Month: August 2014

The Candle

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The candle

One of my absolute favorite projects that I’ve been working on for the upcoming show is called “The Candle” – an encaustic piece over a photograph, inspired by a meal I had in London last November on my ‘speed dating Europe’ trip. I found myself with 100,000 soon-to-expire frequent flyer miles and a raging case of wanderlust, so I booked my itinerary for a whirlwind 5 day tour of Chicago, London, and Paris. My plan was to sprint through London for just 1 full day, and I’d hoped to include the most spectacular meal I could get my hands on while there. I figured if I planned a lunch instead of dinner I could probably maximize my budget to be able to afford somewhere a bit nicer. So I google’d ‘Most amazing lunch in London’ and up popped Restaurant Story.

My lunch at Restaurant Story was a life altering meal, one of the most amazing culinary experiences I’ve ever had.

OK, I know – ‘food’s food, and even really fantastic food is still just food’ – but for anyone who proudly identifies with ‘lives to eat’ vs ‘eats to live’, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Food is not just food. Throughout the history of mankind, common to all cultures around the world, food is the glue that holds society together. It’s the fabric our social lives get pieced together from, the basis for how we come together when we come together to celebrate, mourn, discuss, debate, commiserate, nourish, or simply to meet our daily needs. It can be utterly simple or incredibly complex, both can be good; truly, both can be amazing… But as I tell my young daughter, the most important lesson in life (after be kind) is You are what you eat, and while when I say that I’m speaking in a more metaphorical sense, its truth begins in the literal sense.

Over the past year I’ve told anyone and everyone who would listen about my incredible meal (seriously, I’ve spent innumerable hours extolling the endless virtues of Restaurant Story), and so it was with overwhelming joy that I happened to catch this closing sentence the other day on PRI, “English chef Tom Sellers told his story to producer Alex Gallafent…” (quickly followed by my silently screamed nooooooooo…!) Whew, thank god for podcasts. Don’t you dare not listen!

As it turns out, Restaurant Story is the brainchild of 26 yr. old wunderkind chef Tom Sellers (acolyte of Thomas Keller at French Laundry & Rene Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen, to name two). In reading up on the place, it had mentioned bringing a book to leave for their collection. In my mind’s eye, I imagined a thumb-worn, dusty space with books everywhere. I was surprised to arrive and find the place a study in clean modernity, clever touches of the interesting & peculiar dotted about, but barely a book in sight. An old-fashioned candle was placed on the table upon arrival, before the procession of delectables began arriving. The 6 course lunch that followed (which in truth turned out to be more like 12) was an unbelievable 3 hour succession of the most ingenious culinary feats I’ve ever experienced. Not the least of which was the bread offering. It turns out the meal’s focal point evolved around a sleight of hand of sorts. Midway through the meal, the waiter placed a lovely wooden board with warm bread and a small bowl of relish on it. He explained that the seemingly innocuous candle that had been burning for the past half hour was in fact a candle made from rendered animal fat, meant to dip your bread into.

It’s difficult to describe the peculiar pleasure of being surprised by something that has been sitting right there in front of you, staring you in the face. When an ordinary object all of a sudden appears to transform into the extraordinary. Being able to achieve this using the most humble course in the meal makes it that much more effective.

I could happily go on for hours describing each surprising course; an airy cloud of riced potato floating atop a pool of coal (yes, edible coal oil); whole flash-crisped tiny shrimps; a savory Oreo with smoked eel mousse; grilled onions in gin; wrapped leeks & candied lovage twigs; almond ice cream with dill snow, which tasted like eating Winter itself… Sigh. And the stories, remarkable stories that they only told you if you happened to ask, ‘why are the forks upside down?’ which led to the tale of a cultivated Spanish princess marrying a brutish prince whose boorish table manners – even with the addition of utensils – still necessitated the tines only touch the table in order to mitigate the filth… the fabulous bee insignia on the knives… on & on.

I hope to capture the eternal appeal of an artist transforming the mundane into the sublime.

Bioluminescence

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moon jellyfish

Bioluminescence is simply light produced by a chemical reaction within a living organism. These chemicals (called luciferin and luciferase) react with oxygen, causing light. Primarily it’s a marine phenomena, and is the main source of light in the ocean. (Because it occurs in so many different species, we assume it must serve many functions – like luring prey or mating – but we do know it can serve as both defensive and offensive tactics within the same organism.)

It can also occur on land, namely in fungi and bacteria, but also in fireflies.

