Luca Trevisani – In bocca
Pinksummer: Sometimes one has the impression that food, at least within Western countries, has become the ephemeral background of some pathological social assets. As if in front of the excess and the waste of food, we tended to invest less in substance and more in form. Food is tasted, enjoyed but not eaten: hunger, meant as need, appears anachronistic, if not really gross. You said that diet is a social sculpture. To what extent your diet has been informed by your choice to turn the leftovers of your dishes into the fairy landscapes of the papers you will present at Pinksummer for your fourth solo show, titled In Bocca (Into the Mouth)? And what in this exhibition – we are referring especially to the reliquary still life works- concerns the recovery of food sacrality?
Luca Trevisani: Our diet – whatever it is – is a real sculpture, a process of formalization of the world, a way of casting energies obtained by making choices concerning taste, belonging and ideology. Diet is an attempt to control of your body that designs economies, alliances, societies and landscapes. Each artwork is a scale model of reality, a way to fix up things, to make order, to remind us of the hierarchies. Working with what we eat, with what keeps us alive, is a political gesture, because it reminds us that our identity is a construction in progress, an uncertain clot of matter and narrations.
Kitchen work is not a revival of Futurist provocative stances, nor of Gordon Matta-Clark’s rituals: the crux of the matter is not to involve food as eclectic raw material, but to act on food as a collective glue, history of matter, social precipitated, biological writing. It is not about making a sculpture out of food, but about transforming food into a sculpture, into a monument, into an experience, thus acknowledging its wisdom and celebrating its power. I call myself a sculptor, as you know well, because I taste the matter, and because I try to tell stories that pass through us in my own way: hardware and software, we would say in English. The material knowledge and the narratives with which we organize it. One great thing about matter is that it is old, ancient, ancestral, it forces us to take a bath of humility, it is an excellent antidote to the boring world of social egomania. We live in an always on present, in which we must always be up to date, accelerated, jerky, prompt, to pull off opinions on anything at any time. Well, my reaction is to look at the cycle of the seasons, to go back to studying a different biological rhythm, without being nostalgic or naïve though. I want to transform the biological fragility of food into an innovative materic laboratory, into a playful, but also ethical and political, phantasmagoria.
A few months ago, I started emptying and drying seasonal fruit and vegetable, in order to make some bowls of time, magical relics that would turn the wet into the dry, and the soft into the eternal.
At first, I thought they were docile, also tender, and funny objects, but as the time was going by, I realized their violence. After some time, I started to save the leftovers of my meals, as I was giving thanks to what feeds me. The acid of the lemons, and their juice invisible ink, did the rest, composing those paper mandalas.
This exhibition is made up of two series of works that conceal a desecrating and desperate energy under decorative clothes. They are fossils, as the fossil, if you think, is a lump of undigested, never assimilated matter, vomited into the world. These sculptures are an irreverent analogic message, they remind us that no body is neutral.
Fossils undermine any idea of authorship, in their world there are no inventions, only discoveries, hybridizations and syncretism, their writing proceeds by pollination, they are the result of a collective metabolism.
I am more interested in materials than in forms, and I try to tease them to free their voice, to drag them out in order to show their wisdom, to make them sound in order to hear how conformist and limited is the way we look at the world and think about it.
PS: They say animals get food, and only men, as an eminently symbolic animals, properly eat, and, in this sense, we could transform the Cartesian cogito ergo sum into edo (from the Latin verb edere) ergo sum, meaning that food a is form of initiation into knowledge, because men think about food while eating. The crisis seems to be pushing people to flock to restaurants. You have described this trend as a kind of hysterical writing and it is no coincidence that much of contemporary despair is transmuted into anorexia, into nervous bulimia and, within other social spheres, obesity. Don’t you think that in such a table society, food tends to devour every form of complexity, to the point of flattening urban landscape into gastromania?
LT: Our knowledge of the world passes though the senses and occurs in the direct manipulation of things: eating, digesting, expelling, withholding are just a few moments of the wheel of metamorphosis, that is always in motion. In a world obsessed with the pure and the certain, we need to nurture highly energetic processes, to find the strength to be curious.
