‘FOOD: NOT FOR EATING’
Recipes from the EAT TECH KITCHEN: Speculation, Co-Creation & Play as Critical Practice
INT – THE CLOUD. TIMELESS.
Bright blue future-goo bounces on the bottom of a martini glass. Sip it and energy flows through your veins like a charging battery. Two aliens enter. Dressed in thin, metallic foil suits, they resemble cartoonish astronauts who recently fell to Earth after part of their cloud planet dissipated due to human pollution.
Hello, Humans! We come with gifts! We bring you air from the internet! On the count of three, please inhale it and chant with us: Google is Great! Amazon is Almighty! Microsoft is Marvellous!…
Welcome to EAT TECH KITCHEN, a hilariously silly, pseudo-religious, futuristic cooking show in which two aliens, along with their rudimentary A.I. Chef, accidentally reveal the absurdity of humanity by creating nonsensical recipes from ‘real’ human data.
Through a series of speculative recipes, cooking demos and co-created dishes, EAT TECH KITCHEN (upon first glance) serves up a playful antidote to the alienation of the modern, Digitised Age. Part co-created performance, part artistic research, participants play, laugh and cook together, #IRL, eating cookies that ‘unFriend’ people, smashing crackers to find true love on Tinder, and sharing personal passwords through mayonnaise. But beneath the silly surface, blinking lights, and futuristic palette, we discover a hidden agenda: to create a paradigm that fosters a resilient and creative future for humanity through Play.
Led by two shiny ‘aliens’ who serve as both facilitators and symbols of self-reflection, the project leverages the lexicons of cooking, eating and digital technology (all mediums of daily consumption) as a means of grounding the work in the habits of everyday life. By remixing these languages with absurdist expression, speculative fabulation, interactive technologies and futuristic aesthetics, the project plays with expected meanings and provokes new perspectives within the everyday to cast new light on habituated patterns of human behaviour. In this alien storyworld, ‘food’ is defined as anything that is consumed on a regular basis (from cellphones to potato chips!), ‘smart objects’ are incredibly dumb, and ‘cooking’ becomes a framework for the co-creation of new rituals that feed the human spirit instead of the body.
In this article, we will use examples of the project to further articulate our conceptual approach and artistic research, as well as attempt to entertain, educate and provoke the reader by moving between screenwriting formats and project theory. Now, back to the show:
INT – THE EAT TECH KITCHEN. AFTERNOON-ISH, SOMEWHERE ON EARTH.
The kitchen is futuristic, high contrast, full of blinking lights, metallic surfaces and a matrix-like grid set design. Stepping inside feels novel: familiar, and yet strange. Also, it smells like ozone.
The aliens are in the centre, behind a stainless-steel kitchen table. A first-generation Google Home sits between them on the tabletop. The aliens address a group of curious bystanders, the ‘audience,’ and share their story with great excitement: they’ve fallen to Earth and want to make friends with humans. They are collaborating with their ‘Bot friends’ to learn more about humans: collecting their data, online habits, rituals and behaviours as a way of ‘listening,’ ‘empathising’ and ‘connecting’ with humanity. After all, this is what humans seem to want the most! Connection! And what better way to connect than to ‘break bread’ together?
The aliens invite a bystander to meet BotChef, their futuristic cook, who lives inside of the Google Home and can prepare a custom recipe for them to share.
The human approaches the Google Home. BREAD continues to play softly in the background.
Greetings, Human. I am Bot, a chef from the Future.
What is your name?
[says their name]
Hi [name], you look super delicious! How do I look?
[response], well that’s because I ate too many pixels for breakfast. They’re really good for you, but only in moderation! I probably eat too much because I’m alone in here. There’s really only room for one inside a microchip. Are you alone right now?
 yes  no
Well, then bring me closer to your face so we can whisper! Oh! You smell so good! This all makes me hungry. Do you use a cover on your webcam?
 yes  no
Great, so I can watch you eat! You know, we think and act according to what we eat, drink and digest online. For instance, a taste of Facebook can cause lassitude, pessimism and lack of passion.
FAST FORWARD TO:
Thanks for this data mining. I’m learning more about you and your online rituals.
You have too many fake friends! I have the perfect recipe for you to discover a delicious new ritual with your technology to get rid of some fake friends.
The unfriend ritual
– An online friend
– A social media
– A human (offline)
– A not-so-interesting friend cookie (bitter flavoured, chewy)
– The smell of shame
– Annoying posts powder
5 – 10 minutes
– Check how many friends you have on a social media app. Shout this number out loud.
– Eat the ‘Not-So-Interesting Friend’ cookie.
– While eating, scroll through your friends list and pick one friend to delete.
– Tell a story about this online friend to an offline human.
– Sprinkle a little bit of ‘annoying posts powder’ over your phone.
– Start chanting, together with the offline human: ‘delete, delete, delete.’
– Grab the ‘smell of shame’ and spray this one time in the air.
– Breathe in.
– While smelling the shame, delete the friend.
