I was eleven, eating some strawberry taffy, when I started to wonder where the strawberries they used to make taffy came from, because they tasted way better than the tart and seedy strawberries that I've had. When blue "razzberry" flavor debuted, I thought a farmer had made a great discovery, not a chemist. I thought the neon orange dust that coated cheese puffs came from an actual block of hard cheese whose cultures came from the milk of a sunglasses wearing cheetah.
I had a very animated and Disney-esque image of what these farms might have looked like; a lot of wiggling, smiling trees spitting oversized pink strawberries from its branches and flirtatiously dangling them from their twig fingers. Farmers would only be able to pick the fruit after several failed attempts jumping after it, as the trees laughed heartily on and on.
After eating these electric snacks, I would still be hungry, so I'd go home and eat some substantial food my family would make. Foods that were various shades and hues of brown, wilted greens, off-whites and earth tones, that might actually supply most of the requirements demanded from the food pyramid. Real food was very flavorful and delicious no doubt, but definitely not as fun, except when my dad would ambush us with elements of surprise.
Once he cooked us the most hilarious breakfast comprised of normal-sized toast, normal-sized sausage and bacon, and these tiny, mini sunny-side up fried eggs. The yolks were smaller than Tic Tacs. He was in total glee in our confusion. We later learned he had stolen the eggs from a little finch or sparrow who had foolishly set up a nest outside our kitchen window.
Whenever he'd make a stew he would make us guess what animal we were eating. "It's a goat!" "It's a kangaroo!" "It's a deer!" "It's an alligator!" Normally my brothers and I would be wrong, but we didn't care, we would eat it anyway. The weirdest thing might have been cubes of solidified pork blood, or fresh coagulated duck blood topped with its chopped innards, basil, and roasted nuts.
I didn't realize it was weird until I would talk to my friends at school about it, and they would wrinkle their faces like ogres in total disgust. I would have to change the subject immediately to something like the kind of mousse and gel combo I had to use to make my 5th grade permed hair look lustrously wet and beautiful.
In art school I met everyone I would later work with on Food Party. I was heavily inspired by a few performance-based collectives that existed while I was in school: "Grand Illusion," which was a sensationalist magic competition hosted by a drag queen named The Lady Divinity, "The Body Invisible," an ironic high drama bonraku puppet troupe (which included as members Dave Krofta, Peter Van Hyning, and Zachariah Durr) who competed in Grand Illusion, and "Le Yeux du Jour," a group of amazing stoners who would perform puppet shows to hip hop music using mainly found objects with drawn faces as well as crafted creatures. One prop would be an arm cut out from mirrored plexi they found in the trash, another would be life-like legs wearing skinny jeans and cool sneakers, skateboarding.
Food Party was an attempt to hybrid a couple projects that I had already done while in art school--a body of work comprised of building very colorful food-based fantasy installation sculpture, and very bootleg cooking videos I would make with my roommate in our apartment.
Neither project, despite being incredibly fun to make, were truly successful in my mind. The installation looked cool, but was so huge I threw most of it in the garbage once it came time to de-install. The experience of the installations only exists in cold documentation. The videos were fun, but were made so casually in the limited space of our tiny, poorly-decorated college apartment, that much of the footage was limited to shots of our backs, us looking over our shoulders as we were stirring, and blurring the camera lens with the steam from our frying pans to create "dreamvision." The obvious solution to these two problems was Food Party.
The Sculpture Center in Cleveland awarded me a solo show in 2006, which lit the match under me to get Food Party going. With the help of good friends Dave Krofta and Steven Probert, I built my ideal fantasy kitchen out of cardboard, which I used because it was free, and made the only kind of video that would be set inside that kitchen. Zachariah Durr helped loosely script out the ideas and direct it, Daniel Baxter made the big puppets, Steve lit and shot it, and Matt Fitzpatrick made some simple music loops for background music to supplement the cell phone ring tones that were also used in the score. Dave Krofta performed all the characters. I wanted the video to look like a really weird TV cooking show.
This was the first time I attempted to be a performer like this. It was a big deal because I'm shy, but not really a big deal because I wasn't pretending to be anything but myself. I just wanted to be a host for this created world, just like I would be a host at one of my own dinner parties. That very first episode still makes me cringe a great deal, mainly because I remember how completely tense and uncomfortable I was to be in front of a camera pretending to be myself and saying the scripted parts.
We shot one more episode before I moved to New York, mainly because ...why not? I felt much more comfortable this time, and everyone seemed eager to still help. Dave and I wrote an outline for the second episode, instead of working from a script, and again, we winged it. Afterwards, we tore down the set, threw it in the garbage. I brought the footage with me when I moved to New York and slowly picked at it as I transitioned myself. I moved to New York for all the ideal reasons my parents probably had when they moved to America.
The first time I ever threw a dinner party in New York, I was living in Williamsburg. I religiously threw barbecues every Tuesday in the back courtyard of my apartment building during the summer months, rain or shine. Attendance would fluctuate between 5 and 50, and it was a great exercise in forcing myself to prepare something different and weird each time.
Later I tried thematic dinner parties, the most notable were the epic blacklight T2 (Thanksgiving 2) and the Rainbow Dinner Party. T2 required guests to bring food that was blacklight reactive. My roommates and I made a blacklight chandelier that hung above the dining room table. Everyone ended up bringing things covered in frosting and sprinkles, quite the lost boys' feast when it came time to chow down. The Rainbow Dinner required guests to bring dishes that either contained all the colors of the rainbow or highlighted one color.
About eight months into living in Brooklyn, we figured out how to continue making more episodes. We got a huge, cheap apartment in the middle of Bed Stuy and built sets in our living room. We filmed three more episodes in the course of a year, over weekends and evenings. We threw parties every time we finished one, and we would promote it through our blog and flyers.
It was fun to hang out with each other and push ourselves to make totally weird and awesome video. It's an incredibly collaborative and laborious process, and it was cool to have this video to show for all our hard work. I had them on display in a couple art gallery shows as "video art", and also posted them on You Tube.
Creating Food Party was a good excuse to hang out with my buddies all day. After college, I thought long and hard about qualities that would create the ideal job for me. Number one was to be able to make cool art, number two was to be around talented people I love and respect. Plus, I don't like doing anything unless it's fun. The Internet worked to our advantage to help us make it happen. It was discovered by IFC, and is now airing on television for millions of people all over the country to
FOOD PARTY screens on IFC on Tuesday Nights at 11:15pm ET/PT.
For further information please go to: www.ifc.com/food-party