Food places from which to order take-away – incomplete and inadequate – covers a portion of Queens, NYC centred on the Woodhaven Boulevard stop on the J, but also extending up to Elmhurst/Jackson Heights. Mostly these are small, high-quality businesses that should be supported, that they might be around on the other side. They deliver through usual channels or USPS.
Near a host of other Thai places, this little emporium stocks fully cooked food from various kitchens nearby, as well as a modest selection of Thai ingredients. The sausages, minced pork, fish mousse kill.
e-flux did their NYC edition of ‘Art After Culture’ cumulative conference, after the Rotterdam, Paris and Berlin versions. These are the basically un-edited notes, full of gaps, errors and mis-interpretations. Link to the event, and to the live-stream (though the recording isn’t up at time-of-posting).
Brian Kuan Wood’s talk is best intro and key para is below, but in summary (written ex-post): Basic premise was that avant-garde has historically (pre-WWII?) been a revolt against ‘culture’ (pace Adorno). Since late-1990s, culture-industry has morphed into a juggernaut, injected with steroids of global capital & consumer technology. Crucially, culture today includes most art, as artists eagerly join a system-of-spectacles that eagerly welcomes them. Examples: (we can layer identity-driven origin stories onto any of below to enhance ‘authenticity’) zombie formalist painting, crutches-foam-liquid-and-plastic sculpture, the High Line/Shed cultureclusterfuck, or yet another AI-generated painting. Sessions’ underlying premise was that capitalism is nearing some sort of event (triggered by climatic collapse hence a question of when, not if), the denouement of which we might not be around to watch, hence have to speculate upon via the meta-tool of art. Does critical art have any scope to step outside culture, and more generally how can we criticise something we don’t really know, sitting myopically inside it as we do?
Boris Groys, “The Museum as the Cradle of Revolution”
We can’t have a meta-position on the world, being in and of it. Museum as one of few things in our world that is not quite fully contemporary & offers something like a meta-position. They are meta-objects, heterotrophic spaces.
Artwork is what remains after a culture disappears. As anti-commodity – not meant to be used/consumed, whereas art is prevented from being destroyed. Remains alien as it passes down to a future culture.
Art confronts us of history of losses, not one of progress only.
Benjamin Angelus Novus on apocalyptic condition leads us from future to past via present, and the direction of travel (as we hit the eschatological boundary, a zero-bound in monetary policy metaphor?).
We are like time at end of 19th c, when there nascent national consciousness (i.e. today’s identity obsession), oligarchy, hypertrophied financial sector. For the reactionary class (white in the West but also applies to India, Turkey, China) past becomes genealogy and decides present position. Need to think about post-humanity, for cyborgs technologically produced identities are more important than inherited ones.
Nietzsche view of world – reaction to end of history of Hegel. American superman is a slave of sorts (winning or a compulsion to win is a sort of slavery) – he is helping all the time. Nietzsche’s übermensch is indifferent to living or dying (‘…he plunged into the market=place, an eddy of arms and legs….[Zarathustra says] “You have made danger your vocation, in that there is nothing contemptible” ‘).
In bourgeois society everyone is measured by his usefulness. Contradicts enlightenment ideas of Kant – man cannot be useful, howsoever laudable the societal goal posited for that usefulness.
Only when image & text loses its informational characteristic it becomes artistic. Defunctionalisation.
Avant-Garde creates meta tools, not informational but transformational.
Independent Group first exhibition of pop art – art found as the archaeology of a lost civilisation. Art placed amongst rocks & ruins.
We live in a time that erasure of information/content is the erasure of our selves, but while we can think we erase the info, it never disappears. Our role is only as content providers – another form of universal slavery. Hence the Avant Garde is impossible today (BG’s students reckon).
Looking at, or touching it, painting create subject-object relationship. Can go back to look at it countless times, it doesn’t degrade (notwithstanding Duchamp in Chatelet via Gillick) Looking at digital images creates a data trail, viewer becomes part of it & is recorded/monetised.
AI and fear of death as central to our thinking. ‘Human should produce something better than him’ -Nietzsche. Fukuyama ‘end of history’ is mis-understood – as one influenced by Alexandre Kojève foresees a fusion of man and machine. This is still the fascist idea of self-improvement. We are still fascinated by a feudal past (Game of Thrones etc.). Feudal ideas are being brought into AI.