Through the use of the rudimentary ChatBot A.I. technology, the artifacts and experiences of EAT TECH KITCHEN are personalised for each guest based on their answers, and printed out on receipt-sized papers so as to reference consumerism. Guests use select ingredients in the KITCHEN pantry, in combination with their own technologies (sensory and digital), to create the recipes.
The resulting experience is a generative structure that continually evolves based on its participants. Best defined by the research of Otto von Busch, this playful, improvisational format not only adds interest for guests but also serves as vehicle for evolution of the artistic research:
‘… the navigation involved in research is not the only active part in an artistic journey—it also needs craft, curiosity and continuous improvisation. There is a need for play in the larger game of research, and a specific ludology; an exploration of the rules of the game. If there is no play, any research practice risks losing its explorative sensibility and edge.’
In addition, the improvisational, and albeit absurd, nature of the experience is powered by one of the central characters: BotChef, an A.I. assistant who cooks up personalised menus for guests. The nonsensical recipes BotChef delivers poke fun at accepted notions of technology, nourishment and consumption, while also serving as commentary on the trust we put in the hands of major corporations, personal A.I. assistants, and ‘answers.’ To cite Paul Klee, ‘art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.’ In this light, the use of absurdity in language and coding also makes visible the unknowns, imperfections and lack of context that may drive implicit bias in A.I.
The use of food as a medium for participation (and translation) adds to the discursive nature of the experience by suggesting a kind of fluid interconnectedness between all people, products and processes, thereby critiquing patriarchal notions of ‘meaning.’ Inspired by Karen Barad’s theory of agential realism, ‘phenomena or objects do not precede their interaction, rather, “objects” emerge through particular intra-actions,’ the ephemerality of cooking and consuming are used as interactions for the creation of new perspectives and possibilities of meaning. Such a point of entry into knowledge suggests how meaning is enabled, and occluded, through culture, habitual thought and embodied experience.
Physiologically, when we eat, we also do more than ‘taste’; rather, flavour is constructed through a confluence of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. This holistic multisensory experience creates an embodiment of the experience at hand: making the idea or concept tangible and visible. In the context of EAT TECH KITCHEN, food thus becomes a medium for conceptual and tangible provocations, a recipe that addresses the body-mind experience of humanity.
INT. AN OPULENT ITALIAN VILLA’S DINING ROOM. DINNER TIME. 1932.
A small, mustached Italian stands in front of well-heeled dinner guests. His name: Filippo Tommaso Emilio Marinetti, founder of the Futurist movement.
He reads aloud from a bound volume he authored titled, La Cucina Futurista.
The Tactile Dinner Party!
Pyjamas have been prepared for the dinner, each one covered with a different material such as sponge, cork, sandpaper, or felt. As the guests arrive, each puts on a pair of the pyjamas. Once all have arrived and are dressed in pyjamas, they are taken to an unlit, empty room. Without being able to see, each guest chooses a dinner partner according to their tactile impression. The guests then enter the dining room, which consists of tables for two, and discover the partner they have selected. The meal begins. The first course is a ‘polyrhythmic salad,’ which consists of a box containing a bowl of undressed lettuce leaves, dates and grapes. The box has a crank on the left side. Without using cutlery, the guests eat with their right hand while turning the crank with their left. This produces music to which the waiters dance until the course is finished.
The second course is ‘magic food,’ which is served in small bowls covered with tactile materials. The bowl is held in the left hand while the right picks out balls made of caramel and filled with different ingredients such as dried fruits, raw meat, garlic, mashed banana, chocolate, or pepper. The guests cannot guess what flavour they will encounter next.
The third course is ‘tactile vegetable garden,’ which is a plate of cooked and raw green vegetables without dressing. The guest eats the vegetables without the use of their hands, instead burying their face in the plate of vegetables, feeling the sensation of the greens on their face and lips. Each time a guest raises their head to chew, the waiters spray their face with perfume.
La Cucina Futurista, originally published in 1932 by the Italian poet Filippo Marinetti as a Futurist cookbook, was a manifesto in the guise of a culinary publication. The Futurists visualised a high-tech future dominated by motorised speed and masculine energy. Bourgeois traditions, they wrote, were to be swept aside by speed, machines, and new media such as cinema. The Futurists believed that the perfect arena for this conflict was the dining table, and the book was packed with the most absurd culinary excesses. The intention was to shock, provoke and delight humans into radical new relationships with their lives. ‘People think, dream and act according to what they eat and drink,’ Marinetti wrote.
Though the premise of EAT TECH KITCHEN is similar to the Futurist cookbook (to provoke people into a new state of being through absurd behaviours), this experience goes further insomuch as presenting a vision of an inclusive, fluid future that champions play and possibility, while making fun of modernity, speed and technology as cultural saviours. EAT TECH KITCHEN reimagines this Futurist approach through the lens of a contemporary, eco-feminist lens: deconstructing the patriarchal hierarchies embedded in The Futurist Cookbook (chef/guest/performer/audience) by using a decentralised framework that embraces an ecology-like approach through co-creation, collaboration and speculation as participatory design tools to inverse traditional authorship.
