Food for all Senses: Kearny Street Workshop's "A Sensory Feast"

February 8, 2011

"Broccoli" by Jean Chen

A Sensory Feast, presented by SOMArts and Kearny Street Workshop, opened on Friday, Feb 4, and I -- lured by the promise of free admission and Senor Sisig and art that also had food in it -- emerged from my bedroom. I put on clothes, gritted my teeth, and prepared to have fun.

I entered SOMArts at 6 pm. As I signed in, I picked up a free cookie and popped it into my mouth. I paused. This cookie was tasty. It crackled a bit when my teeth hit its surface before it melted into chocolate goo. And so I entered in higher spirits, ended up staying until nearly 9, and was truly not left wanting... in any sense of the word. (Haha?)

In all seriousness, I had fun. Opening night was effortless, engaging, and thought-provoking. Curated by Sita Bhaumik (one of the featured artists and a Hyphen editor!) and Kearny Street Workshop's executive director Ellen Oh, the 10 featured artists showcase work in a variety of media, all representing food as something other than edible, and from a specifically Asian American perspective. In itself, this combination of viewpoints is worth the effort of parking in San Francisco (tip: 8th and Brannan after 6 pm). 

Artist Amy M. Ho taught me that a durian can be a full-body costume you and your cat can wear together, which is awesome. Jean Chen tempted me with temporary dumpling tattoes. When I told a friend, he said I should get a real one, as all I ever think about are dumplings anyhow. I listened to Brandon Bigelow's aural rendition of a curry night while Sita re-introduced me to the glitter in gold. She dusted curry powder onto walls in the shape of flowers and displayed gold chocolate wrappers shaped into furniture and flatware. I didn't ask her, but I had a sense of seeing a home, except through scent -- as in, the walls of a room through curls of curry-scented steam. And painter Kira Greene helped me laugh, because in her artist statement she wrote that her use of "lusciously styled food" represents our desire to consume feminine bodies. There is nothing like substituting a plucked chicken for a naked female to put it all in perspective. (Read: We are not roast chicken. Don't eat us!)

In the show's curatorial statement, Sita and Ellen write, "As Asian Americans, we probably eat more cheese than durian. But these foods still have the power to represent us. A Sensory Feast explores how we, as Asian Americans, represent food and are thereby represented by it."

Totally. And I would add that as the show emphasizes experiencing food with all five senses, it also invites conversation around what it viscerally feels like to be Asian American. It not only displays experience, it asks our bodies to recognize what it is to smell with a different nose and see with a particular vocabulary. For example, Yosh Han, a perfumist represented in the show, writes that smelling quite literally forces you to take in an experience, and artist Arthur Huang created no less than a periodic table of food to display. How else to say, "This is my most basic self"?

The show doesn't take itself too seriously though. You can also dress up as a slice of pizza, or watch a full three minutes of food porn. (For real: kids advised.)

See A Sensory Feast from now until Feb 24 by going to SOMArts in San Francisco. Attend a presentation by the National Bittermelon Council on Wednesday, Feb 16 from 7-9 pm, or if you are waiting for another party, go to the Artist Talk and Closing Reception on  Thursday, Feb 24, from 7-9 pm. And if you still just missed it, try one of these Saturday workshops co-presented by Kearny Street Workshop and 18 Reasons.