Thirty-Five Fragments

“Thirty-five Fragments” is a gastroperformance first staged at the Brazilian Embassy in Madrid as part of the 2015 Arco Art Fair, and subsequently sponsored by Air France at SP Arte, São Paulo, in 2016. In “Thirty-five Fragments”, we stand around a table where 35 cakes shaped like human heads look up at us. The cakes are filled with various sweet and savoury creams for toast spreads, covered with a thin layer of dyed agar-agar. From the ceiling, projectors are used to cast down the images of 35 real faces on top of those cakes, one for each. The projected faces start to talk and sing in various languages, voicing texts taken from or inspired by Lispector, Artaud and Camus, mostly about the oppressive feeling of not belonging to a group and the impermanence and frailty of the individual sphere. The heads question their own presence there and arouse a multitude of contradictory feelings in us as they invite us to actually eat them so as to relieve them of their suffering. As we dig into the cakes with spatulas, the projected images are distorted, torn and mangled. In the ensuing bloodshed (or rather, creamshed), we –the public around the table– are figuratively cannibalizing social failures and misfits who feel they do not belong anywhere, and certainly not on a table.

But a gastroperformance usually has more to it than just irony, and “Thirty-five Fragments” carries several different layers of meaning. Metaphors for cannibalism and human sacrifice have been part of the Brazilian art scene for nearly a century. In 1928, Oswald de Andrade led a group of poets and other Modernist artists in the Cannibalist Manifesto, in which they half-jokingly proposed that, much like the Brazilian natives of four centuries before had killed and devoured many European invaders to acquire their strengths, Brazilian artists should now devour and digest European influences so that truly Brazilian art could thrive along a path of its own making. To many Modernists, not only did European art not belong in Brazil, but it was also the real misfit in a land of natural exuberance and basic needs. There should be complete identity, a complete sense of belonging, between a nation and its art, but it could gain power by ingesting whatever came from abroad.

To articulate all of these loose strands of personal feelings, history, and art into a single effective idiom, Mattar has created an interactive performance where the experience of eating a work of art can be made to feel like creative cannibalism. Indeed, she has devised an entirely new language that itself does not belong in any existing art category and begs to be devoured and digested so that we can acquire its strengths and assimilate its complexities, at the same time as it questions its own validity as an idiom.

The heads contain four different recipes:
• Smoked eggplant mousse, bell pepper walnut paste, grain salad with Lebanese pepper and pomegranate.
• Six-cheese mousse with surprise tomatoes filled with arugula pesto or olive tapenade.
• Bittersweet chocolate crémeux, aerated peanut paçoca mousse and peanut brittle.
• Corn custard mousse, guava marmalade and crystallized coconut crunch.