Obsolescence – what happens to a cyborg tomorrow? What to do with obsolete human machines. World, and humanity, become cabinet of curiosities – obsolete things constantly being generated.
Second issue is deterministic answers of a computer. Only machines which mis-behave – do not do what they are supposed to do could be an AI/cyborg
Hito Steyerl, “A Campfire Story”
AI neural network that is trained on fire, and predicts the next few frames in the animation. Fire as metaphor for technology (Prometheus, but also Plato’s cave [see below]). And helped create society through cooking, required co-operation to keep it safe, shaped landscape by burning forests, etc.
Culture is predictable whereas art should be more unpredictable. Art is the digestion of the unpredictable so we can understand – combination of unpredictable with something familiar as a way in for the viewer.
Divination in traditional non-western society as way for inviting contingency into the a bleak terrifying present rather than contemporary (modelling, statistics, simulation) prediction & risk-management. Pyromancy was divining through fire in Renaissance.
The GUI attached to the fire neural net has its controls named after socially critical things like 0.14% female job success factor. Most of the GUI is not operational, a few controls change the look of the fire.
Productive apparatus of ruling class is a predictive apparatus.
Yana Peel‘s ownership of bete-noir Israel surveillance company NSO is an awkward and messy affair, basically an object lesson in much of the conference’s themes.
Franco “Bifo” Berardi, “Pleasure, Desire, and Evolution”
The animating presence of the entire thing.
Capitalism is based on permanent desire & endless postponement of pleasure. Deleuze & Foucault disagreement on the term, Baudrillard has commentary on this distinction. Bifo has spent 40 years writing about desire, only recently does he note the difference with pleasure, onset of senescence (if not the senility he professes – sharp as tack).
We think ‘[our] life is private property’. Carlo Rovelli thinks fear of death is an evolutionary mistake. We must taken an epicurean approach to death.
Today we are not seeing fascism – this was thing of young, energetic, will to power. No one expects a bright future today. ‘No future’ is conventional wisdom now. Futurism (in Italy anyway) was a movement that felt nation, family etc. and to some extent allied with fascism to develop a plausible ‘national’ narrative. Today we see hopeless nostalgia, impotence, desire for revenge (against reason) – supremacism is ‘old people’s fear’. Voting demographics in US and UK are major exhibits (tho fair number of young nutters abound). Racism is today a fearful reaction rather than an expansive thing (the colonial and imperial projects were expansive, controlling, active) – rear-guard not vanguard. Don’t mention the left – neoliberal left has given up on transformative change and reason (instead becoming servant of yet another financial algorithm). See Horkheimer & Adorno ‘dialectic of enlightenment’.
Salvini simply continuing Marco Minniti’s policies as interior minister of the PD – left & right very similar. See Blair, Clinton, etc.
Donna Haraway says human extinction would not be a tragedy. Extinction is core of today’s political position – how do you rebel against extinction? Bifo points out extinction isn’t the worst thing – compared to a long-lasting, drawn-out agony of a slow starving, suffocating death (Soylent Green).
Catherine Malabou . Psychology has been taken over by sex & language – but today’s problems are brain problems not mind. Evolution must be rethought. How can the brain, conditioned by desire, find pleasure at this stage in history.
Talk dedicated to Nanni Balestrini the dead poet (Who never wrote [anything new?], simply recombined what he found in the world, heard on the street, saw in flyers)…
Irmgard Emmelhainz, “Shared Meaning Beyond Representation?”
Arendt ‘lebenswelt’ (world-in-common). Replacement of community by mass society results in alienation. Guattari’s loss of relationality. Collective psychic collapse is the other side of ecological collapse. Arendt saw loss of world in common leading to fascism.
Today we have mass mood swings managed by a corporate state – identifying 1% and immigrants as the two forces that are taking away from ‘us’ (substitute for the pronoun: U.S. [white] middle class, ‘true’ Russians, touchy Hindus, proud Turks, etc.).
