oyster

Oysters have a way of dividing people. In 1996, Mary Ellen Carroll’s fishmonger contacted her about a customer who cancelled an order of 500 oysters. Food and art collided at this moment and the conflation was not that food is art or art is food, but that context and intention determine the value of both. The question was not simply if Carroll wanted the oysters, but where they would be served, how would they be served and to whom in addition to the economic consideration of there being no economic consideration, except for the opening of the oysters---skilled labor. There is no one who ‘sort of likes’ oysters. Carroll was working on the question of taste and aesthetics in relation to the work of art (an ongoing process and continued research) and knew that this would be the moment to conflate the relationship between the two. It was to literally use taste as the material considered as well as the aesthetic and oysters expand into other senses and taste that Brillat-Savarin also wrote extensively about. Not dissimilar to how Warhol made visible the action in Sleep with his Factory crowd who complained that they never slept. Carroll made visible the act of eating an oyster, shucking the oyster and who engages in these activities or not. This act was opened up on the street in front of Joanne Hendricks’ Cookbooks on Greenwich Street, in lower Manhattan where the oyster beds were located before the landfill narrowed the Hudson to create the West Side Highway and Battery Park City. Carroll in her ‘78 Ford F-150 pick up, went around the city to salvage seven orange construction cones to block off Greenwich Street north of Canal Street. The Berlin based composer Laurie Schwartz was invited to have her work The Shoes performed in front of Cookbooks. The composition was originally performed by the soprano Anna Clementi and is based on excerpts from Pelligrino Artusi’s infamous treatise on food and living from 1891, the La Scienza in Cucina e L’Arte di Mangiar Bene (The Science of Cookery and the Art of Eating Well). Carroll wanted to use gastronomy as the base for the name and Schwartz had the ‘sense’ to add itinerant, hence the title became Itinerant Gastronomy and is based on chance operations of how food, location and people all have a reason to be in one place, and this place or location can change, hence the itinerancy. As Carolyn Korsmeyer noted in her book, Making Sense of Taste, “The symbolic functions of food of the wider variety those that involve expression and denotation in particular—seem to require a place in some cultural practice in order to come into being.”

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