Thursday’s Tile: A Matter of Taste

Here at soon-to-end Thursday’s Tile, we’re exploring the world of sensation tile by tile as depicted on the Five Senses Bench. You can see the whole bench in person installed in the new Visual and Performing Arts complex at Cabrillo College in Aptos, CA. Please do if you’re in the area!

Today we have a tasty photo essay of tiles from the Taste Area.

Let’s start with that graphic tile up above about things gone wrong: as in, taste so bad the spoon is refused, reversed and sticking out of the down-turned mouth by the handle. How odd.

Our tongue has taste buds that sense sweet, salty, sour, bitter and savory (or umami.) And apparently they have just discovered another — my favorite — fat! But whether we enjoy these flavors or not has to do more with smell. (And I do tip my hat to the fact that actual eating enjoyment might include texture and temperature, etc.)

We’ve talked about a few possibly reviling Tastes in past posts: the grubs, raw meat and blood lust of the hunt come to mind. The following two tiles enjoy a wide range of gustatory opinion: Sardines and Okra.

I personally enjoy these two sometimes. Fresh sardines are wonderful, and stir-fried, heat-seared okra is not slimy. It might be a matter of preparation and the fine micro-flavors that professional tasters of every kind are sensitive to. I know those nuances exist because ground coffee smells like tuna to me. Same esters or something.

Now fried eggs have a gag-me factor –it’s that runny yoke more than the flavor — but the two in this tile are SO beautifully done and are a perfect example of one artist influencing another. The eggs were already completed and attached when, a semester or two later, along comes the next artist who felt some bacon was needed. She even fashioned the bacon to fit a very tight and specific triangular space. When one tile is purposely placed next to another to create narrative articulation, the whole truly becomes greater than its parts.

Here are the label tiles for Taste, made by the thoroughly into it all and unsung, DP.

Notice the surround of beet, watermelon, avocado, candy corn and snickerdoodle cookie on the bottom right!

The Taste Area is nearly as big a Hearing, Smell and Touch put together, but it was the hands-down easiest to make tiles for. I would merely have to say to all those classes made primarily of young adults, “What are you hungry for? Make that!” and it happened. One semester all four classes worked on Taste tiles only, that side of the bench was SO expansive.

Here’s another melange of melt-in-your-mouth goodies, a complex passage found on the left front curve.

Find these: gummi fish, chocolate kisses, olives, black-eyed peas, more candy corn, pink marshmallow peeps, mushrooms, wrapped candies, a tea bag and Cheetos. Oh, and what about that asparagus and cantaloupe and french bread?

Contrarians abound, and one of them thought a Don’t Eat sign on a bench full of food was funny. And it is.

So quit dripping your snack on your keyboard and come along now as we move to our last Taste tile. It references both a comestible and artistic taste: the Campbell’s Soup Can(s) made more famous as art than food by the infamous Andy Warhol.

We have an example of (biased) Bad Taste…at least as greeted in 1962. It is truly from an era that ushered in a new sensibility and many were just not ready for it. But Warhol persisted (and how) and here we have one absolute icon of Pop Art, which might seem derivative and even a bit pedestrian today. Tastes change! But we knew that.

So this is a wrap on the photo essays for each sense area of the bench. If you started with this one, but are curious about the other four, click on Hearing, Smell, Touch or Sight.

Next week, to conclude Thursday’s Tile: what happens to public art in use, an up close examination and summation.

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Thursday’s Tile: In Praise of Entomophagy

Right above the vanilla orchid on the Five Senses Bench, right there on the pointy knee of the Taste area, are two tile testimonials to the fact that millions of people enjoy larvae and insects as a daily source of crunchy, savory protein.

We here in North America typically consider Entomophagy a survivalist curiosity, a lollipop novelty or a Triple Dog Dare suitable for reality TV. The plain motivation for including this Sago Palm grub (on the left) and the mess o’ fried mealworm (on the right) was the Gag Factor and frisson of repulsion they induced.

