Art as food: food as art. There’s a strong analogy in there somewhere, laden down though it is by burdensome intellectual squabbling. The image of the artist in their studio sitting down to a meal, to revive and to nourish, however, is very easy to come by thanks to a recent swathe of books on the topic. Most recently Olafur Eliasson, the Icelandic-Danish artist, invited the world to his lunchtime table in Phaidon’s The Kitchen, to reveal an enviable commitment to feeding his 30 employees at their studio in Berlin – mostly vegetarian meals, occasionally sheep from his own flock in Iceland – from a kitchen led by food activists who create a dynamic that is healing and open and generous. Food is a social glue.
Speaking with the artist-duo Admir Jahic and Comenius Roethlisberger from their Swiss base, they attempt to explain to me the root of an obsession with food that led to the creation of Artists’ Recipes; a collection of 81 recipes that chronicles the gastronomic adventures, hand written and divinely illustrated, of some of the art world’s most established enfants terribles. “Cooking is kind of an everyday issue for us,” they say. “It took a long time to get the book together but it’s been magical.”
Food, it seems, is on their mind all day long. Triggered in the early morning – “across the street from the studio there is a Sri Lankan restaurant and they cook their curries from 8:30, 9 in the morning, and so we are always hungry, even when we shouldn’t be. We had to get the book out of the way.” The pair came up with a simple template: the name of dish, ingredients and cooking time, and began by sending it to their friends. From there, they continue, “it spread around the world, and we’re really happy it worked out so well.” Friends of friends of friends of friends of friends of friends got involved. Every parcel that arrived at their studio over the course of the following year was like a “mini-Christmas, every time”.
Every entry in the book is a highlight, from Marina Abramović’s aphrodisiac, the “opposite of a recipe” – no food, no sleep, no tv, no sex for seven days, before bathing in almond milk – to the more traditional offering of Subdoh Gupta’s Goan prawn curry. Sue Webster, author of her own book on road kill (typed on an SS-issue typewriter), suggests a pasta dish that indicates the total cook and prep time should take no more than the length of Lana del Rey’s Ultraviolence. While Jo Baer’s ‘Whiteonwhitesalad’, created most frequently in the Jahic Roethlisberger studio, advises the reader to “eat and enjoy and remember Malevich for his genius for titles fondly”.
“It’s very intimate somehow. For us it was important that we didn’t involve any galleries or art dealers – it was just straight to the artist. It was left to the freedom of the artist,” Jahir says on the ultimate joy of the project. “It seems like everything is always mediated through the galleries and asking for permission from the galleries. And it was very interesting to us to see that it’s still possible in a highly regulated art world where you have copyright and advisors and thousands of assistants that artists still have the freedom to do a project even on a light theme like cooking. Globally putting the project together, without boundaries and without institutions, was very good for us in terms of seeing that it’s still possible to do.”
Artists' Recipes is out now, published by Bolo.