Palettes, Palates, and Authenticity: The Winemaker’s Art

by Dwight Furrow

SassicaiaIn many traditional wine regions of the world wine, like food, has been a marker of identity. Wine, when properly made, expresses the character of the soil and climate in which grapes are grown, and the sensibilities of the people who make and consume it. Thus, it is a form of cultural expression that sets one culture or region off from another, drawing a contrast with the rest of the world and inducing a sense of local uniqueness and particularity. As a bulwark against the homogenization of wine produced by global corporations for a world market, the authenticity of a wine's expression thus becomes one criterion by which wine quality is assessed. Wine that does not taste of its origins is branded inauthentic.

But just as creative chefs are confronted with the problem of being innovative while maintaining links to traditions, winemakers are faced with a similar dilemma. Wine lovers are nothing if not diviners of secrets. We strain to find the hidden layer of spice that emerges only after an hour of decanting, alertly attend to the ephemeral floral notes from esters so volatile that a few seconds exposure to air whisks them away forever, and obsess over the hint of tobacco that begins to develop only after 10 years in the cellar. If a wine is to qualify as a work of art, it must repay such devoted attention, revealing new dimensions with repeated tastings, especially as it develops with age. It should be an expression of the vision of the winemaker or the terroir of the region in which the grapes were grown, and like great art, a great wine should be a bit of an enigma, yielding pleasure and understanding while leaving the impression that there is something more here to be grasped. But most importantly, a vinous work of art must be unique. Just as Van Gogh's rendering of Arles is great because no predecessor had been able to capture with paint what Van Gogh saw in an ordinary Cyprus tree, a work of vinous art will uncover new dimensions in flavor. But that seems to contradict the demand that wine reflect the traditional flavor profile characteristic of the region from which it comes. How does a winemaker achieve originality while remaining wedded to tradition?

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When Is a Meal Like a Van Gogh? When the Chef is Telling Secrets

by Dwight Furrow

Atelier crenn

Atelier Crenn A Creation of Chef Dominique Crenn

In the humdrum course of daily life, we tend to ignore most of the objects we encounter. We focus only on what will break down or threaten us if we aren’t paying attention and neglect anything that is in its proper place benignly performing its function. Such inattention is a shame but inevitable. We wouldn't survive for long if we maintained a child's fascina tion with what can be taken for granted.

One of the functions of art is to resist that inattention and sustain, if only at very special moments, a fragile fascination with the commonplace. The history of art is full of examples of works that illuminate the ordinary: The Rembrandt portrait that reveals a little-known character of its subject; or beams of light from an undisclosed source in a Caravaggio that reveals God's presence in an everyday scene. But it is especially true of modern art. The still-lifes of Cezanne, the ready-mades of Duchamp, the bricolage of postmodernism, all exemplify one prevalent theme of the art of the past 150 years—the commonplace is extraordinary.

Van Gogh was especially gifted at wresting revelation from the commonplace. In explaining why he left Paris for Arles in Provence, Van Gogh wrote that he wanted to “paint the South” to help others “see” it. Convinced that previous painters had failed in this task, he painted roughly 328 canvases of the area in a little over two years, a body of work which included 14 canvases of trees in bloom in the fields near Arles, a number of paintings of the Alpilles hills just outside of town, and 12 paintings of wheat fields visible from his window in the asylum, to which he consigned himself after cutting off his ear.

Trees in bloom, distant hills, wheat fields? These are commonplace objects we might superficially admire while on a leisurely walk, but they typically escape our focused attention. Yet, Van Gogh was convinced there is something to see in these objects, which our ordinary modes of perception cannot easily discern and which require an artist of his stature to make visible. (I hope cutting off one's ear is not a requirement for such an ability to see.)

What does Van Gogh see in the fields and hills near Arles that others miss?

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Why Kant Was Wrong about Food

by Dwight Furrow

Atelier crenn

from the San Francisco restaurant Atelier Crenn

Among philosophers who think about art and aesthetics, the position of food and wine is tenuous at best. Food and wine receive little discussion compared to painting or music, and when they are discussed, most philosophers are skeptical that food and wine belong in the category of fine arts.

Food and wine have not always been marginalized in discussions of aesthetics. In the 18h Century, taste provided a model for how to understand aesthetic judgments in general—until Kant came along to break up the party. Kant argued that food and wine could not be genuine aesthetic objects and his considerable influence has carried the day and continues to influence philosophical writing on the arts.

What were these powerful arguments that succeeded in removing taste from the agenda of aesthetics? Kant thought that both “mouth taste” and genuine aesthetic appreciation are based on an individual’s subjective experience of pleasure. But with “mouth taste” there is no reflection involved and no imaginative involvement, just an immediate response. The pleasure comes first and then we judge based on the amount of pleasure experienced whether we find the flavors “agreeable” or “disagreeable”. Thus, our judgments about food and wine are based entirely on our subjective, idiosyncratic, sensuous preferences. By contrast, when we experience paintings or music aesthetically, contemplation ensues whereby our rational and imaginative capacities engage in “free play”. Our pleasure is not an immediate response to the object but comes after the contemplation and is thus based on it. We respond not only to whether the object is pleasing but to how the object engages our cognitive capacities of understanding and imagination. This yields a judgment that is not merely a subjective preference but involves a more universal form of appreciation.

