Opus Magnum, your individuation, you true and authentic self.
How can this become a culinary experience?
Nigredo, the first phase, is the purification phase. It’s about cleaning body and mind of toxins and negativity, preparing to receive the new, positive and life prolonging elements.
Black? That surprised me. I imagine purification with washing, water, no color, clear, flushing etc. But in alchemy it is about absorption. One has to look into darkness to find light. This was an easy bridge to food: activated charcoal, which absorbs and binds toxins in your gut and is a powerful detoxifier. Rice! also an absorbent for bacteria, toxins, etc.
When reading about the second phase, Albedo, terms like Tinctura alba - an elixir of immortality or Leukosis, the whitening, bringing light and clarity, are mentioned.
Further: Ablutio –– the washing away of impurities, follows the purifying step to Nigredo. And Tinctura alba –– creating an elixir of immortality. Leukosis –– the whitening, bringing light and clarity.
A Tinctura Alba, an elixir is mixed by all participants and shared as a life invigoration cocktail.
The third phase, the Citrinitas, was dropped at some point in natural science alchemy, but Jung refers to it as an important phase. After all: it frees the soul from the white state of psychological reflection and insight, and is considered to be the dawning of the “solar light” inherent in one’s being.
You become gold!
I create a Panacea – a dish to cure any disease, with fermented, healthy and fresh foods, packed with vitamins and nutrients. It’s not immediately clear what guests are eating, the food is abstracted. This spikes the taste sense and refines awareness.
The last phase, Rubedo, leads to the Opus Magnum. In Rubedo one achieves wholeness by attempting a psycho-spiritual element to create a coherent sense of self before one re-enter to the world. The substances redden your tongue and the process rages as a red dragon against yourself. You attain true and spiritual individuation.
You meet your Self Archetype.
Newsletter # 6
Let's talk about sex in art and food
Sex and Art and Sex and food, I find both difficult topics to tackle. Our modern brains have been much exposed to imagery that is either very graphic, defined by stereotypical ideas and/or is sexist. (i.e., I still see too many bakery trucks driving around with a half naked woman and full lips biting into a baguette). One can debate about this back and fro, but it's hard to deny, that we are influenced all the time by imagery.
How can we view sexual art with sensual eyes, free of notions related to morals, trends, cultures, or religion?
I once started writing on a concept for an exhibition about Sex and Art, but never followed through, realizing that it would require an intensive amount of research, as well as the expertise from a well-educated art historian. Because I wasn’t going to put on a boob, penis or vulva show. Alas, it’s 10 years later. I’m looking at the drawings of British artist Jo Bondy, which I purchased at Jane England’s gallery in London.
Jo Bondy is known for her assemblage sculptures, sculptural box-works, drawings and ceramics that primarily explored gender, sex and eroticism. I was intrigued by her drawings, not her sculptures. I did find them erotic and surreal.
It’s 2023. We are in the midst of a world-wide public discourse debating about the right terms to address people with various newly defined sexual orientations.
Teenagers may seem confused on one side of the world, freely and naively playing with ‘choosing a sexual identity’, while on other side of the planet, women still get stoned, raped, beaten, imprisoned for showing an inch more body part than they are allowed to. Women in many parts of the world have sexually freed themselves, claiming confidently ownership to their female body, their sexuality, their desires and boundaries.
Why am I writing this? Because I wonder, if Jo Bondy made these drawings today, would they look differently? Would there be pubic hair visible? Would there be less decorative elements, such as the suggestion of leaves, flowers or hearts? Would there be different symbolism for female sexuality per se, other than apples?
In today's visually overstimulating environment, I find pleasure in abstracted or surreal elements merely suggesting sexuality. Looking at these three drawings by Jo Bondy, I’m allowed to let my mind wonder about the possible meanings, the symbolism, the form of the female genital. Bondy never really exposed the details, but instead created an abstract surrounding, an erotic and surreal scene.
I applaud to Jo Bondy for allowing me this freedom in interpretation. In contrast to today’s bombardment of media imagery in the area of female sexuality, viewing these delicate drawings connect me with personal and intimate experiences.
Bondy might be considered as one of the very few British women Pop artists, but she was never mentioned in art historical narratives during the movement. Her work investigated women's sexuality and roles in society. Read more on Jane England's website...
