Monday, November 2, 2015

Recommendations: Sophie Calle's 'The Chromatic Diet', 1998

I really enjoyed Art and Food: Rituals Since 1851, the section of the Milan Expo dedicated to art, held at the Triennale. It's a huge exhibition — we had about four hours there, and had to really rush through the second half. The exhibition begins with impressionist paintings of markets, dinners and chefs, moves through a late nineteenth century Campari bar, early and mid-century design, some fun Lichtenstein sculptures, before moving on to recent, playful pieces like Tom Sach's 'Nutsy McDonalds'. There are clips from films playing throughout, and a wonderful cabinet of nineteenth century menus and books about food.

I particularly liked Sophie Calle's 'The Chromatic Diet,' which I hadn't seen before.

Calle asked Paul Auster to write a character who she would attempt to resemble, and Auster wrote Maria, in Leviathan. 'The Chromatic Diet' is drawn from a passage describing a character's diet:

Some weeks, she would indulge in what she called "the chromatic diet," restricting herself to foods of a single colour on any given day. Monday orange: carrots, canteloupe, boiled shrimp. Tuesday red: tomatoes, persimmon, steak tartare. Wednesday white: flounder, potatoes, cottage cheese. Thursday green: cucumbers, broccoli, spinach - and so on, all the way through the last meal on Sunday.

Calle followed these instructions, and so 'The Chromatic Diet,' as shown in Art and Food, consists of photographs of each meal, set against a background of the same colour, with typed menus set alongside the images. At points where Auster does not specify colours or food, Calle makes choices in keeping with what he does specify elsewhere. On Sunday, Calle hosts a dinner party where each guest eats a different one of the week's coloured meals. I think it's a really interesting idea, but it particularly attracted me as, years ago, unaware of Auster's book or Calle's work, I tried to do the same thing, initially eating only pink foods and making plans to move through the rainbow. 

The project is also recorded in Calle's book, The Double Game.
'The Chromatic Diet' is more conceptually dense than my undergraduate experiments, of course. Calle's work is usually discussed in terms of how it merges art and life, the ways in which life is a performance, and I've since read about this piece discussed in those terms. Visually, too, the piece attracts; the focus on colour and the display of the foods draws attention to the form, and it's easy to make links between these images and colour field painting. But I also found myself moved by the way in which control of the female body, and the aesthetic end of this, is so visible in the piece. Calle is performing according to somebody else's instructions; she has only a small degree of autonomy. And yet it's her achievement, in working within these constraints, which is remarkable.

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