02 Federico Manuel Peralta Ramos, an Argentinian artist, created a large egg as his contribution to the final Instituto Torcuato di Tella show in 1965. The egg was entitled We Are Outside. Very little documentation remains of this piece. At first sight, the pictures show the large egg alone with its maker on a thin plinth on the gallery’s floor. The black-and-white photographs show some dark areas in the plaster; the piece was not entirely dry at the time of the show. The few surviving friends who saw the piece recall that the work was made in such a hurry that it broke immediately after the jury saw it and declared it the "winner" of that year's final show. A relative of Peralta Ramos similarly told me that the artist miscalculated the tension between the metal structure and the skin of plaster, and so the piece imploded right after the prize ceremony. However, there is a picture that shows Peralta Ramos destroying the piece himself. Too large to be moved, the work was made inside the gallery space and was always fated for destruction.
Over the years, and because it was his last art object, the egg formed part of the myth surrounding Peralta Ramos. Some say he abandoned art (he later became an important character on a late-night television show), but he did not. The egg marks more of a beginning than an end. It brings to an end the anxiety of becoming a conceptual artist, a part of an international movement—a figure able to comment and contribute to a certain tradition. The egg is an end of critical thinking and also an invention. It is an almost classical invention, still organized around appearance and what is hidden—around enigma and truth. The egg depends on language; it establishes a dialogic form that calls attention to the physicality of the object: its texture, shape, even its sound as a form inhabited by void amidst the space. The egg actually speaks. It is the egg that says we are outside. The piece traces a clear correspondence between rationality (sense) as "outside" and irrationality (non-sense) as "inside." The momentum of meaning is delayed as the egg starts to fall apart, turning all possible narratives into debris. During this process of announcement, presence, and disappearance, a movement of another sort arises: not production but seduction.
In the years following the egg, Peralta Ramos devoted himself to life, giving parties with his grant from the Guggenheim Foundation, but also meeting friends in cafes during the day and at cabarets during the night. He performed living as an artwork while writing maxims on bar napkins, paper, and canvas. It all indicates that the egg was part of an avant-garde gesture focused on a personalized surrealist take on total autonomy, the destruction of art, and the overlapping of rules that separate form from content. But, apart from the obvious, the interesting part of all this lies in how Peralta Ramos ended up on the other side, so to speak. If "we are outside," it is because he—the egg/the artist—is inside. He did not stop making art; he just started making it from the other side.
The egg—Humpty Dumpty—is tired of language, but still ultimately dependent on it. Like Humpty Dumpty, he and he alone can decide on the meaning of words. The egg can rename the world and invent it anew. However, since only he knows this meaning, the whole process may end up becoming a radical, solipsistic effort. The world was invented that day. The egg stood in front of us—all of us, people from the past as well as the future. Peralta Ramos transfigured the world, changed the rules, and altered the universe in Buenos Aires.
03The question is how to judge without judgment, how to think without the critical method, how to speak without creating an order that excludes the disorder created in the senses? Judgment and its exercise in so deep inside our way of understanding art, culture, the relationship of outside-inside between thought and body, object and thought, body and touch that it seems almost counter-intuitive to take very seriously the demand of leaving it behind. The Era of Judgment is the home of our complex institutional urbanism of aesthetics—one that believes in order and not chaos as the principle that secures the preservation of objects and values. It perpetuates also a cognitive attitude that prevents invention. The Era of Judgment, to borrow the manner coined by historian Henry Focillon, is marked by the flow of time, by consecutive-ness.
But it is also an Era organized around the logic of transcendence, the game of oppositions between death and life, creation and non-creation. A logic that philosophy has tried many times to contest, even more so since 1968. But Michel Foucault, in his critique of institutions and power, is more digestible and comforting than the late Giles Deleuze or Michel Serres on the matter of politics and invention. And art and artists have been resisting the logic of transcendence, stating, for example, the importance of not being creative. In other words, in being life without generating life—in being life without seeing an artwork as a “production.”
Art like quantum physics looks at photosynthesis to imagine new forms of imagining time, perception, in other words, the way it all connects preserving the values we learn to understand from our political past but are unable to define our future. It is a future that we cannot even call future because is not ahead, or beside us, but inside.
04During the 20’s and 30’s, a branch scientific research appeared which focused on understanding the human metabolism. The isolation of vitamins started in the second half of the 19th century and during the 1920’s multiple experiments explained the role of vitamins A and D while further studies isolated vitamins C and K. Thus, interest in diet took on a new form and food was redefined not only in terms of accessibility, class or tradition but also in those of health and self-control. This interest in diets, and in drugs, is part of the exploration of the possibilities of enhancing our capabilities.
The world of drugs centers on the brain, the possible chemical transformations that enable us to explore this organ and, therefore, the way we sense the world. Comparing the rise of interest in vitamins and raw food with drugs seems nonsensical at first sight. Food may indeed have an effect on our organism, but isn’t it too slow, too long-term a variable to provide a basis for proper comparison with drug use? Yet, after nearly one hundred years, such thinking has allowed food to acquire the social and media relevance it has today. The revelation of the importance of food, not as gourmet cooking, but as a source of and structuring method for life, bears a strange but powerful relation with all sorts of experiments on “freeing the mind”, with the psychiatric and anti-psychiatric movements of the last century, as well as with Modernism and the avant-garde and the idea of controlling the body, fueling it not too little and not too much to maintain productivity. The science of nourishment does not only aim to avoid an ill body, allow us to live longer and increase the productive years of humans. Food science goes beyond attempts to strengthen the body-as-machine towards attempts to generate a paradoxical state in which the human organism is not merely healthy enough to work more but healthy enough to make us feel that we are in a state beyond labor. The body as resort. If drugs treat the mind as a skyrocket ready for takeoff, escaping the damaged body, the metabolic cult and super foods posit a body capable of making the mind stay.
