Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Project #4 "Recipe: Betty Crocker's Mac & Cheese" aka The Day I Became Paula Deen's Wet Dream (without being racist)


I...absolutely loved this piece. I think this is one of my best pieces yet. (Or should I say one of my butter pieces.) It was disgusting and awful and cold and I was naked and I still smell like butter; but I also think that it was a really interesting endurance piece.

I am not sure where this piece came from. That's a lie. It came from inspiration from Yoko Ono's Instruction pieces, and the way that the Fluxus workbook is written. Performance art with the intention of being re-performed under new interpretation of the artist. I guess that from there I though, what if someone reinterpreted how a recipe was supposed to be made. I like to live with absurdity, so I was like, what if this reinterpretation was more than the improvisations and changes that good cook makes to a recipe. What if this recipe was reinterpreted in a ridiculous way. Originally I thought about what was going on campus and how mad I was that racism and harassment was still alive. And how much I wanted to do something that would make change happen. Honestly, as a Chinese man, I'm tired of conversation. I'm ready for action. I, and other people of color, can't sit around and converse while we wait for change. If we wait, we could be next. And so I wanted to do a piece that was about that. I thought originally about reading a poem/speaking thoughts and phrases that I and other people had while food was thrown around me or at me--forcing me to stop or to shut up. Or keep going, and endure the onslaught. And in a lot of ways, that lived on into the final copy; except that this piece lives in food.

Food is super important to me. As I wrote in my stream of consciousness, I pretty much grew up in the family kitchen learning from my mother and father. My mother, who was raised by her grandmother, with culture of the 50s, and this was then passed down to me. The culture of the 50s is often what is used to define what it means to be American; and so I feel as though this could also represent the struggles of a person of color--to aspire to and live in the aesthetic of an era that was not good for them at all. It was a horrible era to be a woman as well. Really, the 50s were only good if you were a straight white man, and even then....why do we romanticize the 50s so much? Anyways, Betty Crocker's cookbook was first published in 1951; and I remember my mom using it for plenty of recipes; especially the Mac and Cheese recipe that we would doctor up into a Fielder Wong family original. And Mac and Cheese is the quintessential American comfort food!

I'm constantly in a struggle between what my identity is. To be honest, I would love to say that I'm an American. I'm proud to be in America, most of the time. But being an American doesn't just mean a person who is from America. It has connotations. Either I'm supposed to be white, or it means I'm supposed to be like the radical right. As a gay Chinese man; I'm neither of these things. (Okay, okay so being gay means I could be radical right. But I'm not. I'm more independent.) In some cases, it's offensive, because I'm not a certain percentage Native American--even though I was raised here, this land and this culture is all I know. Sure, my family is from Germany, but that's Germany before the American Revolution. And my great-Grandmother was Cherokee--she chose to hide it and leave it behind in order to move up in society. So I'm not going to claim it. And I'm Chinese; but I don't exactly fit in with the Chinese students because I don't have the same experiences as they do. Not to mention, my father is extremely Americanized, he came over when he was quite young. In a divisive society, I don't belong.

So this piece is supposed to be a reflection of that. Where am I? How do I belong? Amanda represents my white/German half, and Lily represents my Chinese half. The struggle is manifested in the attempt to read this recipe and maintain it without breaking down while they 'make' mac and cheese out of me.

I think that the piece could have taken longer; if Amanda and Lily had felt more comfortable using all of the butter--keeping it to two sticks--and buttered all of me while I continued reading the recipe over and over again. An option could be reading the instructions as they got to the ingredient, but I felt like that was too rehearsed and theatrical, the continuous sound from my mouth meant that I had something to struggle with, keeping my voice regular and stoic. As you see in the video, I wasn't able to keep my endurance; there were a few times that I wanted to laugh and had to choke down the instinct and then when the milk was poured, I started to shiver and my voice broke. Personally, I'm okay with the imperfection and the way that my voice broke. I think that it made the piece stronger, and gave the audience something to relate with. In a way, this piece about a food that should be comforting from a cookbook that is often synonymous with motherhood and nurturing became a piece about torture and endurance. And I like that. I like that the audience got to watch me go through torture and got to watch me struggle and endure.

Maybe I should try my hand at more endurance pieces in the future.

I also really like the idea of Amanda and Lily in all black with aprons, or dressed like Betty Crocker/women from the 50s. The plan was to have them in all black, but we failed to synchronize watches on when we actually were going to present. Oh well, live and learn.

1 comment:

  1. Really a wonderful, in-depth self-reflection of the work, Benjamin.
    I liked reading everything that you said. IDENTITY. Yes, the piece
    has this woven into it -- I wonder if there would be a way to make
    it more prominent? I loved the recipe -- the Betty Crocker cookbook -- you being made into the macaroni and cheese -- like as if this white culture of America was being ingrained onto/into you.... Maybe the title could insinuate this? I think it was really really good and I hope you will perform it again on Tuesday. Aprons. Heels? This is actually the era that the Trump fans are harkening to -- the 50s -- which is anything but ideal if you ask me. Women and all people of color were 2nd class citizens -- it was the white bread blanket.... homogenization --- not the America I want to see... I want our country to embrace all of its cultures and to celebrate our diversity!