I am keen on matter as nourishment, not on mainstream food culture, that in just a few years has transformed a ritual of coexistence into an empty and aggressive fetish, into a status symbol to be conquered and exhibited. The world of food, as it is told and experienced, is a sad, steroidal laboratory, where our identities are defined according to the parameters of a naïve and toxic positivism, a performance nightmare with no joy, where the only hunger is the one for success, while our social position must rise. In all this neurasthenic whirlwind of social duties and performative cuisine, what happened to curiosity? Curiosity is everything to me: it is a constant work, neither light nor innocent, neither necessary peaceful, but with guaranteed rewards. Being curious is not a party, or a playful, childish or colorful act; being curious is an addiction, which forces us to be open to the world, to question our beliefs and balances, to look for solutions to problems we don’t yet know we have. It is like making works of art by pretending not to have made them, but to have found them, like a fossil discovered in the heart of a mountain, perhaps made from dried fruit…
PS: Ludwig Feuerbach, whose ideas influenced Engels and Marx, stated “Der Mensch ist, was er isst” “Man is what he eats”, a phrase that in German language plays on the similarity of the third person singular of the verd “to be” with the verb “to eat”. Feuerbach’s radical materialism argued against any philosophy that denied psychophysics unity of man, going so far as to claim that we coincide with whatever we ingest. On the other hand, at the time, in the middle of the 19th century, there were serious problems of subsistence, so Feuerbach said that hunger not only destroys the physical vigor but also deprives man of his ability to think and thus of his humanity.
He argued that at the bases of perfecting culture there is good nutrition and that, in order to change a population, one must change its material conditions.
Now, even though hunger and famine seem to be tamed in Europe, the Community agricultural policy (CAP) established in 1962, absorbs the 40% of the total UE budget and still tends to facilitate the big landowners who go against to the so-called green new deal, thus affecting the quality of the products of food farming industry in respect of the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, that have a strong impact on the environment and on the quality of our eating habits. To get back to a text you recommended us reading, the wild bread discussed by Camporesi, that induced people to dream of quiet, artificial lands of milk and honey, did it take on more ambigous and sugary guises, a bit like wars did? Does food, like the leftovers and food fossils in your works, turn into feelings too?
LT: In the years of Weimar republic, from 1919 to 1922, a pervasive smell of garlic filled the spaces of the Bauhaus canteen, and the bodies of the student who ate there. Alma Mahler, Walter Gropius’s wife, as ascetic as she was, found that smell simply intolerable.
According to Bernd Wedemeyer-Kolwe, Bauhaus was the first art school to include rhythmic gymnastics in its courses. Well, it was also the first one in which a strict dietary regimen was introduced, regulated by Georg Muche and devised by Johannes Itten after the rules of the Mazdaist doctrine.
Inspired by Zoroastrianism, the programme involved strict vegetarianism, imposing a strict diet of grains and nuts, juices and vegetables, without disdaining the use of powerful laxatives. Between lessons and rituals, Itten persuaded students to focus on purifying their bodies, with the aim of achieving a form of intestinal cleansing to balance the individual body and affect the spiritual one, part of a shared and binding community experience. Here we go, you ask me about food as a feeling, and I answer you with the bitter chalice of utopia…
One story among many others reminding us how body and food are engaged in a never-ending duel, the one between the perception of technology as an evolutionary tool and the perturbing sensation of being inhabited and defined by a foreign body. I believe in the cognitive power of art and sculpture, but above all in the cognitive power of cooking, as a form of democratic knowledge exercised from below, as a magnifying glass that let us understand, and decide, what animal we want to be.
PS: The emergence of epidemiologically relevant diseases is always embedded in a certain social anthropological background. Carol Gilligan, in A different Voice, states that women’s psychic illness have been misunderstood because the underlying reading model is a male one. On the subject of identity construction through the redefinition of diet, anorexia determined by deliberately starving oneself at the risk of one’s own life became widespread in the second half of the 20th century and took the place of 19th century hysteria as an essentially female pathology.
