The dream of the Futurists was to live in a world in which technological progress would overtake traditional values and institutions. Mostly known for their art, they intended to revolutionize literature, music, performance, and architecture, but food was an important part of their plan, too. Indeed, in 1930, they published their manifesto of Futurist Cooking, followed by several feasts called “Aerobanchetti” (Aerobanquets), where the ad hoc settings and food embraced their love for speed, the machine, and unusual combinations of flavors.
Now, nearly one hundred years later, the artist Mattia Casalegno has conceived a complex and intriguing project inspired by the Manifesto of Futurist Cuisine, combining VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) to offer a multi-sensory dining experience to anyone brave enough to leave the physical world for one evening. AEROBANQUETS RMX is a real dinner, comprised of 11 courses, cooked by a private chef en-place and served to the participants in a VR/AR environment.
Inspired by the original recipes and names the Futurists developed, the menu includes dishes like “Lo Sbarker” (tartelette with goat cheese and mixed flowers in herb oil), “Bolla Spuma” (cold almond sponge), and “Lo Sbarbanino” (gazpacho served in a tomato, with sea urchin, cucumber, and radishes). The names refer to the original idea of naming food after what it represents, visually and conceptually. During the course of the AEROBANQUETS RMX, the participants pass through different settings, some taken more or less literally from the book, others inspired by familiar and personal places. There is a scene in which they are surrounded by a sea of milk, another which takes place in a hunting lodge in the woods. Every setting has been designed to trigger a specific emotion in the viewer: The weather-beaten, citrus-smelling environments should be uplifting; the dark, humid settings where mushrooms grow aim to incite moodiness. Other worlds materialize, like light green glaciers combined with ginger, which has the property of sharpening memory and gaze, and hot,sultry waves recalling turmeric and eggplants, damping one’s energy and breath.
Mattia Casalegno, who has been using technology in his artworks for several years, quotes J. Lanier in explaining that he is fascinated by VR and AR “as a motory-perceptive apparatus.” In a conversation that followed a live presentation of his project, Casalegno says, “My work focuses on the combination of various senses, and how those relate to each other, and how perception is processed neurologically by our brain. The way we perceive, the way we build our reality, is always a negotiation between our expectations and what our senses and brains are making of the environment we are in.”
The artist, who extensively studied the Futurists’ cookbook and their ideas for creating multi-sensory experiences—where painting, music, poetry, scent design, and cooking would merge—aims, with this project, to recreate that Gesamtkunstwerk able to address all our senses, not only the visual ones. And while he is fascinated by the Futurists’ utopic and progressive vision of a society in which technology would lead to more free time and less labor, he actually wants to address that the contrary has happened: Almost one hundred years later, we find ourselves in a society in which automation, AI, and robots actually have a negative impact on our well-being, where the food and drug industries dominate our taste and eating habits, rendering us immune to any natural taste and smell.
Furthermore, Casalegno questions how it could be possible to visualize flavor. “We really eat with our eyes first. The very nature of taste is a negotiation between our taste buds, nostrils, and eyes. So I asked myself: What would happen if we were immersed in a completely new reality and saw shapes and forms that we do not necessarily associate with food, but that we can actually eat? What is the shape, texture, or materiality of a particular flavor?” (Cit.)
AEROBANQUETS RMX premiered at the Chronus Art Center in Shanghai in Spring 2018. Casalegno, who worked with his team and the chef Flavio Giglioni Carestia (Toscanini Restaurant, Amsterdam), developed this novel menu and created a custom software that generates virtual representations of the food. By associating a color and a growth function to every basic flavor, the software visualizes any food as if it were a three-dimensional drawing/sculpture.
Most of Casalegno’s projects, often large installations, offer bold physical experiences, but this specific one hopes to be therapeutic as well: The project is about reframing our perceptions and changing the way we experience food. It is not only a life-changing experience, but, in a sense, a tool to reprogram all our perceptive expectations. By addressing all five senses of hearing, smell, taste, sight, and ultimately touch, AEROBANQUETS RMX offers a level of immersion that is much higher than any art installation. Casalegno concludes, “I hope that anyone who participates in this project will be more open and receptive to the complexity and beauty of the flavors, colors, smells, sounds, and feelings food can arouse.”