We had two main objectives for the day: to secure enough beef shanks for three people, and to visit PS1 the gallery for contemporary art housed in what used to be a public school. Without time to make two separate trips, we thought that our beef shanks might benefit from being brought into proximity with cutting-edge cultural production. Thawing meat seems in no way out of place in such a context, and yet we were initially apprehensive: what if our juxtaposing meat with experimental art meets an uncomprehending or even hostile public? Worse, what if nobody cares? Is it still performance art if nobody notices? Perhaps most importantly, do we have enough carrots and a nice wine to go with the forecasted meal? Our minds were heavy with such concerns as we rode the train uptown.
First stop: Union Square Farmer's Market. It was a wonderfully dreary day in Manhattan -- perfect for buying some beef shank, organic salad sprouts, and jalapeno-cheddar bread. But how will these foodstuffs fare when exposed to the challenging art on view at PS1? Will the greens remain crisp, and the beef juicy?
The frozen shanks are placed in a plastic bag. Ideally, we could have filled this bag with salt, and so accelerated the thawing process while helping to flavour the meat at the same time.
The plastic bag with the shanks is placed in an innocuous satchel. One could also use a winter jacket with deep pockets, though this would pose difficulties in warmer weather.
We stand before the austere walls of the citadel of contemporary art known as PS1. Here our hearts begin to race: will they search our satchel? Do they enforce a ban on foodstuffs? Will our shanks be left to thaw on a mundane coatcheck shelf, and thus never be exposed to contemporary art and its savory, curative properties? Steeling our nerve, we push through the doors of the gallery.
And we are in! We were neither detained, frisked, scanned nor even questioned as to the contents of our satchel bulging with
slowly thawing beef shanks and overpriced organic greens.
It is difficult to pocket and walk off with an instalation such as Samara Golden's The Flat Side of the Knife, and perhaps this is why security is so lax. But one cannot deny the virtiginous, Escheresque splendor of this disorienting, cleverly constructed space. Mark, please do not swoon and drop our foodstuffs into the ersatz mirrored void!
Commenting upon the systemic violence inherent in conteporary paradigms of immaterial labour, the video installations in "The Little Things Could be Dearer" by Carina Brandes, Melanie Gilligan, Ulrike Muller, and Michael E. Smith are sure to lend challenging, if somewhat disturbing and Orwellian overtones to our thawing shanks.
"I could build a suspension bridge in less time than it would take me to get a coconut to stick to the wall like that" muses Eaton. This installation's use of food is so perplexing and enigmatic that, for several ponderous moments we forget about the thawing beef shanks, and our mission to pre-tenderize dinner by exposing it to some of the finest contemporary art New York has to offer.
What were once several public school classrooms on the second floor of PS1's art space were today adorned with a myriad of colourful, defiant, profane, and somewhat tragic works of art willingly abandoned by their creators through the signing of a card pledging that they "never want to see this work of art again" Despite this callous disavowel (or ironic celebration?) of the collective power of creative expression, Eaton could feel the cool, slowly thawing beef shanks growing progressively cultured and flavourful through proximity to so much creativity and wit.
These works were signed by their authors, then displayed one last time, before they are to be uncermoniously deposited in giant dumpsters out front the buidling, and later incinerated. Happily, we will ensure the same fate does not befall our dinner, which will be braised for at least two hours in chicken stock. Perhaps some of the spirit of this doomed art will be preserved in the fibres of the thawing beef and transmitted to us through ingestion.
As Orpana shoulders the foodstuffs, he can feel the power of the exhibit's wild, creative juices slowly seeping into the thawing beef.
Surveying the brainchild of Roberta and Bob Smith, Orpana smiles inwardly at the thought of the room unwittingly providing anmesty for thawing beef that is soon to be artfully treated by Eaton's culinary genius.
"Let them eat beef!" this giullotine sculpture could be saying. And before the day is through, we certainly will.
This room, with its ceiling-high screen, is somewhat warmer than the others. Lingering a while with this piece will accelerate the thawing process, thinks Orpana.
The democratic power of the people is made palpable through these video pieces assembled by Artur Zmijewski. Here, where art and politics so powerfully intersect, our beef shanks cannot fail to absorb some of the revolutionary energy that animates these scenes.
A moment of reflection in the courtyard before leaving the PS1 gounds: are our beef shanks still as cold and austere as this former school playground, or has exposure to contemporary art kindled in them an inner warmth that can sustain a bold culinary spirit, even on this damp day in Queens?
On the 7 Train, Eaton checks the beef: still largely frozen! How could the power of contemporary art fail to irradiate these foodstuffs? Perhaps we did not spend long enough reflecting upon the ramifications of the piercing images collected in the "Zero Tolerance" exhibition.
Suddenly, our concern over the state of the beef is broken by an eruption of spectacle on the crowded subway car. Two men with a small, loud stereo proceed to execute a well-rehearsed and pysically demanding dance routine using the support rails and poles of the subway car as an acrobatic apparatus. If the experimental art that challenged us within the walls of PS1 did not thaw the shanks, perhaps the tactical appropriation of an everyday subway car by these two talented young New Yorkers will do the trick. As quickly as they appeared, they exit the car at the next stop, before the tourist Orpana has a chance to give them three dollars that he has fished out of his pocket. The other subway riders seem nonplussed: they seem to have seen this before. Perhaps it is their collective fatigue that prevents our shanks from thawing more rapidly.
At home with the still-frozen shanks. Desperate to maintain the momentum of our project, Amy reads aloud some choice passages of a David Sedaris article from the New Yorker. Surely this is now some of the most cultured meat in all of Parkside!
The shank that was removed from the fridge earlier in the day seems more thawed than the gallery-exposed beef. But fortified by our mind's recent exposure to the paradoxes
of contemporary art, we do not succumb to despair.
Combined with chicken stock, sage, pepper, bay leaves and ample salt, our cultured beef is sure to transmit its recently absorbed cultural capital to the shanks that, though more thawed and pliable, have not enjoyed the benfit of exposure to the arts.
Eaton does the slow food movement proud and braises the shanks for over two hours. The end product is a succlent, savory slab that falls apart tenderly on the fork, and
unfolds upon the palate like one of M.C. Escher's complex, seemingly impossible, but nonetheless aesthetically pleasing geometric conundrums. Or perhaps it is more akin to a
fragrant summer's day made all the more precious by a keen apprehansion of the fleeting fragility of all terrestrial things. Paired with a fourteen year old Bourdeaux and
after a wait of more than five hours, the meal heartily lifts the spirits of Dietrich, Eaton and Orpana. It is perhaps too early to name this a victory for contemporary art;
perhaps the three were merely deliriously hungry by the time of this late night feast. And yet the meal has touched and quickened a communal, human spirit in the three tired
It may be necessary to carry diverse cuts of meat on further urban adventures to more fully understand the ambient effects of art and culture on the food that we consume.