Marcelyn Gow introduces artist, architectural historian and writer Esther Choi.
Choi describes how discovering the menu for a banquet given for Walter Gropius in 1937, to mark his departure from London for the USA, suggested a new perspective on a historical figure she thought she knew. Food not only provides an index of status, taste, lifestyle, and class privilege, but has provided a medium for socially-engaged artists (Carol Goodden, Tina Girouard and Gordon Matta-Clark’s Food restaurant, projects by Womanhouse, Haus-Rucker-Co, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Alison Knowles’ “Identical Lunch”),
In 2015 Choi responded to the Gropius banquet with a dinner of her own, Le Corbuffet (2015), a social experiment taking the form of a dinner, featuring punning dishes (Carolee Schneemann “Meat Joy” balls, Lawrence Weiners, Michael Heizer “Levitated Mass” Pavlova, …)
She describes her subsequent work as reintegrating art and life through cooking and sharing, in which hospitality becomes a political gesture. Choi notes as an important precursor the Fluxus ethos of working outside market channels, focusing on intersubjective experience. She emphasizes Joseph Beuys’ alchemy of everyday materials, and Rudolph Steiner’s sense of everyday things as contact zones for generating awareness.
Choi describes how the unexpected offer of producing a cookbook for Prestel (out Fall 2019) offered a chance to explore the cookbook as a medium. Working with Studio Lin, the book presents recipes as scores for interpretation and collaboration, combining biographical data and food, art and design history. She frames the emphasis on pleasure and play with Joseph S. Nye’s concept of “soft power”.
Choi characterizes her photography for the book as a critique of conventional food photography, explicitly depicting food as reactive, imperfect, volatile, and sculptural. She repeats a grocer’s comment to her that the unnaturally perfect sheen of food photography has meant less-than-perfect produce goes to waste and people are developing a fear of cooking.
Choi discusses a 2018 installation at Princeton involving 50 kinds of bread. She concludes with a discussion of the new ideas of kinship, as described by Marshall Sahlins, which are informing her latest work.