Art 1990s onwards became identity thing where artists would (or rather, could) only talk about themselves (often just about appearance), covering contradictions & conflicts with thin veneer of humanism. Art as something that is trans-historical, trans-geographical went out the window (albeit returned as homogenised mass-culture today). Today culture is either management tool for mass society or art as merchandise. Critical artists have been forced to criticise the globalisation system – this is the replacement for vanguardist position. Both merch & representation create a non-universal , non-common meaning. Both instrumentalise art – e.g. art culture wars become litmus tests for how ‘democratic’ a place is (Serrano Piss Christ is old example).
Despotic empathy rules. Artists is martyr seeking representation as spectacle, and his/her story/image is more tragic/powerful/intense/worthy-of-attention than all the others. Reified subjectivity & alienation. The world is divided between wretched of the screen & those privileged to watch them as spectators.
Laika pads silently by.
Debord: what has come between human relationships are images & representation.
Actions are only made meaningful by spoken word – according to Arendt. But only makes sense in ‘being-with’ (in a community). Despotic empathy destroys the in-between.
In decolonisation context need ‘incommensurability’ (presumably because hard to rank different culture’s works without context of their histories and contemporary realities, though comparisons perhaps can be drawn)?
Don’t confuse relationality with relational aesthetics (Glissant angle?).
Capitalist society is a foreign power with which it is impossible to interact.
Mary Walling Blackburn, “Technologies of Ancestor Phantasy for a Final Generation: from the Gnome’s Genome to Trash DNA”
Lovely talk, sadly no notes….
Wood convenes panel with Berardi, Emmelhainz, and Blackburn
Celebration of extinction – pornographic triumphalism as (in a fiction Wood read) humanity having trashed earth, decides to use rockets to nudget it to some other galaxy. He quips, ‘once you’ve done that, why not fix the NYC subway?’
Bifo: we see today the end of ‘courtesy’ (in Italian, ‘cortesia’ connotes/implies [perhaps via Castiglione??] the ability to ‘linguistically elaborate desire, sex’). But today the screen intermediates everything. He says ‘a loss of definition’ is inability to (linguistically) deal with bodies of others.
Emmelhainz: Buffalo skinners were people who existed pre-formation of Western U.S. states, didn’t want state to coalesce as that might result in regulation. They were tribe-less people & escaped slaves – marginal people who benefited from being marginal in a marginal place (pre-state).
Anjalika Sagar (Otolith): you don’t learn empathy by hanging out with humans. It is learnt by pets, traumatised horses (what Emmelhainz does as a job), gardening. Maksha concept – Bifo responds there is nothingness, but only before and after consciousness, Mentions a Lebanese film where 12 year old denounces his parents for bringing him into the world during the kali-yuga.
Bifo: optimistic vs pessimistic brain. We are actually close to best of possible worlds, elimination of labour. But we cannot actualise it – the majority cannot think in terms of equality, solidarity & freedom from work, we cannot imagine moksha or freedom from samsara. Nor is it his place to preach, he is open to unpredictable. ‘We have to watch out for the unavoidable, but it rarely occurs anyway because the unpredictable intervenes’ -John Maynard Keynes.
To long winded question about ancestors: Bifo says his main project is to forget his ancestors, to betray his ancestors. ‘Community & identity are totally fake today’. ‘We must understand identity but must get away from falseness of community, of ancestors, but embrace singularity, the nomadic. ‘ Hito: story of a Bosnian immigrant in US who misses roasted lamb but can’t find a lamp, so must buy it in pieces & staple it back together to have an integral lamb. We too have lost the original lamb.
Bifo: Increasingly AI, swarm intelligence, neurology are intersecting (Malabou again) so we must think if intelligence as a social brain, a network brain. Can a changing social brain thinking about the transformation in itself?
‘Sovereignty is an efficient fake’ it starts with Machiavelli & (usually male) potentate taming (female) fortuna or nature. Doesn’t apply now because situation is too far gone, and in climate collapse, nature would seem to have won. Bifo reckons we might get to the utopia of autonomy, but first will be the trauma of collapse [St Augustine’s ‘God make me pure, just not yet’ followed by some vigorous whoring] .
Reza Negarestani, “APNE: The Art of Making Intelligence”
‘What is the art of making general (ie qualitative) intelligence?’ Sensory, perception, comprehension are 3 pillars of AGI.
Riddle of perception arises from Nelson Goodman (riddle of induction in ‘fact fiction & forecast). Observation & perception are never neutral – ‘how do we know what we perceive at the same time as experiencing it is a sensory state’ Projectiles: complex predicates (material props, linguistic props, perceptual props). Reality is a construction where we project. See this.