This transformation in the scope of diet’s influence on the human is part of a larger, radical shift in our understanding of the social and aesthetic conditions that determine our current relationship with the body and gender. It is defined not only by a tendency towards more freedom but also towards increasing control, which in turn leads to shifts in the notions of gender that are central to art. Here gender is not understood as constituted by a dichotomy of the male and the female, but as an intelligent means of addressing the problem of the dichotomy of the inner from the outer. This is gender as a language we can adopt to grasp the possibilities of consciousness. This is gender as another name for art.
While there exists a vast body of research on drugs and the many other means of exploring the limits of our mind in its relation to science, literature, music and, later on, every other form of subculture, there is almost nothing written on how these early biochemical experiments relate to culture and art. The gendered aspect of this field must also be noted, for the history of research on food and diet as a means of altering life is peopled almost exclusively by women. Though there is as yet almost no existing artistic production in the form of raw food or vitamins, there is an unstudied aspect of art production based on the same principles as this new metabolic way of living.
05 My first encounters with molecular cuisine were a long time ago. A friend took me to a seminar during which we were presented with an egg whose yolk had been replaced by café con leche. Actually, though my friend remembers this story, I am uncertain the memory is accurate. I am not even certain whether it was Ferran Adrià himself or a member of his team doing the “cooking” and presenting this new juggling act of taste and technology. Memory, not only that of the individual but that of the collective as well, always finds good reasons to collapse objective information.
The group attending this meeting, consisting mostly of architects, product and graphic designers, web developers as well as two of the most important advertisement teams in the country, was truly shocked. However, this shock had nothing to do with food as a “dish” or culinary event. The cooking demonstration was received with as much enthusiasm, misunderstanding and resistance as when a new discipline of knowledge is introduced. This egg containing a café con leche was perhaps only described to us, but it is an incredibly powerful image. It produced among my associates attending the seminar an endless series of jokes, repeated again and again, morphing the two original elements into things like a strawberry with a heart of anchovy and a thousand other combinatory variations. All society seemed, at this point, to be laughing at this extreme Pantagruelic game that the chefs were performing with food. Imagine, the raw DNA of an animal product, the egg, was being replaced by a culturally made element, café con leche. Café con leche! Our breakfast staple had replaced the egg’s “origin” point which, though still protected like the yoke before it, was transformed into a consolidated item ready to be swallowed whole without consideration, without thought. The ritual chain of small, familiar gestures, the unconscious steps taken from hand to mouth, had been, all at once, replaced by a single, determined act, as unified as taking a shot of liquor. The vast collective choreography of every Spaniard, every morning, across millions of counters, publicly performing the gestures of drinking their café con leche had, all of a sudden, been replaced by the precarious substance of an egg.
Such transformations had nothing to do with food and much to do with a metabolic revolution that emerged from under the flood of drugs that had submerged Spain as unexpectedly as a tsunami. The drugs were not merely there because of the convenience of Spain’s geography and location, but also because of the intense appetite unconsciously created over many years of dictatorship now made manifest during these transitional years into democracy. Such appetites were the product of senses that had been restricted from performing their normal functions for too long and further oppressed by the fact that the old system was neither removed nor contested but was merely being allowed to die away. The rise which occurred in drug use and, after their peak, in the importance of a new food played a fundamental role in creating the conditions in which a new self could be formed.
Like a metabolic reaction inside the social body, this new interest in food possessed a distinctively synthetic character. It could be linked with neither a long tradition of cuisine nor with the bourgeoisie. On the contrary, it emerged, almost like an artistic movement, from an independent group. The molecular cuisine and its accompanying tendencies were somehow Kantian, focusing not on the food itself but on invention and a kind of social training. This cuisine set up as a goal, though of course impossible, to make us all eat through the mouth and sense through the nose in one special way. The very impossibility of this goal, that an entire culture would adopt an attitude towards eating which was deeply anti-culinary, made it into a radical proposal to challenge the habits of an entire nation. It suggested that a new historical period should not start off with the same gestures and tastes of the previous regime. Food that is not food and recipes that are impossible to share are excellent antidotes to nostalgia. Almost over night, a huge portion of the population was addressing food in a completely different manner and, thus, opening itself to new possibilities in how and what it was consuming.
The new food appeared at a crucial moment in the transformation of a body eternally oscillating between diets, drugs and anti-depressants, a transformation that is now moving us towards a completely different understanding of gender. Together, new food and fashion combined to produce forms of desire and anxiety that displaced sexual appetites. Corresponding with the rise of virtual realities and online pornography, a period defined by a kind of disinterestedness towards sexual interactions, especially heterosexual, took place which allowed for a new sexual revolution. It has given us not only gay marriage and rights, but also made possible a new imagination in which gender and its functions are also a matter of choice. Gender has become a key aspect in the liberation of the body from Modernity, labor and Leistung (productivity). The slow but steady deprioritization of body-with-body sexuality is a metabolic process within the social body that will create the organic space necessary for this new gender reality. This produces, of course, all sorts of anxieties, from eating disorders to extreme surgical operations. Food, with its incredible capacity for transferring to the mouth some of our genital sense, can most successfully compensate for these lacks and losses. Camper’s inflated rubber paws, though as rudimentary and nostalgic as our current ideology, appeared to signal this transitional era. It will not last, however. Like the period of shedding old skin before the metamorphosis into a new creature, one whose form is as yet unknown to us, we are performing our old cultural-critical logic before acquiring a new one. We just need to sing it a little while longer.