This post is the final of six for La Alquimia de los Sueños (The Alchemy of Dreams), a multi-sensory dinner performance by Julio César Morales and Max La Rivière-Hedrick, in collaboration with Frey Norris Contemporary & Modern.
Our ears perked at the idea of counterfeit caviar. Art historian and curator Tere Arcq told Wendi, Julio, and me a story about Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington. In the 1940s in Mexico City, Varo and Carrington were friendly with the Russian Consulate and were expecting members of the delegation for dinner. The mischievous artists served tapioca colored with squid ink as caviar to their unsuspecting Russian guests.
Varo and Carrington hosted regular Saturday night dinners, together using their kitchen as a laboratory to conduct pseudo-scientific, often playful or ludicrous, experiments. They built recipes with the promise of magical results and access to extraordinary realms of experience.
Julio and I found inspiration in their use of alchemy, science, and art, and by invitation we created La Alquimia de los Sueños to pair with the exhibit Remedios Varo: Indelible Fables at Frey Norris Contemporary & Modern.
La Alquimia de los Sueños is a dinner performance with six courses, each course a magical spell. We wished to keep faithful to Varo’s personality — playfulness, humor, a love for experimentation — and to create an experience that Varo, in her period and place, would have enjoyed and appreciated herself. To prepare, we did much research and looked at past surreal dinners.
In 1941, at the same time Varo was in Mexico, Salvador Dalí hosted “Night in a Surrealist Forest” at Hotel Del Monte in Monterey, California. This event was a benefit to help refugee European artists displaced by World War II, not unlike Varo and friends. Dalí had courted Hollywood for sponsorship, props, socialites, and stars (among them Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Ginger Rodgers). Costumes and installations were to represent the guests’ bad dreams and were “to give a depressed feeling.”
A possible modern version of the above, just as sensational and full of Hollywood and pop culture, was Marina Abramović’s 2011 MOCA gala. Abramović brought 85 performers to serve as human centerpieces on dinner tables and she served life-sized cake versions of herself and of her co-performer, Deborah Harry. My favorite detail of the evening: her invitation suggested guests wear “festive” clothes, and then when they arrived, lab coats were offered (and enforced) to cover them up.
Probably the closest thing to an ongoing surreal meal is what Grant Achatz and his team at the restaurant Alinea, in Chicago, are developing. Building from and compounding ideas, techniques, and styles from Europe, Achatz has challenged every aspect of the dining experience and the form of food. Alinea clearly has picked up the baton from elBulli, the now closed Spanish food institution.
After we had researched Surrealism, revisiting Varo’s work and history, a clear vision presented itself: the dinner would be modest, positive, playful, fairytale-like. It would require imagination but not obfuscate, and it would be meticulous, but not fussy, rich but informal. Knowledge would be encoded, just to the point of being frustrating. The dinner would evidence Spanish, French, and Mexican influences based on Varo’s travel path in life, and the imagery and costumes in her paintings.
Our dinner starts with Course 0. Available all night are Mexican sachet powders and imbued waters, charged with sounds and emotions of erotic passion, sublime love, patience, fortune, and creativity.
To guarantee colored dreams
Scent: smoked cumin, hot wax
Sound: XECATL (simulated gigantic ice flutes) independent white noise frequency bands oscillating randomly in chaos.
Fare: Tequila, cumin, citrus
The dinner is a linear journey. You enter one point, but exit another. Bring knowledge and experience with you. Life will not be the same. Course 0 is like taking an unintended turn while traveling at night in the fog (neblina) and ending up in a magical place.
To temporarily speak Esperanto
Scent: smoky caramel (cade or smoked juniper, Peru balsam)
Sound: Introduction of 50 Hz.low frequency modulated by 260 Hz. and 2.5 Hz. LFO simultaneously resulting in sudden architectural shaking.
Fare: fowl, roses, pistachio
Varo’s father was from Córdoba, Spain, and he suggested to his children that they were from a noble ancestry. Varo discovered a Roman general named Varus who had taken refuge in Andalusia, Spain, in 45 BC. Throughout her life she recorded in her notebooks research of her presumed noble ancestry.
To soften and shape ivory
Scent: earthy, musky, sweet (vetiver root, ambrette seed, pine needle)
Sound: Harmonic content evolving from Erik Satie’s Gnossienne #1 as if reproduced by echoing crystal feathers.
Fare: roots, mustard, watercress
A teenage Varo wrote to a Hindu to get a mandrake plant (mandrágora) because she had heard that it possesses magical properties, such as lucid dreams. The mandrake is often used to pull bad spirits or illness out of humans.
To spark erotic dreams
Scent: mushroom, floral, dirty (cèpes, tuberose)
Sound: Multiplication of Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater as if sang by a bleeding heart.
An interpretation of an actual Varo/Carrington recipe, our version uses baked clay as the brick and Hen-of-the-Woods mushrooms for the chicken. Omitted from our version: “broken mirror, hats to taste.”
To become a five-pointed star
Scent: rich, intoxicating, deep floral (jasmine, saffron, wild fir)
Sound: Intermittent triple drone in Eb and recurring patchy electric glitches emanating from pure electricity controlled by light boxes. Agustin Lara’s Veracruz emerges from the minuscule speaker of a transistor radio.
Fare: steer, Mexican chimichurri
Varo created a mythical creature she called Homo Rodans, which had a wheel for legs. We imagined we came across a herd in the wild and this is what it would taste like roasted in a wood-fired hearth.
To wear a cape of the fourth dimension
Scent: citrus, spicy, honey (wild sweet orange, black pepper, fresh ginger, linden blossom)
Sound: Modulated low frequency enters the 20 Hz realm as if entering subsonic levels.
Low frequency joins polyrhythmic mass reaching a climax buildup made of electronic glitches and samples of heavy metal distorted guitars doubled with baritone sax reaching 120 bpm plus tempos. The sonic storm breaks into total silence.
Fare: coconut and cajeta
It’s time to cross (atravesar) back to your dimension, but you bring with you the scent and textured memories of the other side. Now, come and get an ointment behind your ears in order for you to visit your new friends later tonight.
Norma, Julio, and I were honored by the 45 guests who joined us at Engine 43. The success of a dinner is measured not by the proffered food or libation, but by the guests interaction with each other.
Thank you all for your contribution of skills, knowledge, and passion: Wendi Norris, Raman Frey, Miles Ake, Tere Arcq, Carmen Benavides, Melissa Bernabei, Mirjana Blankenship, Travis Brinster, Stephen Bronstein, Pio Bujak, Rocket Caleshu, Joe Evans, Guillermo Galindo, Karina Hodoyán, Myleen Hollero, Lindsay Keach, Andria Lo, Jennifer McCabe, Catie Patton, Abigail Reser, Paolo Salvagione, Brian Scott, Alysoun Quinby, and Marc Weidenbaum.