CECILIA & RYAN are two amazing human beings that happen to be artists. Cecilia is also the founder and curator of Y Gallery; she’s Latina, he’s not. So, what’s food got to do with them?
Lynn Maliszewski: What is your favorite food? What was your favorite food when you were a child?
Cecilia Jurado: Absolutely everything that is well made. Picking a few right now in my mind, and eating one at a time: ají de gallina, ceviche, tallarín saltado, oysters, fillet mignon with pepper sauce mushrooms and mashed potatoes, tortellini with black olives sauce, kadsudon, sushi, beef and broccoli, pork soup dumplings. When I was a child, I loved the Coca-Cola asados that my parents prepared on Sundays.
Ryan Brown: I don’t really have a favorite food, it’s all a matter of timing. On my last birthday, Cecilia took me to the Mexican restaurant, Hecho en Dumbo, where we had queso fundido de chorizo, mole manchamanteles, with margaritas and, for desert, pastel de chocolate with a touch of tequila. That entire experience remains permanently etched in my record of remarkable delights.
LM: Do you enjoy food that consists of many components? Or is it usually on the simpler side?
CJ: I used to be a fundamentalist — ceviche was just the fish, onions and lemon — but now I like a festival of ingredients. I used to be more contained, and now I scream, I jump, I play, I get angry and very hungry. I am a kid. Also, I eat all day, so it’s difficult not eat a variety of things. I have favorites depending on where I’m going. If I go to the Bowery, the home of my gallery-turned-studio, I can stop on my way for a carrot-ginger-apple juice on 1st Street and 1st Avenue, then a chocolate pretzel at BomBom on 1st Avenue and 2nd Street. I can have a Mexican lunch at Hecho En Dumbo on 3rd Street and Bowery finished off with dried mangos from the Farmer’s Store on 4th Street and Bowery.
LM: Where does food end and luxury begin? Are there any foods you consider plainly in the realm of function over form?
CJ: We all have to eat to live, so let’s eat well. I am not thinking expensive food or healthy food necessarily, I am thinking tasty food. In that sense eating well is one of the most democratic things on earth. If you go to a very poor restaurant in Peru, for example, it is very possible that the food will be extraordinary. In your house: fried garlic, onions and a tomato with olive oil mixed with thin spaghetti is heavenly! It tastes super good and costs two dollars. Although I am a visual cat, some ugly food tastes very good. Like art, we can move away from being purists to more varied manifestations and aesthetics, but still get along. In New York, there is so much diversity that I just open my mouth and I eat.
LM: Ryan, how has Latin food changed your life?
RB: My true introduction to Latin food happened simultaneously with my falling in love with my soon-to-be wife Cecilia, who is peruana. These sensorial experiences always carry strong emotional content. Before living together I had more of a functional, utilitarian relationship with food. Food’s main purpose was to satisfy my hunger. Now I share more of Cecilia’s delight in the complexities of taste and enjoy eating for the sake of eating.
LM: The press release from your most recent show, Meating Ryan, describes you as a cook, Cecilia. Does cooking influence your work?
CJ: Not cooking, but eating! I do not cook much, but I eat so, so much. I am a hedonist and eating is my favorite pleasure. I was researching how beauty stirs commotion in people for a while. Food takes you to so many levels of pleasure, mood, and mental states. Although it is brief, the experience ages in your memory.
LM: For Armory Week in 2009, your series Oral Cute was put on display. The photographic series of blurred head-shots from famous models were distributed in the form of chocolate bars. Art, models, fashion, chocolate: the ultimate gluttony?
CJ: The compulsive consumption in our society easily compares to the act of eating and thus I have used the analogy multiple times. Pleasure + Pleasure + Pleasure. But pleasure is not all there is to life. My work incites people to see and eat, but also points out the ultimate banality of it all. Beauty, for a long time, has been the biggest manipulator for selling something else. That being said, mixing beauty with food equals desire and satisfaction.
LM: Fragments also appear quite frequently in your work, whether fragments of a person or fragments of a memory of the sky or faces that the viewer can relate to. Have you ever looked into molecular gastronomy, utilizing science to reformat food?
CJ: A lot of my work looks into fragments to develop a greater idea. I always say that at fifty I will study medicine. Whether it’s going to happen who knows, but I have a huge fascination with science. I think dishes are by themselves experiments that have been tried so many times, they became traditions. Isn’t it amazing how we put a little salt, a little this and a little of the other thing and, ta da! You have an exquisite dish, yet cannot go back to the original. It is not like a car that you can take apart. With a dish most of the time you are talking about transformation. I love that!
LM: Your artistic work serves to elucidate the larger issues behind art and fashion, including desire, superficiality, and the corrosive potential of each medium. Do you see food having similar potential for transcendence? How do you think food could be a social modifier?
CJ: Well, the way you eat can also speak to who you are. Many vegan people make a statement by not eating meat, by eating ultra healthy. Food then becomes almost a political discourse, showing the progress of civilization and that man doesn’t have to kill to eat. Food also makes people travel and is a revolutionary link between different types of people. I am for that. Food is a bridge and a gateway for culture.
LM: What’s been your favorite Latin experience, Ryan?
RB: Difficult one to pinpoint, but I’d have to say it happened somewhere along our (Cecilia’s and my) journey to Machu Picchu last summer. I had the feeling of really losing myself among all the richness of culture and geography. I also remember Cecilia’s family greeting us lovingly at the airport upon our arrival to Lima. That is one of my fondest memories.
LM: Where would you both like to go in the world? Or in the Latin world?
