In 1968, Arakawa produced a number of works that took his use of stenciled and written language in a more playful direction than we saw in the paintings included in documenta 4. In canvas and print form, he reproduced recipes for lamb stew, fried pork with sweet-sour sauce, banana cake, and coconut milk cake. These recipes were, in a sense, readymades, found in one or more cookbooks that Arakawa and Madeline had on their shelf. They all follow a similar formula: Arakawa copied a page onto the surface of each work and then diagrammed the ingredients.
For Distraction Series 7, we present you with our playful response to Sky No. 2, 1968, which involved baking the Coconut Milk Cake recipe as it is written in cursive over the surface of the canvas, up until we are left hanging with this final sentence: “To serve, fill between the layers with:”. This incomplete direction seems to demand that the viewer fill the layers by filling in the blank. They may immediately look to the diagram at the bottom to see if that offers any hint. When it does not, they must search within their own frame of reference for coconut cake to complete the recipe rather than be left with the image of two, completely bare, single-layer cakes.
While this painting introduces language as a readymade, it also brings us away from our visual sense to a certain extent. We might picture what the completed cake would look like, and certainly had to when we turned to baking it, but, more importantly, the painting makes palpable the cake’s sweet taste, the scent of freshly grated coconut and the aroma wafting from the oven as the cake bakes, and finally the texture of the light and airy crumb and the creaminess of whatever the viewer’s brain has sandwiched between the layers and perhaps over the cake’s entirety. Another work in the series is entitled “Recipe (taste it)”, which we could take as a literal direction.
Sky No. 2, 1968, does not ask you to bake an actual cake; your mind has already produced a vivid replica, but the diagrammed ingredients at the bottom of the canvas provide the perfect mise en place to get any would-be bakers started. As in earlier paintings, Arakawa has placed these word-objects in space, and in our mind’s eye we might find ourselves standing before a kitchen table or countertop (though in real life, we would be missing the baking powder, which would keep the cake from reaching the “sky” of the title.) This is perhaps the writer’s subjective response to the painting, and in this case by someone who loves to bake and has indeed had coconut cake before. The title made it easier to conjure up images of whipped, fluffy egg whites and airy sky-high cakes; yet this created some cognitive dissonance when contrasted to the first Sky painting (Sky, 1968), which included a recipe for lamb stew.
Every person viewing any work of art will have their own individual response or interpretation. In terms of taking viewer participation to the next level, we thought a fun, easy way to demonstrate this subjectivity would be to have at least two people make this recipe and see how their cakes differ. Please scroll down for more images of our cakes, and if you try this recipe, share your results on Instagram and tag us @reversibledestinyfoundation!
Yours in the reversible destiny mode,
Reversible Destiny Foundation and ARAKAWA+GINS Tokyo Office
(Top image: Arakawa, Sky No.2, 1968, acrylic and oil on canvas, 48 x 36 in)