Six of the most exciting practitioners in the world of visual art, choreography, theatre, design and gastronomy come together in The Waldorf Project, 10-14 October in London. Swide’s Elisa della Barba talks with the British artist who conceived and directed the initiative, Sean Rogg.
It is unequivocally a unique art project as it fuses theatrical performance, visual arts, contemporary choreography and the staging of haute cuisine and the finest rare wines: The Waldorf Project will take place at Netil House in London from the 10 –14 October and will create an immersive dining experience by merging the five senses through food, drink, dance, sound and space.
Sean Rogg, the British artist who conceived and directed this global genre-defying, pan-cultural production, explains to Swide how he thought of fusing these disciplines and why he chose an imaginative approach around the theme of Japanese muskmelon.
Can you tell me a bit about your background?
I am a multi disciplinary visual artist working in the field of film, photography and performance. In certain aspects of my practice I have experimented with food and drink and its connection to the art world.
One example is a performance entitled “Where’s the beef?” For this I filmed for over 3 weeks in the kitchens of the restaurant of the Wapping Project art gallery. All aspects of the menu were captured: everything from entire carcasses being butchered, to delicate knife and plate work. The images were edited into two 90 minutes films that were projected down onto the diner’s tables. The diner’s experience was completely transformed. The images enhanced the eating process and changed the impact on the senses.
In another performance entitled “WATER first incarnation”, I staged the worlds largest sparkling water tasting. Gathering 1000 different sealed bottles from around the world, presenting them like a wine tasting to the public over a10-day long performance. All ranges of responses were discovered from the environmental and political implications of the bottled water industry, to the gastronomic and evolutionary wonder of our species.
The Waldorf Project will be my most ambitious art performance to date. This new show will create an immersive experience on a grand stage intended to connect the senses through food, drink, dance, sound, and environment.
How did the Waldorf project start? And what does it want to achieve?
As of now the extreme dining experience/molecular gastronomy/Michelin star concept has been presented in many restaurants around the world and been taken to a level which is considered by many including myself to be an artistic theatrical experience. The height of this reaction would be Ferran Adria's "G Pavilion" at Documenta 12. However, with the exception of a very few cases, the main focus of the experience is concerned with the food. The “stage” where the performance takes place is concentrated onto the plate. Yes, you take in the restaurant’s environment when you enter, but that fades quick and from then on your energy is focused onto the dishes that arrive: what are they? How they will taste? My idea came to me whilst having such a dining experience in Casino de Madrid. I felt that there was potential to greatly expand the experience I was having. I imagined how it would be to expand the “stage” out so that it covers the complete environment the diner is in. Of course the food would have to be a fantastic gastronomic event and the wine magnificent but all aspects would be thought through and integrated into one event. That will include the smells, sound, the stage design and even the performers who bring the food to the table. Crucial to this concept is that the chef is not the star. He is one of a number of important imaginations that all work coherently with the artists to create the event.
Courtesy of Blanch and Shock
You got set design, food design, choreography, sound design and wine universes together. How do these complement each other?
Up until now it is likely that the closest any guest would have come to my performance is a food and wine pairing. Although I would say that in my experience even that is hard to get right and I have tried many times.
For the Waldorf project I have sourced some incredible wine treasures and sacrificed a portion of the stock in order for the chefs to taste the wine regularly throughout the entire development of the menu. This is something which is impractical and uneconomical in most restaurant settings and will be one of the elements that elevates us. But that perfect fusion is just the beginning. I thought if you can connect the food perfectly to the wine, how would it feel to connect the food to the environment too and the sounds etc. This opened the door to whole world of possible artistic exploration that we are presenting in chapter one. In order for this concept to work, the guests must give themselves up to the event and trust the journey it will take them on. All aspects of the event have been carefully thought through and been inspired by one another. The menu has been designed around the metaphor of the muskmelon. From there we have designed different utensils to eat each course with which the set designer has created in order to affect the way you eat. That process has in turn been inspired by the environment which is a huge hydroponic wonderland. The choreography took inspiration from the set and the food. All the various aspects connect and reconnect.
Can you explain to me more in depth the metaphor of the Japanese muskmelon? And why a whole event entitled to it?
In Japan there is an ancient tradition of gift giving. It is customary to give and receive gifts at every aspect of an adult’s life, everything ranging from a small gesture when meeting a friend, to very expensive gifts at high corporate levels. An entire ecosystem has arisen in Japan to facilitate this custom. The most highly regarded gift that can be given is fruit, which are intensely farmed perfect versions of what nature could ever produce and are sold for extraordinary amounts of money. The rarest and most sought after of these fruits is the Muskmelon, which sell for hundreds of pounds each. They have been grown in oil-fired glasshouses on bushes that have been pruned back to allow for only one melon to grow on each vine. Weak seedlings are weeded out. When the flowers appear, poor specimens are ruthlessly plucked and discarded. The melons are massaged each day to encourage the skin to crack and heal releasing sugars, which raise the sweetness levels far higher then nature ever intended. The end result tastes like the perfect fruit. The ideal is a flawless sphere.
These melons represent the perfect synergy and harmony between man and nature. It is this manipulation that is the metaphor and theme for the first chapter: a journey from the best that nature can create, to the higher state of perfection when combined with the artistic mind of man.
As we move through the evening and the six courses of the menu, each dish moves closer to a perfect fusion of man and nature.
Can you tell me about Chapter Two that will take place in the Spring and in general about your future projects?
The theme for chapter Two is a secret for now, but we will be expanding on the concept of connected and immersed experiences. Finding even more exciting and creative ways of dining. I will be exploring ideas like food psychology, scent design and movement control. In addition to the already developed ideas of sound control, connected environment and choreography.
The Waldorf Project
Chapter One / Muskmelon
10 - 14 October 2012
1 Westgate Street
London E8 3RP
Interview by Elisa della Barba