RB: I would like to go to Europe, to Paris, Berlin, but stay for some time, find a studio, live there.
CJ: I would like to go back to Paris too. I love Paris and I miss it. I would like to go to Mexico too. I grew up there, and I also miss it.
RB: I’d also like to go to Mexico.
CJ: I want to know Berlin, I’ve never being there, everybody says it’s very cheap. Ah, and Peru, of course! I want Peru to be my second home.
RB: Me too! It’s wonderful that Cecilia and I share a strong desire for similar locations. Last summer I discovered the small town of Pisac in Cusco and could envision some of our lives there.
LM: What is the most beautiful place you’ve been to in your native Peru?
CJ: Pisac, a small town in Cusco. The ruins are at an extremely high point, so high that the vertigo never leaves you. The town down below at the bottom is so warm and so humble that it makes you feel at home, despite the tourism. Drinking chicha de jora, a native concoction, also helps.
LM: What is the most underrated marvel of your hometown, Lima, Perú?
CJ: Nowadays many people come to Lima to eat, so it may not be as amazingly underrated as it was. The historic center, with the Plaza San Martin that transports you to the edges of magnificent architecture, is big and filled with amazing places to stumble into. The monumental churches, even if you are not religious, are marvels. They let you grasp how powerful religious art was. They are manipulative and convincing, summoning the “new God” at the moment of the Spanish conquest. Last, but not least, is the sea that feeds the city. I miss the sea.
LM: Do you think the beauty of Latin America is objectified?
CJ:Certainly it is. In the arts—now less than before—there was a specific criterion to define “Latin American Art”. It was very folklorist or very politically charged. Let’s be honest too: we are immensely poorer than the US. We are geographically different, and our actual cultures are a result of overlapped cultures across millenniums. The culture is pretty complex and difficult to define. “Latins”—I am talking about the mass, not the elites—have this wonderful bunch of survivors, of experienced people, because we we’ve gone through a lot, and there is this respect for life, and for being alive. When foreigners come to Latin America, they feel that. The culture is savvy and sensual, yet naive in being apart from the world trends, or at least the construction of world trends. We become these amazing “savages” living in beautiful, rare places and eating fantastic food.
RB: No…yes…no.? That’s an interesting thought. No, I don’t think the beauty of Latin America is objectified, in the sense that I don’t think objects and possessions are indicators of identity as they are here in the U.S. Yes, beauty is objectified in the sense that there are so many objects, so much image-bearing material, but the relation to these things is different. Objects and commodities seem peripheral to the essence and beauty of life, which makes them all the more trivial.
LM: Has traveling to the Southern hemisphere demystified any part of Latin culture for you? As an outsider, Ryan, what was the most astonishing discovery?
RB: Demystified? No. I mentioned earlier about losing myself, and that was a deliberate intention. I went with very little expectation. If anything my preconceptions were validated. It sounds clichéd, but my Latin friends here in the U.S are some of the most generous and authentic people I have ever met, and I saw those same characteristics displayed in the culture at large. Granted, my exposure was limited, but I have every reason to believe it is a general truth. As far as discoveries, it was the architecture that astonished me most. The Iglesia de San Francisco, for example, with all its rich beauty and mystery! But there is something equally marvelous about the determination and strength of some constructions in the poorer communities. The colors and forms come from the inside out, and I think that is a wonderful representation of life.
LM: Has your personal practice adjusted in living with a Latin lover?
RB: Definitely…of course! Adjusting to one another’s peculiarities and sensibilities is a large part of practicing love. We are both pretty strange people, and our habits exist somewhere beyond any cultural confines. I think Cecilia has helped me slow down a bit and take life in stride. We are so into each other, and that’s the most wonderful thing of all!
LM: Your work has mostly been inflected with explorations of beauty, starting with the mass media and shifting to your beloved husband. What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve seen on one of your travels in your life?
CJ: I have seen so many things that blew my mind, I can’t think of just one. For some reason darkness plays a role, paradoxically enough, as we are talking about a visual experience. I remember walking on the top of a mountain in the Swiss Alps at twenty-degrees below zero, snow to the knees, in complete darkness with five dogs, Silvia, my gallerist, and a gorgeous redhead collector, and with no flash light. I was terrified, yet it was amazing. I also remember an Easter weekend in Ayacucho, Peru: all the people of the town dancing in a circle on the plaza that was filled with giant flower carpets. As the day turned to night we all got drunker and the plaza exploded with fireworks right in the middle, like a very thin and long cascade that divided the place in two. An open coffin with a statue of Jesus Christ was held up by twelve men or so, interrupted by a band. Everybody followed it and cried. It was one of the saddest moments and more compelling ones in my life. Every time I go to Lima, that fantastic horizon line at the sea that is white during the day, blue for an hour in the late afternoon, and then purple at night, is still surreal. There is no definitive line in-between, it’s so blurry with the fog. It is the horizon without being a horizon. I like to see things that are mysteriously sublime, like my husband’s eyes in the darkness while we lie in bed and say goodnight until the morning.
LM: What defines “beauty” for you while traveling outside of your comfort zone?
CJ: I am never outside of my comfort zone! I am more comfortable with myself when I travel. Your home helps you return to yourself. The beauty is that happiness in being alone, or with my husband or good friends, and exploring new places and new friends. There is a beauty in the tragedy of leaving places, too. A trip is like a love affair: you give all of yourself, knowing that it will not last forever. RB: Often times, I am out of my comfort zone when I get lost in translation. At these times, I am reminded of the importance of humility and the beauty of simplicity, the beauty in silence.