Volcano Flambé (2011) is a “multisensory culinary intervention” (translation: dessert), created by Marina Abramović in collaboration with chef Kevin Lasko of Park Avenue Winter, a seasonally recreated restaurant on New York’s Upper East Side. Volcano Flambé is a variation of a Baked Alaska, with dark chocolate ice cream, almond sponge cake and banana mousse encased in a Swiss meringue, topped with gold leaf and spun sugar and finally set alight with dark rum. Visitors of the restaurant were treated to an immersive sensory experience, being blindfolded, clad in lab coats and provided with headphones through which to hear Abramović’s voice guiding them through the meal, and to her ultimate orgasm.
“The biggest luxury in our lives is to have time,” Abramović has said of this latest work. “Take time to eat. I love the idea of eating with awareness.” The guiding audio accompaniments, lab coat and blindfold ensure that the dessert is savoured at the artist’s pace, which is slow and theatrical, pushing her exploration of the body in a new direction. Here, the consumer is simultaneously the performer, engaging in an experience that is indeed, as the artist states, multisensory. The work is certainly a step – if not back, then perhaps aside – from Abramović’s usual modus operandi, which has historically plumbed the intensity of her own experience to absorb and challenge those of her audience via a kind of complicity (in the case of works like Rhythm 0, 1974) or an osmosis (in the case of her The House with the Ocean View, 2002, in which she inhabited a New York gallery for 12 days, famously recreated on HBO’s Sex and the City).Volcano Flambé could perhaps represent a new era for the self-styled ‘grandmother of performance’, an era in which she herself is no longer a bodily presence in the same way, where the senses are seduced rather than attacked, cajoled rather than asceticised.
“I believe that the art of the future will be an art without objects, because in the communication of pure energy, the object appears as an obstacle,” Abramović said some ten years ago, and it seems that in this instance she has gone part of the way, creating work around an object so ephemeral it will leave no trace of its creation, consumption and literal expulsion. What is most engaging about Volcano Flambé is its construction as a simultaneously singular and holistic sensory event. Abramović’s voice, the blindfold, the indulgence of the dessert, its texture – all are experienced as individual elements of a whole that performs a change in the body’s time, its appetite. A recent study of octopi revealed that their intelligence, rather than being controlled by a central processing unit (such as a brain), is distributed throughout their limbs, allowing them to learn how to unscrew a jar of food in 30 minutes (a task that takes a monkey 30 days). Abramović has always expanded our notions of what it is to inhabit our body, and the horizons of its capacity. In her experiments with food, we inhabit a different experience, one of distributed sensory intelligence, a slowing, a performance and a cycle of consumption that begs the question ‘what goes on between mind and body, subject and object, creation and destruction, artist and audience, and duration and time?’. If there’s anyone to answer these questions, my bet’s on Marina Abramović, every time.