It has been speculated that the 16th century Baroque painter Caravaggio used modern darkroom techniques to create his masterpieces more than 200 years before the invention of the camera. He may have prepared his canvases with a luminescent powder of dried fireflies to create a photosensitive surface on which he projected the image to be painted. He would then use white lead, mixed with chemicals such as mercury, to outline the image in greater clarity.

Caravaggio Calling of St Matthew
The Calling of St. Matthew by Caravaggio, painted 1599-1600

This hypothesis, by art teacher Roberta Lapucci who teaches at the Studio Art Centers International in Florence, Italy, was made in collaboration with research by British artist David Hockney, who wrote in his 2001 book “Secret Knowledge” that many old masters used optical instruments to compose their paintings.

In the spring of 1985, while a sophomore in college, I saw the Caravaggio show at the Met in NYC. It left an indelible impression on me, what with his incredibly effective combination of boldly intense subject matter and dramatic chiaroscuro contrasting light.

I look forward to sharing works of art in the upcoming 5050LIGHT show that are based on bioluminescence and also on artist David Hockney’s work. 

Giardino Dei Tarocchi or ‘Tarot Garden’

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Tarocchi

Last summer, on the suggestion of a friend who had heard we would be travelling through Tuscany, we visited Il Giardino dei Tarocchi or ‘Tarot Garden’ by French sculptor, painter, and film maker, Niki de Saint Phalle. The garden – fantastic, in every sense of the word – was an explosion of mosaic-filled light and wonder. It reminded me of another incredible park we had visited 10 years earlier, Parco Dei Mostri in Bomarzo, Italy – built in the 16th century and, as it turns out, one of the inspirations for this garden.

Some history about the artist: born in 1930 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris, Niki de Saint Phalle initially rejects the conservative values of her family which dictated domestic positions for wives and strict rules of conduct. After marrying young and becoming a mother, however, she finds herself living exactly the bourgeois lifestyle she had hoped to avoid. This internal conflict causes her to suffer a nervous breakdown and, as a form of therapy, she is urged to pursue her painting. Further encouraged by the American painter Hugh Weiss, who becomes both friend and mentor, she does continue painting in her self-taught style, subsequently moving to Deià on the island of Mallorca, Spain. There she read the works of Proust, visits Madrid and Barcelona, and becomes deeply affected by the work of Antonio Gaudí. Gaudí’s influence opens many previously unimagined possibilities for Saint Phalle, especially regarding the use of unusual materials and objets-trouvés as structural elements in sculpture and architecture. Saint Phalle is strongly influenced by Gaudi´s Parc Güell in Barcelona, as well as Parco dei Mostri in Bomarzo, the Palais Idéal by Ferdinand Cheval, and Watts Towers by Simon Rodia. She decides she wants to make a monumental sculpture park, too: the first to be created by a woman. In 1979, she acquires several acres of land in Garavicchio, Tuscany, and sets about creating her garden, which would eventually contain a series of 22 fantastical and monumental mosaic-covered sculptures, each a representation of 22 of the mysteries of the Tarot, in addition to numerous other sculptures.

After nearly 20 years Giardino Dei Tarocchi finally opened in 1998, and 16 years later it remains a remarkable wonder for both the eyes and the spirit.

droplets, drips, waves, & streams

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PHouk plates

After 13 years away, I recently had the good fortune to be back in Boston, and was able to spend time with one of my 5050LIGHT collaborators Peter Houk – a fantastically creative glass artist – who also happens to run the MIT Glass Lab. I became a fan of Peter’s work back in the late 80’s while volunteering at The Society of Art & Crafts in Boston and commissioned him to make a set of etched glass plates (who doesn’t love geckos?). A few years later, we collaborated on a grouping of vases with etched copper tubing lengths which became the necks which he blew the glass through. We discussed plans for our upcoming collaboration which, hopefully, will include a splinter study of a light installation he did based on the Rayleigh instability.

droplet wave illustration

In a nutshell, the Rayleigh instability is part of a greater branch of fluid dynamics which explains why and how a falling stream of fluid breaks up into smaller packets with the same volume but less surface area. The driving force is that liquids, by virtue of their surface tensions, tend to minimize their surface area. The resulting effects offer some compelling visual possibilities for artistic pursuits. (Coincidentally, on a more mundane note, I’ve noticed numerous recent examples of the Rayleigh instability featured in the opening title sequences of films and in other popular media.) 

You can read Rayleigh’s original research here, or another fascinating MIT research paper on the physics of surface tension here.