You know you want one.
Jonathan Trayte, Study for Two Monuments, 2016.1
Without species of refinement, the crudeness of reality would be unbearable.
A ubiquitous burger chain (you know its name) approached a well-known furniture maker (some years ago). The chain wanted him to create the seating for their food outlets. At first he refused (on principle) but when they told him of the fortune they were prepared to pay, he accepted (and has never worked again). First, he commissioned a young team to design the chairs (they were eager for work and accepted a relatively small fee) then he got on with the important task of deciding the colour of the fixed seats. It involved extensive research and took time but when he was finished he announced his scheme - just the right shade of orange - and the chain were convinced (sales figures quadrupled within a month). If you feel peckish, Cadmium Orange Deep is exactly the colour that will lead you to a ravenous state and then when you’ve queued up, sat in your plastic and consumed your muck you will quickly feel quite nauseous and leave. Perfect for fast food, fast-profit, fat-catness. (This cycle of production and consumption is disturbing so maybe it’s best not to think about it too much.)
On a smaller scale, and when any idea of food for fuel is banished, consider for instance Jelly Babies. They should be taken until you feel queasy. There’s something comforting about eating glutinous sugar in the form of diminutive, monochrome humans. Red ones are the best, then yellow and orange, then black, and last the green ones. Green is good, but its no good at all, because it is to do with envy and sickness as well as a certain kind of conscientious health. It subtly suggests that it might be beneficial, or worse conjures up some dull ideas about nature and the decorative space called the countryside; it lacks any idea of fun. Blue is even more difficult. The colour of serenity yes, and melancholy maybe, but food is never blue because we wouldn’t want to eat it. We can’t.
Jonathan Trayte, cermaics, 2016.2
There’s a popular Dim Sum restaurant right on the Thames in the East End that’s good for lunch. It’s best to order a range of small dishes such as Chive Dumpling, Open Face Dumpling; Shrimp and Scallop Shu Mai; Har Gau, Scallop Shitake, Crab Rangoon; Pork and Shrimp Wraps; Lobster Spring Rolls; Shrimp with Salmon Caviar; Heavenly Drums. The appearance of most of these dishes doesn’t correspond with their taste. It’s natural to study each one, deciding which to eat first. They seem familiar but not quite like anything else. They are alien things. There are beady orange eyes atop parcels of wrinkled papyrus; fluffy white snowballs with dark sienna oozing; wet gussets supporting pink testicles; white fish-faced blobs; slapped red parcels and other fluted fancies.
It is important to seek out the types of intellectual sustenance that take time, require effort and demand compassion, but there are also everyday moments of sensory nourishment that, between times, can suffice. Physical jerks like kissing soft and long, or scratching hard and deep are only brief distractions but prosaic delights, taken easily – the indulgence of fine food and decent company, bad sex, good drugs, soft clothes - are useful in keeping us beyond the territory of mere endurance.
There wasn’t much to it really. A polite invitation, some casual decisions about what to wear - clean jeans, cotton top with zip front, plain box-fresh socks, nearest shoes, face cream – and a bottle of Taittinger as a gesture (forgotten). Smiles exchanged, inside - a cooker and hob, a shower and bog, fridge, worktop, kitchen table, assortment of chairs, desk, boisterous sofa and cupboards and shelves with everything carefully placed and keenly ordered - a seat offered. On the wall some postcards from friends, including an image of a comic-camp cowboy with a phallic sombrero on his lap, one with some women in white pants and another featuring a panting dog. (Very hot, the seafood is great, lots of love. Got sunburned, getting fat, love you. Sleeping a lot, eating too much, SS&S, x.) Cooking, talking, walking, working, eating, drinking, sitting, laughing, washing, cleaning, reading, loving, dressing and everything else all in the same place. Preparing food and producing artworks are bound together. Signs of making are everywhere: hammers, screwdrivers and such, electric hand tools, air tools, spatulas and spoons, rubber bowls, bags of plaster, chemical containers with orange liquid, spray guns and complicated extractor systems. Amongst all this, a proliferation of tinned and packet food, some with the manufacturers name prominent, some not: pickled baby ginger; fermented hot and sour mustard green; chipotle peppers in adabo sauce; cut sweet potatoes; all natural clam juice; long role potato rolls; water chestnuts; flageolet beans, mixed bean salad; pak choi; fried gluten; top ramen shrimp flavour. As well; fine pudding and pie filling; fluff raspberry marshmallow; strawberry covered biscuit stick; jumbo honey bar; Gold’s schav; chin chin; D’Gari gelatin dessert; Good and Plenty liquorice candy; Wicked Whoopee chocolate lovers; tanning blueberry coated rice cakes; Yeo’s lychee drink. Charleston chews look pink and proper but should not be opened in case there’s a temptation to eat them. Golden Fluff popcorn, as confirmed on its alluring orange and pale yellow striped packet, is real caramel corn with peanuts; it is Kosher, has no nutritional value and is tasty and delicious. There were also fruits and vegetables: ginger stems, modest in colour, frayed and provisional with unimaginable geography; bruised and cold-skinned apples; bananas like cartoon smiles; ridiculous gourds; a swollen melon like a mammary gland but stroked, rubbed and polished; a shiny ripe star fruit blasphemous in its fecundity and a tubby pumpkin like a bladder, heavy and bloated with a ribbed body, its stripes misshapen as if it grew too quickly, at one end something like a valve and at the other what looked like a puckered asshole.
Striped and hard as hell, boiled candies, with all their teeth-smashing Freudian allure, are real treats. That’s what they look like and they look like they are for me. So I see their appeal, but also know from childhood that goodies can also be baddies, and I recognise the geometry of innocence and guilt.
You’ll get fat / get spots / get sick.
I also remember an urgent sexual desire being cautioned by anxious authority figures
You’ll go blind / go to hell / get sick
Apparently the same chemical reaction takes place in the brain when eating chocolate as when indulging in sexual activity. The sugar-rush-brain-freeze excitement is euphoric.
The generous permission and democratic appeal of earthly delights are crucial in bridging a gap between the sweat and dirt of survival and the efficacy of refined pleasures.
Jonathan Trayte, Melong and Palm, 2016.3
Image courtesy of the artist. Photographed by Julian Lister. Installation shot from Trayte's solo exhibition Polyculture at The Tetley, Leeds Autumn 2016.Go to footnote reference 2.
Image courtesy of the artist. Photographed by Julian Lister. Installation shot from Trayte's solo exhibition Polyculture at The Tetley, Leeds Autumn 2016.Go to footnote reference 3.
Image courtesy of the artist. Photographed by Julian Lister. Installation shot from Trayte's solo exhibition Polyculture at The Tetley, Leeds Autumn 2016.
This text was originally written for Jonathan Trayte's solo exhibition Under a Pine Tree at Simon Oldfield Gallery, London, 2011.Roy Voss is an artist based in London. He currently lectures at the University of the West of England, Bristol.
Jonathan Trayte is a sculptor. His work explores our complex relationship with food, from the production industry and global supply chains that engineer and design the products we consume, to its emotional and social role in today’s food obsessed society. Using bare concrete or lurid painted bronze, Trayte’s installations echo familiar sites of consumption, from haphazard market-stalls to carefully orchestrated supermarket displays and elaborate dinner tables.Trayte has engaged with academic research, most recently collaborating with Professor Charles Spence at the experimental psychology laboratory at Oxford University, to gain an insight in how consumer decision-making is manipulated in commercial environments using various means, materials, lighting and temperatures. FEAST editor Laura Mansfield recently worked with Trayte on a curated meal to celebrate his recent solo exhibition Polyculture at The Tetley gallery, Leeds.