Food for thought and fun

Carpaccio of Giant African Land Snail, anyone? That’s just one of the many bizarre dishes that food-art trio Domestic Godless has conjured up, as part of its mission to use “food as material for irreverent artistic experimentation and invention”, writes Colette Sheridan

Now in its fifteenth year, the Domestic Godless was founded by artists, Stephen Brandes and Mick O’Shea, who were later joined by Irene Murphy. As part of a three-week residency at the Crawford Art Gallery (November 4-25), the trio will feature food events, a book launch, talks and special guests, including Ivory Tower restaurant owner and chef, Seamus O’Connell, and German publisher Jurgen Schneider.

The artists will bring their specially constructed kitchen (a cross between a nutty professor’s science laboratory and a food hub) to the Crawford, followed by a national tour.

In the kitchen, they will be sourcing local produce and inviting guest artists, food-makers, foragers, chefs, writers and philosophers to participate in the residency. The public can savour the food and attend performances.

Brandes says that the Domestic Godless uses humour, but it’s not all about fun. “Half of what we do is very real. It has been taken to a place where nobody can tell the difference.”

Whether posting photos of elaborate meals in fancy restaurants on social media, or devouring the food critics’ latest choice of where to dine, society fetishes food. It attracts a language all of its own.

Celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal introduced the public to molecular gastronomy, which is all about unusual food- pairings. Brandes was a big fan of the late writer, AA Gill, the sometime scathing restaurant critic.

“I think food writing is a skill in itself,” says Brandes. The Domestic Godless’s book, The Food, the Bad & the Ugly, is full of narratives about food and memories of food, pseudo-science and recipes. “We build stories around food. Like most good stories, portions of them are derived from fact. I’m not going to break the magic (by distinguishing between fact and fiction.)”

Brandes says that the Domestic Godless is made up of artists, rather than chefs. Food has opened up possibilities for the collective.

“As opposed to any other material, food involves presentation, values, and taste. It also has cultural values. Once you start mixing the chemistry of those things together, you don’t know where it’s going to go. We devise recipes, usually on long car journeys. We read about food and we go off and taste the strangest things we can possibly find around the world.”

The weirdest things Brandes claims to have eaten were sea anemones. “They taste like a bad cold. I had them deep-fried and they were not unpleasant. One of the worst things I’ve ever eaten is parsnip.”

Brandes says food culture has become really political in the past 50 years. “While we recognise this, we try to avoid any kind of moralising. In fact, what we do is to try to throw spanners into the works of any moralising around food. There’s always going to be holes picked in any argument around food.”

How is the Domestic Godless perceived by the art world? “Quite favourably. We’ve always been working within the realms of the art world. Each of us has our own artistic practices aside from the Domestic Godless. What’s interesting about the Domestic Godless is that it has started to go beyond the art world and into the realm of the general public.”

The public can be slow to taste the food conjured up by the Domestic Godless. But Brandes says it only takes one person to give it a try and, if it’s deemed tasty, “the whole room descends on the installation and eats it. We try to make everything edible and delicious, even though the food sometimes looks scary.”

But is it art? There’s plenty of food for thought there.

  • The Domestic Godless: the Food, the Bad & the Ugly runs at Crawford Gallery, Cork, November 3–25


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