Taste, flavor, identity and tea are all words that are commonly used in our everyday conversations. Because of their common usage, they have also taken on a broad spectrum of meanings.
As such, we would like to define these words in the context of this project/document.
In this manifesto, the word taste refers to gustatory taste unless otherwise specified:
(noun 1) our (gustatory) sense of taste, a complex and multi-modal perceptive system encapsulating not only our tasted buds but also involves our sense of smell, touch and to some extent, sight and sound.
(noun 2) used (almost) interchangeably with the word flavor
(verb) tasting, act of engaging in a gustatory experience.
"A complementary combination of taste and smell [i.e. they work efficiently together and may consist of different food combinations]"
Nyangiro, E. A. (2015). Multi-sensory appreciation and practice: A somaesthetic approach to the exploration of taste smell and touch in food-based art (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Wolverhampton. DOI: core.ac.uk
Refers to both beverages made from the any part of the plant Cameillia Sinensis, and Tisanes (herbal infusions made from other plants and herbs).
It is only right that a manifesto that explores the intersection between taste, narrative and interactivity begin with a narrative.
I am delighted by stories. Good or bad, happy or sad. It's part of growing up with an award winning storyteller for a mother. (Although science would insist that humans are storytelling animals. Stories are how we make sense of the world.)
I am also very into food, an unsurprising hobby in a foodie nation like Singapore. But I'm not just into good food, I'm into tasting. And this includes tasting things I don't like the taste of, like wine.
My love for stories and food have always felt like two distinct interests. Or so I thought, until I'm stumbled upon Sean Wang's book, The Knowledge within the Flavor of Tea, where he shared his personal experience with wine: How learning about the story behind tannins got him excited enough to buy a bottle of wine he didn't actually enjoy flavor wise.
Then it hit me: My love for tasting was never about food (or at least not JUST food). It was for the stories behind them.
I love tasting because I love stories.
I was merely experiencing stories in a different way. Using my sense of taste instead of my sense of sight and hearing.
It was a profound realization for me and it completely changed my relationship with my sense of taste.
As an artist, art is a means for me to express and share my thoughts, feelings and opinions. So naturally, I wanted to share this (personally) profound discovery with people.
And that was when the idea for taste series first took shape.
In an uncertain world, what keeps us buoyant
The idea for taste series was left alone to incubate however, as I had no clue how I wanted to approach the topic.
The pandemic changed everything.
Never have mankind, in recent history at least, lost the bulk of our way of life so suddenly and quickly. In one fell swoop, we lost our routines, our jobs, our resources, even our freedom of movement, and access to social interaction.
The role of leisure and entertainment were probably never so apparent until that moment when everything came crashing down. We were so used to using consumption to cope, to recharge and to keep ourselves buoyant. Yet when we needed these things the most was exactly when we lost access to majority of them. Dining out? Gone. Movies? No more. Trips to the library, the park, the mountains. Nights out at clubs, stargazing or even just wandering around the neighborhood. All of that, lost. All we had were our phones and computers. While they did offer a gateway to digital replacements for all these activities, it was undeniable that the physical word left shoes too big for the digital world to fill.
The physicality of life was never so sorely missed.
I started a new routine during lockdown. I called it: sense diaries.
Everyday, I would note down curious or interesting sensations my senses pick up. I forced myself to pay attention to things I didn't pay attention to before. Like the hardness of my chair, the texture of my bedsheets. I was effectively making a mountain out of a molehill with my senses, but it made everything novel. And novelty equals curiosity. Suddenly, everything was fun again. I got months of fun out of just the stairwell at the apartment I stayed at. I can tell you at which hour of the day the sun would cast the prettiest shadows. At which spot you can stand to hear the traffic echo at its loudest. I knew when and what my neighbours made for dinner.
I was tuned into life.
That's when I began to wonder, what if it was merely matter of means?
Concerts, nights out and social gatherings were just means. The ends were how they made us feel. What they satisfied in us.
Not to minimize the value and importance of these experiences, because nothing can replace going to the theatre or breathing the air of another country in person.
But what if we had more ways to access the same kinda of delight, awe and wonder? The same sense of exploration and adventure, beyond the means we have become accustomed to?
We are so used to consuming products that when the supply chain breaks down, or when we lose the ability to afford these services, we lose so much.
Is there some way that we can get more out of what was already in our everyday lives, to achieve greater subsistence if you will, in our spiritual, emotional and hedonic lives?
Attention and Delight
Julia Cameron's quote comes into mind. "The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the grit of paying attention."
Paying attention to our senses was the key to greater delight in life. It is something we don't have to pay an extra cent for.
And it's an option that is always there.
So coming back to taste.