It was actually this project by dutch artist Marthe van de Grift, that led me to review Bondy's drawings. Next to the delicate works on paper, this is much more radical and allows for a wide range of personal interpretation.
I got to know Marthe during the advanced food and design course. Marthe is pregnant and fascinated witnessing how the female body, mind and soul changes during pregnancy. She created an experience, imagining an infant's perspective when breastfeeding. A chocolate breast filled with pudding to drink and eat from, hung on the wall, for somebody to indulge in. The breast is to be sucked on and eaten without the use of hands, to amplify a more dependent state.
Our group watched this video, and emotional reactions exploded amongst all of us. We see a guy licking a female breast. His tongue is carefully caressing the nipple. Within seconds we see the taste buds being activated as the sweetness of the chocolate gets noticed. Now the mouth opens to a sucking motion. But in between the tongue keeps licking the nipple. As a mother who breastfed, this was the confusing part. A baby may use the tongue searching for the nipple and then latches on and stays on the breast. Besides seeing an adult licking the chocolate boob, the use of the tongue makes it sexual too.
We knew that Marthe is pregnant and that this was her topic. Still, on and off, while watching, I thought this is like porn. At the same time I found it very erotic. And it made me feel like a voyeur witnessing something very private. All changed once the first drop of milk poured out of the breast. I started feeling uncomfortable, and suddenly the sexual notion of it all transformed into something very biological. When the breast fell apart and all the pudding plopped out, it was a brutal, almost as if I got punished for watching this very private scene.
In our group, we all had similar reactions and were fascinated, how a single object, the chocolate boob, connected to the single activity of sucking on it, can stir up such a multitude of emotion in us viewers. It depicts a profound human experience, whether we were breastfed or not.
'Breastfeeding' by Marthe van de Grift shows the narrow path our minds can walk on. We tend to switch between the gentle, soft, and natural versus the sexual, pornographic and brutal ways we view female sexuality. Like Bondy, it leaves room for own interpretations and emotional reactions. I find enormous freedom in that.
I thank Marthe that I can share her work in this newsletter.
You can watch the full video here.
THE CREATIVE MIND
When do you feel your imagination sparked?
I learned about Müller’s art during an art consulting gig in Frankfurt in 2019. I was fascinated by the power of his works, how vibrating and mesmerizing. This particular drawing triggered imaginary expansion of a perceived movement.
When you glance at the lively assembly of ink blue lines, do you also see forming rivers, rays or air streams, and feel your imagination sparked?
Where does it begin?
Where does it end?
Does it get wider, narrower, or does it fade out into a void of white, or a void of dark ink blue?
The lines are suggesting a change in direction, lending the drawing objectivity, plasticity and maybe something figurative.
Looking at this visual of a moment in time, it creates an impulse to follow a train of thought completely free, not bound to any preconceptions, except the very own. In this act of viewing, we may feel invited to explore, discover and acknowledge the creative mind, which exists in each and every one of us. Like an underground river, that is constantly flowing, but barely heard and not seen, we just forget it’s there.
German artist Thomas Müller creates stunning work with pencil ink, ballpoint pen, crayon and paint on paper, sometimes a shard of glass that serves as a ruler. He has widely exhibited and is represented by galleries Florian Sundheimer in Munich, WErner klein in Cologne, Michael Sturm in Stuttgart, Patrick Heide Contemporary Art in London, Bernard Vidal - Nathalie Bertoux art contemporain in Paris, Kristof de Clercq in Gent, and Galleria Torbandena in Trieste. His work in included in numerous institutional collections, including Centre Pompidou, Hamburger Kunsthalle; Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; Kunstmuseum Bonn; Staatsgalerie Stuttgart; and Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest.
“Attraction and repulsion,breathing in and breathing out, vigor and laxity are poles between which my work oscillates…My work generates its energy and vitality precisely from these polarities and tensions.”
Müller’s piece is a true inspiration to be reminded, that creativity and flow are inseparable.
Do you know what food design is? If you think it's about making a dish look pretty...not at all!
When I tell people, that I study food design, they often automatically assume, that I learn how to do food plating, meaning making things pretty looking on the plate. And then I get excited and explain, “no, no, no, it’s about using food as an artistic medium to convey one’s creative ideas... food connects people with people, connects us humans with our very existence, as we all need to eat, and therefore all need to grow or hunt or harvest or shop, or steal or beg for food. We have a body full of most intelligent senses, and I want to start creating experiences for all of them.