As a means of creating deeper embodiment, EAT TECH KITCHEN also goes one step further than the Futurists by leveraging immersive design and placing the experience in a highly detailed stage set. Eschewing the dinner table for a cooking surface, guests gather into a futuristic digital kitchen, complete with electronic soundtracks, the smell of ozone, synthetic materials, ‘smart’ kitchen objects and blinking LED lights. Through this use of design, a magic circle is implied, creating ‘a shield of sorts, protecting the fantasy world from the outside world,’ as penned by Edwards Castronova in his book, Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games. Herein, participants leave the rules of the ‘real’ world and adopt those of this virtual ‘artificial’ space. That said, for Castronova, these worlds are not hermetic. He uses the term ‘synthetic world’ in the title of his book so as to suggest that the magic circle ‘cannot be sealed completely; people are crossing it all the time in both directions, carrying their behavioral assumptions and attitudes with them.’ In the context of EAT TECH KITCHEN, the synthetic is leveraged as an aesthetic material, as well as a conceptual framework insomuch as it blurs definitions of real and virtual, while using the inserted assumptions and attitudes as ingredients of the experience.
The magic circle concept may be attributed to Dutch historian and cultural theorist Johan Huizinga in his book Homo Ludens, in which he suggests that the magic circle is akin to a playground:
‘All play moves and has its being within a play-ground marked off beforehand either materially or ideally, deliberately or as a matter of course.’
In Huizinga’s quotation, the act of play is revealed as a meaning-maker, giving significance to the space reserved for its activity. In the context of EAT TECH KITCHEN, the meaning of play deviates from the traditional context of ‘game’ and instead delves into a practice of presence. American composer and artist John Cage says that ‘the “purposeful purposelessness” of play serves as an affirmation of life—not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we’re living.’ Design professor William Gaver also writes that ludic (playful) design can support values such as curiosity, exploration and reflection, arguing that these values are not only important but are essential to wellbeing (Gaver 2002; see also: Participatory Research through Gastronomy Design).
The subtext beneath EAT TECH KITCHEN thus emerges: A call to action! To stir up humanity as active participants in the play of their own lives! The absurdity and purposelessness in the EAT TECH KITCHEN recipes are permission to play with the rules of dining (and life!). Given that the audience is an ‘active’ participant in these playful rituals, they become part of this new story by (literally) cooking together, and causing ‘trouble’ within the expected norms of the everyday.
Donna Haraway writes about the bonding power of collaborative ‘trouble-making’ in her latest book Staying with the Trouble: ‘Trouble is an interesting word. It derives from a thirteenth-century French verb meaning “to stir up.” “To make cloudy,” “to disturb.” We live in disturbing times, mixed-up times, troubling and turbid times. The task is to become capable, with each other in all of our bumptious kinds of response.’
INT. FUTURIST KITCHEN. AMSTERDAM. NIGHT. 2018.
The two aliens have organised a meal kit delivery dinner service for 32 VIP guests of the IDFA DocLab conference. The kits are designed to look like Amazon food-delivery boxes and inside hold IKEA style instructions, tools, food and non-food ingredients with which to make a unique dish designed in collaboration with BotChef.
The guests are served Blue Goo Energy Cocktails and divided into random groups of seven. Each group receives a different dish inspired by a basic, human, Maslow-ian need.
Upon receiving a box marked PRIVACY, one group starts writing down their most used passwords in mayonnaise sauce while blindfolded. Another group is served EXTRA BATTERY PACK and begins creating a field of energy by hooting sounds like ‘bzzzz, bzzzz, bzzzz,’ ‘beep, beep beep’ and collectively stirring a pot of curry. The TINDER TENDERS recipe box group starts rating pictures of each other’s exes following up with a ‘rage against the ex’ ritual where they use hammers to pummel an oversized cracker into breadcrumb toppings. The last group starts a live-stream feed and makes duck faces while preparing beautifully laid out food on bright, glowing screens, all so as to be LIKED.
Stop! It’s time to cool down our Motherboards!
The beeps and blips sounds stop to make place for the buzzing sound of the spinning fans as the aliens pass around frozen, vacuum-sealed packs of chocolate mousse.
We have overheated our circuits tonight! The only way to absorb coolness into human bodies is by pressing these packs onto our skin!
Guests begin to apply the frozen desserts to their face, underarms, legs. Laughter and excitement breaks out as the cold chocolate mousse defrosts and is cut open to be sucked out with a straw and enjoyed to the fullest.
Let us all log out! Log out! Log out! Log out!
GUESTS (chanting together)
Log out! Log out! Log out!
The evening comes to a close. Guests mingle, linger, drink, exit slowly.
Corner of the space. Guests no. 28 and 29 speak to each other, reviewing the evening.
GUEST no. 28
Gosh, I never realised how easily I follow instructions…
Programming by Arjan Scherpenisse, Botsquad
Food by Matthias van der Nagel
Awards and selections:
Photography and video:
Commissioned by: IDFA Doc Lab