Amuse Bouche™: Weekly Musings on Food & Life

16Apr09

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Enjoy it...while it lasts, 2007

Where Art and Food Collide: An Interview with Artists Timothy Berg and Rebekah Myers

By Suzanne Lenzer

Food has long served as inspiration for artists, and I think it can also be said that art inspires chefs. But what’s really interesting to me is that both cooking and art follow similar processes: they begin with an idea or a thought that needs to be translated using either ingredients or a specific medium. The outcome may be different—one may live on a plate and the other on canvas–but the creative path is comparable.

 

Eat your heart out!!!, 2008

Eat your heart out!!!, 2008

 

With this in mind I wanted to talk to people who were somehow linked to both worlds, so I sought out Timothy Berg and Rebekah Myers—two collaborative artists who have breached the food world in their work. Specifically, it was Berg and Myers’ All Things Good exhibition at the Dean Project Gallery in New York last year made them irresistible candidates for discussion about food and art.

SL: What commonalities do you believe exist between the visual arts and food/cooking?

TB/RM: Our background is in ceramics and ceramics in particular has a great deal in common with cooking in terms of the process.  We work with recipes both for claybodies and glazes.  Some of these recipes have been passed down and others are one’s we have developed or experimented with and discovered produce phenomenal results.  In ceramics we are firing our work, another obviously analogous process for baking or grilling.  The process of making something whether out of clay or other materials is always very similar to cooking in our minds because we generally start with a basic idea of what we’d like to finish with and what the steps might be to produce that result.  Finally, beginning with good materials is like having superior ingredients, and craftsmanship in either process is crucial to a visually appealing or delicious tasting result.

 

get'em 'fore they're gone, 2007

get'em 'fore they're gone, 2007

 

SL: Food and art can both be incredibly inspiring and evocative, but they can also be taken too seriously. Your work is very balanced—thought-provoking yet whimsical at the same time. Can you describe your shared philosophy/outlook, how you find this balance?

TB/RM: We are both interested in creating work that is thought provoking and whimsical as you described.  This is not always easy but when, and if, we strike this balance it comes from allowing our ideas to marinate—another cooking analogy.  We may begin thinking through our ideas several months before beginning work on them or we may begin work and be forced to start again.  In either case the ideas evolve from a process of continual questioning.  This continual questioning sometimes focuses around whether the ideas are compelling enough and other times is concerned with whether or not the work is engaging aesthetically.

 

Artists Timothy Berg & Rebekah Myers

Artists Timothy Berg & Rebekah Myers

 

SL: How do you decide what you’re going to create—why a Creamsicle and an ice cream sandwich instead of a Mallomar or a Fig Newton?

TB/RM: Well Fig Newtons are definitely too healthy. Originally we made the ice cream treats as counterpoints to other pieces.  The piece Enjoy it…while it lasts was a counterpoint to tip of the iceberg (precious cubes).  And Eat your heart out was a counterpoint to between a rock…  Both of these pieces are meant to be considered within a broader context; one that demonstrates the important interconnectedness between human appetites and the implications that these appetites have on our environment.  Ice cream treats were initially interesting to us because they are exceedingly seductive in their form, color and symbolic value.  Since they are frozen treats they inevitably have to transform or be consumed.  This predicament seems to fuel the insatiability that people exhibit when eating these treats.  In our minds there are few other things that so clearly embody conspicuous consumption.

SL: Okay, on to real food. What do you two eat for breakfast?

TB: Honey Nut Cheerios and either coffee or a vanilla soy milk latte.

RM: Raisin Bran and some strawberries or black berries.

SL: What’s always in your refrigerator or cupboard?

TB/RM: Vanilla soy milk, black beans, garlic, fresh baby leaf spinach, olive oil.

SL: Do you have any food memories you can share that have inspired you–your own personal madeleines so to speak?

TB: I’m not sure this particular story is one that inspired any of our work, but in college I ate frequently at a restaurant that served sesame tofu.  I enjoyed this tofu so much that I wrote an “Ode to Sesame Tofu.”  I took Rebekah on our first date to this restaurant and I told her I liked the tofu so much that I had written a poem in homage to it.  Of course she immediately asked me to recite the poem, which I did.

SL: This may seem a bit dark, what would your last meals be?

TB: Double stacked garden burger on a toasted sesame seed bun with pepper jack cheese, guacamole, tomato, pickles, mushrooms, and catsup, a side of crispy curly fries and a cold glass of beer, and for desert a hot out of the oven chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream on top.

RM: Too dark.

SL: When you fly do you carry your own food? If so, what do pack?

TB: If I am thinking ahead I try to pack a Tiger’s Milk bar for a snack.

RM: I always eat an entire roll of Mentos over the course of the flight.

SL: Do you cook and if so, can you share some of your specialties?

TB: I enjoy making pizza from scratch.  Nothing fancy just the dough recipe from our King Arthur Flour Cookbook and a home made sauce with veggies and mozzarella cheese.

RM: Mushroom, Spinach and Tofu Quiche.

SL: Knowing that you both cook, what music do you listen to while you’re chopping?

TB/RM: Mostly we listen to NPR.  Marketplace is good to chop to.

 

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