Every one of us working on these particular tiles (it grew into a group effort) started out like that and yet our researching, while not turning us into aficianados or grub-o-philes, did gain us a wider appreciation of all that the human palate and gastro-intestinal system are capable of.

Spit-roasted or raw? Deep fried on buttered toast? Here’s one recipe from ehow. I still would not choose this food, just as I don’t choose snails, rattlesnake or tripe, even though I have eaten them in the past.

It is important to note that I have a choice, just as the ever-insightful Michael Pollan explores in his wonderful books from The Omnivore’s Dilemma to Food Rules. I’m guessing if the choice is gummi or sago palm worms, Mr. Pollan would always advise the latter as being Real Food. Either can be delicious or repugnant according to custom, expectation and the like. Add in the knowledge that processed edibles, no matter how cute and appealing, are Not Especially Good for Us, and that choice sharpens.

Another small takeaway here is that the notion of Taste pretty quickly broadens from direct physical sensation to those cultural realms and choices. We could not capture Taste-as-Aesthetics directly in our tiles, either. The notion of Good Taste might not be translatable into an object, only a sign for it.

We can, however, take an object and call it Beautiful as we see it. Here are these tiles -all of them, this whole bench -all of it, working towards that end. Better still, DP took a mold off the Sago Palm Grub and remade a solid version of it as a brooch! I like her Taste: it made a beautiful personal decoration in a deliciously gross kind of way, and I won’t ever have to eat it!

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Thursday’s Tile: The Not Quite Finished Story of "Piece of Meat"

This is the sort of tile on the Five Senses Bench that probably looks better in a photo than in real life. Shot on the perfect overcast day, the photo provides framing and focus, which also helps us see the lovely juxtaposition of off-primary colors that lie right next to “Piece of Meat.”  (Heck, they might even qualify as off-secondary colors! Oh, and the orange-yellow squiggly things are ceramic Cheetos!)

You can find this uncooked classic T-bone steak tile curving slightly on the left end of the Taste area seat. There is really no image on the whole bench that is as blatantly raw, which was JMC’s impetus for including it. He said that the sashimi was too pretty. He was looking for defiant visual *POW* and maybe even meaty offensiveness. Well, as a Bench Curator who maintained detailed Wanted lists for each sense area, so was I!

He wanted to replicate the bright red Threadless “Piece of Meat” tee he had on. Who says art inspiration can’t be found literally right under your own nose? And whether your message is on your chest or left forever for folks to discover and contemplate, it’s just as valid, no?

As with most of the tiles we all made, we used a source photocopy, laid it over a leatherhard clay slab and traced the image with a slightly dull pencil, physically transferring both the outline and the main lines needed later when decorating. Then the shape was carefully cut out with a sharp blade, keeping it perpendicular to the image surface. No undercuts!

Ever so carefully the still-malleable tile was laid in position on the bench and gently curved to match the topography of its intended location. While in position, it also got traced around with a permanent marker, right onto the bench surface, so others would know that spot was taken! It might be weeks or even months before it was ready to be applied. Sometimes we even wrote the artist or image name in the outlined space so we would know who or what to look for if either seemed to have gone missing. Ah, group art projects!

Well, Mr. “Piece of Meat” stuck around for the duration and was thrilled with his contribution.

He told me not too long ago that he still loves that tile, but that the tee shirt is now too large for him because he’s clearly lost a few steaks’ worth of baby fat. He’d love a meat-tee that fits, but it’s “Out of Print.”

On anyone can vote to have a favorite tee shirt re-printed. With enough votes, they actually do it. Whaddya say we all mysteriously flood the request line and see what happens? “Piece of Meat” the tile will last forever and, with our help, maybe “Piece of Meat” the tee shirt can too.

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Thursday’s Tile: Season’s Sensations

I just got back from visiting The Five Senses Bench in the thin winter light. I went there looking to collect shots of hands, eyes, noses, ears and tongues — which I did and will show you on New Year’s Eve — but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the sights and sounds, smells, tastes and feel of the holiday live there all year too.

So here is my first Blog Photo Essay: Season’s Sensations from the Five Senses Bench.
Enjoy and Peace!







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