It started with Inés Lauber at Satellite Berlin. We had developed the module VITAL FORCES, a think tank exploring food culture of the past, present and future in connection to the arts and sciences. The topic took a hold of me and urged me to want to learn more. So here I am, calling myself a culinary explorer and investigator, and re-discovering my own creativity.
“Food design is applying design thinking to the act of eating. In the latter the designer involves broad topics like politics, identity, health, culture and landscape into a design with food. The design can be manifested as a dinner, a dish, an installation, a workshop or a book. Many times, eating design is not about food directly but wouldn’t be possible without food."
I hope this enlightened you a bit?
Here some images of recent projects...
Work in progress: Proteins, a visual exploration of structures and colors of proteins we eat (above), and protein strands as seen under a microscope (below)
Being in the here and now
Meeting and spending time with John Giorno was one of the highlights during my time as a gallerist, and remains a gift I deeply cherish. Besides John being a great artist and beat poet, he was a man full of stories directly connected to the many things I heard and read about when I was a teenager and young adult. As a teen I was an 80s hippie. As I aspired to become an artist, my cultural interests were rooted in ideas of the 60s, 70s and 80s.
In 2012, my friend and cultural journalist Gaby Hartel connected me with John and proposed that I host a performance and exhibition in my gallery in Berlin. I met John in his loft in NYC. He welcomed me with his grand smile and sparkling eyes in his apartment, showed me his studio and also the basement, William Burrough’s bunker. We liked each other and agreed to a performance and an exhibition.
In Berlin, I was living with my daughter and our dog Loui adjacent to the gallery, a 180 square meter large old Berlin apartment with 4,50-meter-high ceiling, directly in the heart of Berlin-Schöneberg. When John came, he stayed in the guestroom for several days. John was an avid Buddhist and meditated in between working on the drawings for the exhibition, having some coffee or tea with us in the morning and visiting friends. The exhibition was entitled YOU HAVE GOT TO BURN TO SHINE and consisted of 33 water color works on paper, all square and framed in a white, simple frame. That’s what he wanted and it was beautiful.
The performance was a special gift, the exhibition a success. It was only natural to me, that after meeting John, I wanted to keep an artwork as a memory to this wonderful man and the time shared. As I often did, I gave my clients the right away, but kept an eye on I RESIGN MYSELF TO BEING HERE and decided to purchase it.
I had moved back and forth, between San Francisco and Berlin, twice in my life. The cities are very different from each other, in vibes, in architecture, in culture, in nature, in life style. These differences are part of a variety in lifestyle and surroundings I seek, but it’s only now, that I understand this being a part of me. I used to compare, make one worse than the other, probably to not miss it too much. I switched them around, hunting after the place where the grass is always greener. What I had imagined San Francisco to be, turned into something else over the years, making me feel uprooted and like a constant visitor. I wanted to be back in Berlin, left and visited San Francisco and New York regularly. The social and cultural attachments in all places were significant, and for a time, I got to a point of feeling fragmented. I had to learn to train my thoughts, changing the constant comparisons of what’s missing, into appreciating both worlds and the abundance this lifestyle entails.
Once you learn to listen to your thoughts, you also notice the self-degrading chatter.
Meeting John had sparked the impulse to really go into depths of practicing things like ‘accepting the moment’, ‘being in the moment’, ‘accepting what is’…We so easily say it, but it’s difficult to be it. John emanated such a calm and loving presence, sincerely listening and paying attention to anybody, no matter who.
I RESIGN MYSELF TO BEING HERE became an assisting tool to change my habitual thinking. The artwork is my visual mantra. I look at it consciously, when I feel I want to chase the greener grass, ignoring the one I’m standing on. It’s a reminder to count my blessings, to prioritize the important things in life, like love, respect for oneself and others, to appreciate. It's a reminder to be OK with confronting a challenge, a difficult time, because we know, all moments pass and new ones will come.
John Giorno was one of the most loving, kind-hearted and accepting person I have met in my life.
The actual poem “I resign myself to being here” is 9 min. and 44 seconds long, and you can listen to it here on soundcloud.
DO THE DEAD EAT?
