Li-Ming Hu is an interdisciplinary artist who employs a carnivalesque sensibility, to explore the relationships between cultural production and the construction of subjectivities.
Vol. 16, Iss. 48
Candy Land, A golden ticket into Flux’s Chocolate Factory.
At the entrance of the loft in Queens, a stenciled wall warns that my time here “may result in a blackening of the tongue, unrightly lengthening of the knees, including fore-thumbs, proceeding hairline, eternal heartbreak, facial uncertainty, silvering, [and] tingling.”
I have ventured to Queens to get drunk on Coca-Cola, only to learn that I may become a mutant.
“You have to sign the wall to enter,” says a slight man with thinning hair. I Sharpie my Hancock aside 40 or 50 signatures. “Great,” he says. “The chocolate room is on the left. Enjoy.”
It’s a warm fall evening, and I’m attending the Flux Factory collective’s “All You Can Art,” an edible exhibition where art is food and food is art. “You can have the same attitude toward your sense of taste as you do toward sight in relation to a painting,” Morgan Meis, Flux Factory’s president, wrote in an email. Possible, but how to judge such ephemeral art? Plus, I’m hungry; can a famished critic be objective? Or is that the point?
Opening a door emblazoned with “Please Eat,” I enter UK-based Prudence Emma Staite’s Suite: Chocolate Room #6. It’s Willy Wonka’s wet dream. A white chocolate “rug” coats the floor. The baseboards are dark chocolate. Cocoa human fingers jut from the walls. Decorative white candy mimics wallpaper. On ledges sit chocolate portraits of Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, President Bush and Michael Moore. The juxtapositions are delicious.
“I feel sick,” says a cherubic brunette. She’s attacked Michael Moore with gusto.
“Oh, I would love to eat the whole room,” says a Japanese girl with a blue cap.
“I think I’m chewing on something that’s not chocolate,” says a moustachioed man. He bit the red wall, the sole confection-free surface.
I sample floorboards, fingers, George Bush’s ear and the footprint-free rug. They’re sweet and scrumptious, though the sugar overwhelms.
Saving Moore for later, I find Staite. Her eyes are ringed dark. She’s spent the week plastering and molding 80 pounds of cocoa. The white chocolate ceiling alone took six hours to trowel. But she’s happy to hear the fingers are devoured and that the portraits have been munched. “I was interested to see who would eat who,” Staite says. “Everyone loved the Queen. I even ate a bit. George Bush’s eyes were poked out, though.”
Needing a sweet respite, I find Miwa Koizumi. The Brooklyn-based artist has homemade liquor, a toothy grin and an array of frozen, capped tubes.
I unscrew the first tube and inhale lime-flavored nothingness. “That’s called spirite d’air,” she says. “It’s like eating air.”
I sample another chilly vial filled with amber fluid. It’s reminiscent of sweet wino vodka. Next, a yellowish, liquid-filled tube. “I call this golden water,'” she says. “It’s like drinking sunshine and rain water.”
Dubious, I sip. It’s a cat’s litter box.
“It’s the juice of 100 tomatoes,” Koizumi says.
She hands me a mini-squirt bottle entitled “grain graine.” A pomegranate seed sits on top. I squeeze and fruity liquor streams into my mouth. It’s delicious.
Koizumi giggles and I walk quickly away. Rounding a corner, I find the bearded J.M. Tyree. He’s scrawling on circular sheets of paper. One starts: “I once stole a neighbor’s bike” Three dipping sauces are presented as accompaniment. A woman next to me dips one sheet into a red sauce, tastes, says: “That was horrid.”
Tyree looks up, shakes his head, then resumes these Uncollected Works. He’s recreating his lost stories, composing them on rice paper using edible ink.
I dunk a proposition into tangy raspberry. A dangling participle plunges into red hotness. I soak up dumpling sauce with a vignette. It’s either the sauce or the verbs, but I like this one best.
Tyree disagrees. “I like the raspberry, but the hot sauce is horrible,” he says. “But the Korean dumpling sauce is pretty good.”
Tyree’s written all day, and looks weary. “There’s so much to remember,” he says. “There’s no way I can recall everything.” Judging by his rice-paper heap, he’s trying. What will he do with uneaten works? Collage? Feed pigeons?
He laughs. “The pigeons will probably turn their noses up.”
The smell of cloves leads me to Multiple Assisted Soup, where guests are encouraged to season a simmering cauldron with available spices and root vegetables. When guests add ingredients, they must include it in the improvised “recipe” written on the wall. Two coffee beans, 12 dried chilies, one memory pill and a “grossly chopped leek” are among 100-odd additions.
“Would you like to try some?” asks Jean Barberis, a Fluxer wearing a floral-themed shirt.
I nod. He ladles a taste with a silver cup. “Careful, it’s spicy,” he says. I let the soup cool and peer into the pot. Several orangesÃ’peels intactÃ’bob.
I sip and cough. Barberis winces. “I could probably add coconut milk and save it.”
I doubt it, but bite my tongue. Too many cooks, as they say. Leaving Barberis, I enter a clearing covered with 20 or 30 Coke two-liters. A dark fluid boils on a burner. Copper piping snakes through ice water, dripping clear fluid into a beaker.
A lanky man in red pants pours his distillation into Cuervo shot glasses. “You need to try this,” Sebastien Sanz de Santamaria says, offering a shot of fermented Coke.
This is Alcohola by Frederic Pradeau (who lives in France). His still morphs Coke any sugary soda would suffice into rotgut. The formula is simple: Add brewer’s yeast to Coke, ferment for two weeks, then distill. The result “packs a punch,” according to Santamaria.
I hold the shot to light: clear. Like moonshine. I shut my eyes and gulp. It tastes like water.
“Yeah, the fermentation didn’t work so well. The artist forgot to tell us the Coke had to be flat.”
Sadly sober, I exit onto a balcony. The night is black, save for a candle-lit path leading to a curtained room. Staite and a woman wearing cat-eye glasses are puffing cigarettes. The curtained room opens and the wall-biter from the chocolate exhibit exits. Buttoning his jeans, he says, “Nope, couldn’t pull the trigger.”
It’s my turn. Inside: a bathroom, complete with old Fortune magazines, cigars and Fresh ‘N Up wipes. In Cycle, my excrement is requested. The Flux Factory will collect the waste and fertilize tomatoes at a Catskills farm. Upon ripening, defecators receive tomatoes via mail.
The toilet is lined with a black trash bag. Empty.
I sit down, flip through the Fortunes, but my intestines are frozen. Outside, Staite asks, “Did you go?”
I shake my head.
“Well, just wait a while.” “After all, everything turns into shit,” Staite says, sucking her cigarette. “That’s what food is, isn’t it?