The first project of the new De-Computation elective year was about ceremony and food. The students were asked to design a ritual, and design the food for that ritual. Food is a common part of ritual actions, from the communion wafers of Christianity to the offering of ghee lamps in Hindu rituals.
Marshall (2005) defines rituals as featuring action frequently repeated, in a form largely laid down in advance. Everyone present knows what should happen, and notices when it does not. The value of the food lies more in the “protocol” than the nutritive value or function and the relationship between food and the social situation in which it is used has changed (Gofton 1986). The symbolic meaning resides not simply in the product, or the taste, but is reflected in all of the activities that are involved in consuming a product that does not fit easily into the established routine and renders it inappropriate for particular types of occasion (Marshall 1993). The context in which food is consumed plays an important part in what it comes to signify shifting attention towards the eating occasion.
In Interaction Ritual Chains (2004), Collins contends that rituals are powerful because they instigate social interaction based on bodily co-presence and mutual emotional attunement. When engaged in rituals, individuals feel solidarity with one another and imagine themselves to be members of a common undertaking; they become infused with emotional energy and exhilaration; they establish and reinforce collective symbols, moral representations of the group that ought to be defended and reinforced; and they react angrily to insults toward or the profanation of these symbols.
Jessica Scalzo designed a ritual to expose children to the realities of food and farming that would be performed annually at a time of year similar to Harvest Festival. A toy cow dispensed milk into a pastry cup, meat was removed from an aperture in the cow’s back and eaten with pastry cutlery. Cup and cutlery were placed on a kind of biscuit altar. Carrot sticks in soil represented arable farming. The design showed a careful attention to detail with object and actions integrated into the overall purpose. We did question whether the toy cow was perhaps too far removed from the realities of livestock framing, and whether an alternative abstraction would have worked more effectively.
Samantha Selin made two slabs of white marshmallow, testing multiple recipes and methods before finding one that would produce the right shape and consistency. The ritual she imagined involved a playful tearing and collective reshaping of the food. Sparked by the parental command ‘don’t play with your food’ the ritual is intended to provide a sanctioned moment of wild, unconstrained interaction with the material. The resulting powdery, sweet residue that was left on our hands was reminiscent of kneading bread or making dough.
Quincy Cardinale focused on personal rituals, particularly the types of controlling behaviour common for people who experience problems around food and eating. She presented five dishes, each representing a specific kind of of food behaviour. These included burnt toast, made deliberately unpalatable so as to cut down on food intake; fruit cut into tiny pieces; a dish made of precisely counted out elements; mash designed for the plate to be rotated with every mouthful; and finger food eaten with knife and fork. The group found the project highly engaging with many expressing familiarity with some of the strategies shown.
Christian Pecher designed a ritual for a future scenario of food scarcity. Butter in particular has become so rare so as to have been transformed into a ritual food only, consumed just once a month in an elaborate ritual of melting and collective eating. He made a candle out of butter with markings indicating each litre of milk used. The candle was lit and the butter then dripped onto small pieces of bread, which we all ate. The attention to detail here was impressive with an ice filled silver salver for the candlestick and and altar cloth and dish made of paper. If the enactment of the ritual had been more structured the participative performance element of the work would have enhanced its effect.
Working together Pierro Pozella and Phillip Quiza designed a ritual focused on poetry and the mixture of contrasting flavours. One participant was required to read a poem and each time dialogue was spoken in text sweet and salty ingredients were added to a carafe of water. These were also designed to transform the colour of the water. When finished the resulting liquid was poured into three glasses fixed to a bar. In order to drink all three celebrants must be in exact synchronicity. The ritual is designed to be flexible to the extent that any text could be chosen and and two contrasting flavours mixed into the drink.
Overall, students produced a rich range of responses with some common themes of memory, environmental awareness, play and collective enactment. The use of materials was engaging and experimental – a promising start to DeComp 2018/19.