Anorexia affects mainly adolescent, affluent, white, Western females. Rudolfh M. Bell in The Holy Anorexia. Fasting and mysticism from the Middle Ages to the present day, has built a bridge between the anorexia of the mystics in the Middle Ages and contemporary nervous anorexia. It is difficult to trace the ascetic fasts of saints such as Caterina of Siena and others who suffered from eating disorders between 1300 and 1500 back to a malfunction of the pituitary gland, which the scholar traces back to the struggle for identity autonomy and the conquest of rights in a patriarchal society, implemented by interrupting the vital mechanism of nutrition and repudiating physicality. Under that light, Middle Age anorexic saints seem to be surrounded by a feminist aura. Both medieval saints and contemporary girls who pursue the thinness launched by Twiggy in the 1970s, pursue ideals that are well accepted by their time. With the Counter-Reformation, that branded as heresy the dietary pathologies of ascets, the practice of extreme fasting among saints has gradually disappeared. Instead of being a democratic means of cohesion, food sometimes becomes an element of dispersion and still plays a major role in the differentiation between male and female genders. Still, even today, kitchen work is mostly a female domain, while gourmet cooking with its tendency to sublimate, to etherize, to aestheticize and finally to miniaturize portions, is predominantly male. Will there ever be a cohesive and common food horizon, and if it will, how shall we recognize it?
LT: I’m thinking of the monastic Rule, the monastic community that shares the silence, the cloister’s vegetable theatre, and the daily practice. Without rules we do not live, it is like playing tennis without a net, there is neither head nor tail. If food is a triumph of masses and libations without shame or direction, then I propose Franciscan poverty, that fights for a single right, that of having no rights, and positions itself beyond political control, into metaphysics. Poverty meant not as deprivation, but as frugal knowledge, as the ability to recognize what is necessary.
PS: The artworks that are going to be featured in the exhibition In Bocca seem to refer to the need to move from an ego position to an eco position: moving from food, they take back to the idea of the circular economy of life, that, unlike the linear productive economic development of the Anthropocene, is inclusive, producing no waste whatsoever, both in terms of material and in terms of marginalization of human and social capital. The productive waste of the linear economy is indigestible: it cannot be thrown away and disposed of, but only moved a little further down the planet. Food has changed the biomass of the earth, if we think that 60% of the mammals on the planet are animals bred for food, 36% are humans and only 4% are wild species. Besides gently whispering that no body is neutral, the fossils and the indigestible leftovers of In Bocca indicate the urgency of a thorough ecological approach and of solidarity too – or rather pity?
LT: Cooking exists to maintain the fire, and therefore the ritual. These recipes of mine are therapeutic but not because they are meant to soothe, on the contrary they keep wounds open, they do not aim to cauterize our ego, but to strip away all its defenses. Altars to fragility, vanitas, memento mori, still life, call them however you like, the genre is just that one. They are the perfect image of our stumbling into a mystery, an image with a solid body but a liquid soul, fleeting but not vanishing, remaining as a timeless warning. Food is the glue between our body and the whole landscape, eating exorcises the fear of the eternal, the works I set up inside In bocca question what happens to matter when it separates from the notion of the individual, at the end of the ego, beyond the narcissistic dream, when what we are goes where we will never know.
PS: Your art has always been characterized by an attempt to permanently fix what is perishable. Is it a sort of repudiation of the passing of time or a fascination with eternity?
LT: It is a bit like water, that embodies the idea of perpetual motion, a continuous redefinition of everything. Alchemy is a hymn to the porosity of things, it is holistic trust, it is the theory of Whole, recognizing that everything is everywhere. To react to the cult of the self with the suspension of the ego, the little control, the beauty of inexperience, the mystery.
It is said that Henri Bergson believed that our consciousness was not located in the body, but that it existed outside of us, and before us, out there, dispersed in the world. Hence the brain became a receiving station; the mind was not rooted in us like a leathery plant, but it rather was a careful antenna capable of picking up vibrations, a little radio that listens to signals that pre-exist us, in short, and not a self-confident megaphone that blah blah blah all the time. Alchemists surrender to the narcotic faculties of matter; they are greedy lovers of metamorphosis, and thus of the incessant becoming of identities. In a world obsessed with purity and certainty, with clinic certainty, it is useful to look at powerful and improbable procedures such as alchemy, to find there the strength to ignore prohibitions and taboos. However, caution is needed: do not adopt the spiritualistic and simplistic vulgate of alchemy, but the synesthesia, the fusion of the senses, the desperate trust.
Rethink transplantation, grafting, mutation, steal the gestures of the restless botanist and use them to give life to images, sculptures and actions. Those are the methods and paths that distort and sublimate our idea of scientific research and ferry for it across the artistic practice, to a visual fairy tale, to freedom.