You know what is something ALL humans must do?
You may have to go out of your way to take a walk, but eating? You have to do that at least once a day. It isn't something you need to go out of your way to do.
Everyday, there is at least once, usually three, if not more, chance to access delight just by paying more attention to your sense of taste.
Food as art
Want to know a secret?
When we pay attention to our senses and attempt to make sense of its signals, that's an aesthetic experience.
Which is a fancy word for "art".
And remember what I said? That stories is how we make sense of the world?
So paying attention to our senses, and making meaning and stories from the sensations...that's art.
And when you do that with food, you're engaging with food as art.
I'm tempted to expound on how art is a process, and what makes something art is how you engage with and process an object. But that's something better left to my friends at Paw Cat Guide.
We aren't saying, and definitely not advocating for every taste and food experience to become art here on out. On some days we just want to shove food in our months so we can keep going. On others, we might want to be comforted by familiar flavors. These are equally important and valid experiences and we don't want to take them away from anyone.
Rather, we want to share with people that there are more options, more things that they can do with their sense of taste beyond the ones they already know.
We want people to know that they can use their sense of taste for purposes beyond judging the safety, quality and pleasure of food. That they can also use it to find stories, or even tell stories.
And we want to do more than just TELL people that, or even SHOW people that. We want people to experience this for themselves.
We particularly love the way artist Everlyn Nyangiro put it, "Eating is often a mindless activity in the sense that in the everyday it is approached with the banality of supressing hunger, only becoming aware of its taste, smell and touch as much as it helps in satisfying one’s expectations. The visual habitudes of everyday life and the banality of food create challenges to the appreciation of taste, smell and touch in food-based artworks: the risk is that the food’s taste, smell and touch may be overlooked."
In this visually dominant society, where many judge the quality and flavor of food solely through its instagrammability, we aren't used to accessing our sense of taste beyond the fleeting assessment of pleasure. And even when we do, we limit ourselves to specific, 'nobel' foods, things like wine, coffee and cheese.
Owing to this deep-seated visual dominance and association to banality, it will take more than telling or showing someone the aesthetic potential of taste to convince them of its validity.
Which is the beauty of experiential art: You can experience **things for yourself.
Taste series, expanding your relationship with taste
The intention of taste series, and what I hope to achieve is to create spaces, artefacts and activities, where people can experience and even practice this new (and perhaps for some, simply less-used) way(s) of accessing their sense of taste.
To create opportunities for people to realize that they can expand their relationship with their sense of taste.
In many ways, taste series is an advocacy project.
Except we are not advocating for the validity or even the importance of the aesthetics of taste and mindfulness.
What we are advocating is empowerment.
What you do with this new perspective on taste is entirely up to you.
When you want to, if you even want to, incorporate these new modes of access into your relationship with taste, is entirely up to you.
We just want to show you that these options exists.
In this world that we live in, there are quite enough people telling us what we should or should not do.
So much so that my biggest challenge in life isn't listening to others but being able to hear my own voice.
So no, we don't want to advocate anything aside for your agency.
And that, we believe also aligns with the philosophy of gustatory aesthetics.
Nicola Perullo (recent torchbearer in a long line of many championing the validity of gustatory aesthetics) wrote in his book on gustatory aesthetics:
"As is well known, the ancient Greek schools characterized philosophy in terms of daily exercise, a theoretical practice aimed at a peaceful and happy life, thus connecting philosophy to ordinary experience and to behavioral patterns. In this context, a sage is someone who possesses a special type of wisdom that the Greeks called phronesis; it is through phronesis that a person is able to orient herself in different life situations and to choose what is most appropriate."
All forms of taste experiences are important and valid. All taste experiences have a context in which they are appropriate. Inversely, there is an appropriate way to engage with every kind of taste experience.
And the ability to find this appropriateness, to tease out or uncover the most appropriate approach, and knowing when is the best to take each approach for YOU, is gustatory wisdom.
There are no absolutely correct answers, only contextually appropriate approaches.
This is true in food and also in this uncertain world we now live in.
And so we'd like to end off this manifesto with an invitation.
Will you be willing to explore and cultivate and gustatory wisdom with us?
The elephant in the room
We'd like to take this time to acknowledge that the loss of sense of taste and smell is a very real risk and fear of contracting Covid-19.
This does render this series to some extent, invalid.
Having said that, we don't think these concerns takes away from the intentions and potential value of the series. And for those who have lost their sense of taste or smell, we'd like to share that this mindful, somaesthetic approach to one's senses can be adopted and applied to other senses.
And while it doesn't change the loss you have suffered, but it might return some vibrancy and color to your life by deepening your relationship with your remaining senses.