Kant was wrong to argue that “mouth taste” does not provoke contemplation. Connoisseurs of wine, cheese, coffee, and beer, as well as the flavorists who analyze our food preferences for the food industry show that food and wine can be thoughtfully savored, and various components of the tasting experience can be analyzed. But that fact by itself doesn’t really refute Kant’s view. What mattered for Kant was not just the fact of contemplation, but rather how the contemplation unfolds and what its result is. So we have to look more closely at what Kant had in mind.

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Sliced, Frozen and Lapsed

by Gautam Pemmaraju

The world about us is a set of ends to be reached or avoided, and the spatiotemporal distance of the ends is organized in perception as the means by which these ends may be so reached or avoided.

– George Mead in The Philosophy of the Act

Eadward Muybridge’s pioneering experiment Sally Gardner at a Gallop revealed more than just the gait of a galloping horse – it oracularly hinted at an entire range of spatiotemporal possibilities of cameras capturing motion. Subjects, objects, and phenomena move in time and space, but then so can cameras. How cameras and what they film are linked within time and space, and how technological variables can shape, refine and elevate this complex consanguinity is a fascinating area which has profoundly influenced science, art, cinema and popular culture in general, not to mention shaped our ideas of perception of the reality that envelops us, and the meta-realities that we thereby unfailingly, and unwittingly conjure up. The image can transform in a multitude of ways – from progressively slowing down to an intractable stasis, to accelerating at blinding speeds with iridescent blurs and light trails, achieving in some sense, cosmic values. The moving image can warp, slyly morph and shape shift as it travels; it can do so very many things that we can only see in our restive dreams. There exists a rich cosmology of how things move, how plants move, how we move, how friends, and lovers move, how indeed absolutely everything moves about within our minds; it is then our attempts to reframe these movements within, these feints and flights of our indefatigable, cunning minds, that is a human endeavour of significant creative proportions. This endeavour, an enriched (or impoverished) translation of what resides within, is tinctured with ‘an existential gloss’, as Iain Sinclair says on the English translations of WG Sebald’s work in the thoughtful, engaging film Patience (After Sebald).

What Muybridge tantalizingly suggested were the possibilities inherent in the use of an array of cameras on a predetermined path. In effect, he presciently suggested timeslice photography, also known as ‘bullet time’ or ‘frozen moment’ photography, made popular by the film Matrix. What if, asks Mark.J.P.Wolf in Space, Time, Frame, Cinema (pdf), a schematic theorization of spatiotemporal possibilities, Muybridge had placed all his 24 cameras on a curve, and instead of tripwires at periodic distances setting them off, they were instead all triggered simultaneously? It’s a simple enough idea – a series of cameras in a straight-line, a curve, or an arc, photographing the same event at exactly the same time. Although Muybridge did set them in a semicircle for certain motion studies, Wolf writes, he did not simultaneously release them, and it would take another century for this filmic effect to be realised. This temp morts (see also this) is but one of the many intriguing possibilities, Wolf indicates, of how cameras can move in space and time.

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How Does My Garden Grow?

by Gautam Pemmaraju

DSC00104 A distinct advantage to my small rental in the once ‘leafy suburb’ of Bandra in western Bombay is its garden. Actually, not quite a ‘garden’ in the sense that it is arranged with great care or acuity, tended to diligently, or bedecked with decorative flowers and plants, it is rather, for the most part, an unkempt, somewhat derelict yard with several planted trees and a wide range of wild ferns, creepers, fruit, herb, and vegetable plants. The diversity of botanical life is pretty fascinating, not to mention the many song birds, from the White-Throated Fan Tail, the Oriental Magpie Robin to the Asian Koel, and lest I forget, the many worms, slugs, bees, butterflies, garden lizards, frogs, squirrels, snails that are to be found in residence – occasionally at my doorstep. Itinerant cats, the odd fatigued kite, noisy crows, sparrows and pigeons, barn owls, and bandicoots pass through, and I have often imagined an irascible rodent knocking at my door demanding a change of music.

The space around me is a wild urban garden.

DSC00142 Encircled by tall apartment blocks, the low-rise character of the structure allows for immediate contact with what is outside. Boundary walls enclose this very modest plot of land that supports an impressive range of plant life. When in season, there are guavas that may be picked from outside my window; some ripe ones, half eaten by parakeets, fall to ground and release a squishy, heady aroma. Two types of bananas – a large beveled plantain (possibly from Kerala) which can be used raw (in cooking) or eaten when ripe, and the small, squat and delicious local elchi (butter plantain). Cultivated coconut, including one variety brought from Singapore, and seasonal mangoes are in abundance. The lone lime tree, verdant and generously fertile at one time, which used to catch the fancy of telephone linesmen, postmen and other civic workers entering the premises, is in need of some help. Recently, the jackfruit tree bore fruit for the first time. Several others though – custard apple, tamarind, Java Plum or Jambul, fig, locally known as umber – are yet to be as productive as the others.