Somebody once told me “Food and grief are closely intertwined in many cultures.” Really? Hmm … I remember when struck with heavy grief, food was the last thing I thought about. Even when my siblings and I had to think about the funeral food for our parents, it was more about the space, where best to hold the funeral dinner. I also remember the sense of appetite being distorted. I didn’t think about it, neither did I feel hunger. Only as I sat down and ate something, I noticed that I was hungry. However, the need to cook for people who grief seems to be pervasive, as a helpful thing to do.
Either way, it’s the time of the year to celebrate the dead and ancestry. Celebrations of remembrance and honoring seem to differ throughout the world: from gloomy walks to the cemetery and painful moments kneeing on hard benches in cold catholic churches in small towns in Germany, to the bright and colorful festivities of Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos.
I wonder about the various food made served during rituals. Often, it is special food prepared for the occasion, served in dedicated vessels or leaves from a plant, or food used to represent something else.
The Japanese Obon festival is directly related to the Chinese Ghost festival, a tradition Taoists and Buddhists celebrate in numerous East Asian countries. Ghosts and spirits, including those of deceased ancestors come out from other realms to visit and sometimes need guidance to not get lost, when traveling between the worlds.
For example, during Obon, cucumbers and eggplants are transformed into vehicles for the ancestors to travel or ride back ride and forth. Simply by sticking wooden chopsticks in as legs, the cucumber becomes a spirit horse Shōryō-uma and the eggplant Shōryō-ushi a spirit cow.
As a big Hayao Miyazaki fan, I’m reminded of the film Spirited Away, with the many always eating, never restless and unsatisfied ghosts, tormented by an insatiable hunger, constantly needed to be fed with tons and tons of foods.
@ Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki. The ghost "No-Face" (カオナシ kaonashi, lit. "Faceless") from Spirited Away, is able to react to emotions and ingests other individuals to gain their personality and physical traits. "Kaonashi is a metaphor, the libido that everybody secretly harbors." said by Miyazaki himself. No-Face is also a spirit of temptation. Suffering is caused by desire and the only way to avoid suffering is to deny desire.
Pitru Paksha, a Hindu version, honors their ancestors through special food offerings, which must include dishes of sweet rice with milk, sweet porridge, rice, dal, spring bean and pumpkin, all served in silver or copper vessels and placed on banana leaves.
When creating something dedicated to the memory of a person, someone you love and miss, it makes sense to choose sugar as an overall choice for taste. In Sardina, Su Mortu Mortu, is the celebration of the dead commenced on October 31st, our Halloween. Sweet baked goods are made and when setting the table, an extra table set is placed for the deceased, with the exception of forks and knives. I guess here is some suspicion left.
I imagine cooking my parent's favorite meal. But would I eat it?
My mother liked this canned meet stew called Ragout fin (French ragoût fin, "fine ragout"). It's a ragout served as an appetizer of classic German, especially Berlin cuisine, made of white meat and offal in a white sauce. Prepared from veal, sweetbreads, calf's brain, tongue, back marrow and chicken breast, depending on recipe sometimes fish, it is all cooked in light vinegar water or steamed in butter and cut into small cubes.Second ingredient is a white sauce made of light roux, broth, white wine, anchovies, lemon juice, cream and steamed mushrooms, alloyed with egg yolk. Cubes and sauce are mixed, heated in a bain-marie and then baked in cups, scallop shells or vol-au-vents (puff pastry molds) with breadcrumbs, cheese and butter. Ragout fin is subsequently seasoned to taste with worcestershire sauce and lemon juice.
I mean, check out all the animal products in one single dish. (it reminds me again of Koanashi) ...no wonder, Berlin is the vegan capital of the world!!!
When my father was younger, he loved pea and lentil soups, kale with potatoes and sausages, and his self-raised smoked trout. When aged, he loved potato latkes with a sweet turnip molasses (Rübenkraut) and Viennese Sacher Torte.
I don’t remember my grandparent’s favorite food. But I do remember what my grandmother like to make (Quark cheese cake with sweet mandarines from a can), I think my grandpa loved to eat sausages with mustard.
Food trends change, a bit like fashion. The dishes I remember from childhood seem to me a kind of “forgotten food”. But without cooking and eating dishes like Ragout fin, I guess I still honor my mother by remembering this. After all, times and circumstances our ancestors lived in, are also reflected in the food they ate and prepared.
I share a recipe from my cookbook modern german food from a berlin kitchen, available as an Ebook here, remembering that this salad was served in lots of restaurants when I was a child.
grated raw root vegetable salad