‘Quenelles of Goldfish’, ‘Piglet Brains and Barley Wine’, ‘Chilli-Chocolate Songbird Hearts’, ‘Fag-Ash & Seaweed Anti-Cupcake’; these might sound like ingredients from a Monty Python sketch but in fact they are all from menus dreamt up by the fiendishly fertile imaginations of The Domestic Godless, an absurdist gastronomic art collective from Cork.
The collective was founded by artists Stephen Brandes and Mick O’Shea, later joined by Irene Murphy, under the Cork Artist’s Collective banner at the exhibition Artists/Groups at The Project Arts Centre, Dublin, in 2003. Since then they have become a well-seasoned thorn in the foot of Irish gastronomy, with a spiky disregard for foodie fashions and culinary trends. They have introduced the world to such heady delights as Foot & Mouth Terrine, Carpaccio of Giant African Land Snail, and Victorian high tea wrought from fertiliser.
The group’s declared mission is to explore the potential of food (its taste, presentation, history, and cultural values ) as a vehicle for irreverent artistic endeavour and experimentation. Through recipes, installations, and public presentations they employ food as both a concept and a medium through which to convey humour, empathy, and other qualities that distinguish art from purely craft.
Michelin star-dodging delights
Galway audiences and gastronomes can now lick their lips and whet their appetites as The Domestic Godless are bringing their Dadaist culinary wizardry to TULCA with a show gloriously titled Canaliculus Purgamentorum.
Canaliculus Purgamentorum comprises an installation presenting dishes along a purposely-built canal constructed from sewer-piping and with a menu featuring such Michelin star-dodging delights as Sea-Lettuce Vodka Mouthwash, Beetroot & Oatmeal Goth Hair Mousse, and Sea Urchins in Black Quinoa Shale. All together it is a menu designed to relive the tastes and re-animate memories of misery-filled seaside holidays of long ago. What’s not to like?
Ahead of their Galway stint, Godless co-founder Stephen Brandes took some time to talk with me about their distinctive and flavoursome work, beginning with his account of how they first came together.
“We all work as artists in our own right with our own individual studio practices,” he tells me. “When we were preparing for the exhibition in Project Arts Centre 11 years ago both Mick and myself decided to cook and went looking for the weirdest things we could possibly find. One of the first things we cooked for that event was a rabbit stuffed with the ferret that caught it, and that set a precedent for an ongoing collaboration not just between myself and Mick but also his partner Irene Murphy who joined us about a year later.
“Both Mick and myself were always very interested in food, that was what brought us together to do this. It was a love for food as amateurs not professionals; we’re not chefs at all. We only do one or two Domestic Godless pieces per year because of the amount of work involved alongside our own work.”
Stephen is originally from Wolverhampton and has lived in Cork since 1993. In 2005 he represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale and his own work has been exhibited widely both here and internationally.
“We don’t set out to shock people,” he says of the work of The Domestic Godless. “There is a false assumption out there that we do things like road-kill which we have never done. What interests us more is what separates cheffing or food culture from art. It’s interesting watching programmes on TV like The Great British Menu where chefs who are incredible craftsmen try to tackle food that’s themed and it becomes very illustrative in the way that they’ll have an idea and their food presentations will be illustrative of a theme.
“What we try to do is the complete opposite in that we use food as if it was making new words or taking things that don’t necessarily sit together and see what happens. It’s creative but in a way that doesn’t involve taste or presentation, and humour is thrown in as well. For example, I did a project in Scotland recently and one of the first things I tried to do was to make porridge with Irn Bru, which is an absurdity. Of course it didn’t work and tasted horrible but it’s always the case that you can come up with something that tastes worse than the idea of making something ridiculous. There are certain areas of food culture that we do have a little dig at, the whole worthiness and self-righteousness that is attached to it.”
A TV stint?
Given that TV schedules these days are awash with cookery programmes I ask Stephen whether The Domestic Godless would ever be tempted to dip a cloven hoof into that milieu.
“Ehmmmmmm,” he replies musingly, “It very much depends. One of the things that annoys me about a lot of cooking programmes is how formulaic they are and the relationship between us and the public is very different to the way that chefs work.
“It’s interesting, we did a cookery school in the Cook’s Academy in Dublin last weekend as part of the Bram Stoker Festival, and while we were there we were talking with a chef about the levels of craft and the similarities between what we do and what a high-end chef does, but there is a power structure there. Chefs are there to please people and it always amuses us that that is the last thing we think about yet we are continually invited back to do things so we’re obviously doing something right even though we certainly don’t pander to audience expectations.”
Canaliculus Purgamentorum was first presented at the Kinsale Arts Festival in September and now comes to Galway as part of TULCA. It takes place in the Galway Arts Centre on Saturday November 15. It will be open to the public for viewing between 2pm and 5pm, with a tasting session at 7pm, which costs €20 and includes a glass of wine.
“There’ll be a few new dishes on the menu,” Stephen reveals. “We get ideas and don’t test them before, we test them out on the public! It also depends on what ingredients we pick up on the way. We’ve collected a few new ingredients for Galway but I can’t disclose those!”
Here is hoping the new dishes are more successful than Stephen’s Irn Bru porridge! Further details and photos are available through www.thedomesticgodless.com