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Necessary Luxury

by Dave Munger

Sculpture4It's almost impossible to come up with a pithy statement summarizing the age-old struggle to define “art” and “artist.” Yet for my stepbrother Mark, for whom daily existence is a struggle, wrestling with these concepts takes on a new dimension.

I can still remember scoffing in my Intro to Art class in college, when the professor told us about objets trouvés and showed us works like Duchamp's Fountain—an unmodified urinal displayed as art. That's not art, I muttered to myself. If I can do it, it's definitely not art. Picking up some random object and putting it in a museum does not make something art. Art is something more than that (Of course, maybe it's not, but at the time I was quite convinced I was right).

When we were kids, Mark was always picking up sticks and shaping them into amazing things. I was particularly fond of a knotted piece of driftwood that he carved into a hydroplane with his pocketknife. Hydros are like Seattle's version of stock car racing, and here Mark had transformed a bit of flotsam into something any ten-year-old would love.

Eventually one of his parents gave him a set of real carving tools, and he started to make sculptures out of wood. “Wood is interesting to me because it had a previous existence,” Mark says. “Then it ends up dying and being made into something completely different. What it went through in its life affects how it grows, which affects what you can make out of it.” Mark created the sculpture above to represent metamorphosis; as you rotate it, the magical person he's depicted seems to change, to lose its skin and express its inner self. But the act of creating the carving mimicked the work itself (or is it the other way around?), as he transformed a piece of wood into into a work that expressed what he wanted.

The more difficult transition, the one he's still struggling with, is making himself into an artist. It's something I share with him, because I struggle with it too. The differences between the two of us are primarily due to chance. I've never had the physical ailments he's had, and unlike me, he wasn't lucky enough to marry someone who can support the irregular career of an aspiring artist (Once again, we're back to definitions—you can of course dispute whether a writer is an artist).

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A Diatribe from the Remains of Dr. Fred McCabe

by Daniel Rourke

About a month ago in handling the remains of one Dr. Fred McCabe I found rich notes of contemplation on the subject of information theory. It appears that Fred could have written an entire book on the intricacies of hidden data, encoded messages and deceptive methods of transmission. Instead his notes exist in the form of a cryptic assemblage of definitions and examples, arranged into what Dr. McCabe himself labelled a series of ‘moments’.

I offer these moments alongside some of the ten thousand images Dr. McCabe amassed in a separate, but intimately linked, archive. The preface to this abridged compendium is little capable of preparing one for the disarray of material, but by introducing this text with Fred’s own words it is my hope that a sense of the larger project will take root in the reader’s fertile imagination.

The Moment of the Message: A Diatribe

by Dr. Fred McCabe

More than ten thousand books on mathematics and a thousand books on philosophy exist for every one upon information. This is surprising. It must mean something.

I want to give you a message. But first. I have to decide how to deliver the message.

This is that moment.

I can write it down, or perhaps memorise it – reciting it in my head like a mantra, a prayer chanted in the Palace gardens. And later, speaking in your ear, I will repeat it to you. That is, if you want to hear it.

I could send it to you, by post, or telegram. After writing it down I will transmit it to you. Broadcasting on your frequency in the hope that you will be tuned in at the right moment. Speaking your language. Encoded and encrypted, only you will understand it.

I have a message for you and I want you to receive it. But first. I have to decide what the message is.

This is that moment:

This is the moment of the message

From the earliest days of information theory it has been appreciated that information per se is not a good measure of message value. The value of a message appears to reside not in its information (its absolutely unpredictable parts) but rather in what might be called its redundancy—parts predictable only with difficulty, things the receiver could in principle have figured out without being told, but only at considerable cost in money, time, or computation. In other words, the value of a message is the amount of work plausibly done by its originator, which its receiver is saved from having to repeat.

This is the moment my water arrived at room temperature

The term enthalpy comes from the Classical Greek prefix en-, meaning “to put into”, and the verb thalpein, meaning “to heat”.

For a simple system, with a constant number of particles, the difference in enthalpy is the maximum amount of thermal energy derivable from a thermodynamic process in which the pressure is held constant.

This is the moment the wafer became the body of Christ

The Roman Catholic Church got itself into a bit of a mess. Positing God as the victim of the sacrifice introduced a threshold of undecidability between the human and the divine. The simultaneous presence of two natures, which also occurs in transubstantiation, when the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, threatens to collapse the divine into the human; the sacred into the profane. The question of whether Christ really is man and God, of whether the wafer really is bread and body, falters between metaphysics and human politics. The Pope, for all his failings, has to decide the undecidable.

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