Can we see what is in front us?
APNE construct new perception by re-arranging it’s perceptual (sensors?). One wor(l)d can be many according to its mode of diversification and many wor(l)ds can be one according to mode of integration. APNE has aesthetic that is neither pro- nor anti-representation & is concerned with building topoi that intervene with world at multiple levels.
Only thing I got out of Reza’s talk: we see emeralds as green up to time t, and blue afterwards (but we don’t actually see them). This would be same as grue emerald, where predicate ‘grue’ encapsulates this colour/perception variability. It’s how a machine might see not encumbered by our entrenched descriptors. Feels in CS terms, something like a variable or encapsulation, where colour (which is bound to our experience), is abstracted or wrapped within another word (object, variable, etc.) that incorporates mutability. Didn’t get how this connects with anything else, see link above or Intelligence and Spirit.
Charles Mudede, “There Can Be No Advanced African Technologies Without the Angel of Death”
He recalls a curious image – watching filming of rubbish film ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ at Great Zimbabwe. African men in suits, working in the financial district, would arrive as extras (one had to be connected to be an extra on a Western film), and be promptly dressed up in grass skirts to fit the cinematic image.
Colonials said Great Zimbabwe could never have been built by mere Africans, they obviously don’t have the technology. Mudede reckons in a sense this is true, the technology disappeared and contemporary Zimbabweans couldn’t built it.
Great Zimbabwe was forgotten – this gives the lie to Hegelian narrative of steady progress of humanity, of Geist. Hegelian narrative/continuum is really a capitalist one, only about 400 years from Dutch times – constant technological progress. In the West there hasn’t been a societal collapse (Zimbabwe, Persepolis, Bronze Age Collapse).
Cultural and social are not identical.
Azrael the angel of death that destroys in order to rebuild – this is capitalism narrative according to Joseph Schumpeter – moving capitalism forward in time. Not sure this seemingly creative destruction, supposedly good in the long run, took account of what we call an externality – climate change. Abbadon as the angel who truly destroys.
The Otolith Group, Nucleus of the Great Union
Single shutterstock image as backdrop alternating with green-screen, black-screen. Lots of simple 3D rotating scaling of flat images in space but they were basically exploring a certain (Yale?, digital) archive for a photographic exhibition. Richard Wright (1953 trip to Gold Coast) in Ghana are the images. Commissioning email is part of the work – desktop is deeply embedded & repeated and syncopated on the when. Random quotes that confounds meaning, held together by powerful voiceover in parts almost like a speech has been intervened, stopped stuttered like DJ. desktops floating in space create physicality . No distinct start. Images are slow and repetitive. Almost Japanese flute playing adds dissonant note. Kodwo: green screen (acts as non-image) alternates with black screen – walk diagonal of existence of images as TIFFs and archival images.
Plato cave is akin to a cinema with fire (ref Hito’s pyromancer) projecting light. Wood talks about how containers (archive, video) are porous to that which lies outside it, a virtual space.
Kodwo: ‘platformalism’ when platform becomes formalism – ‘TIFF is the artefact that you have and you have to work with that – taking seriously the digital object’. To theorise enslavement is to already be somewhat free from slavery. Cold War and colonialism transition into capitalism – Brathwaite poem – United Fruit Company worked with CIA created a Guatamelan coup, these are the limits of decolonisation since capitalism still manages to roger the South. TIFF is weightless by virtue of its reality as data – this is the promise & threat of the digital.
Anjalika: there is no past or future, just a now imminent / immanent(Vedanta)
Reza: 2 functions of the cave, a political and an epistemological one. Epistemologically, he mentions a drawing Plato describes in a preceding dialogue, 2 lines creating 4 zones – (….),(….),mathematical, Forms. In order for us to see/perceive something (say the Forms) we need something that preceded it (mathematics). The political angle – Plato based the cave on Syracuse, apparently his ideal city. You can only get to the good, but need the imagination to be able to see it (??)
Couldn’t stay for remaining sessions on Keller Easterling, New Red Order and Ruanne Abu Rahme/Basel Abbas (abstracts above)
One of the jewels in NYC’s food scene is the cluster of Thai restaurants in central Queens, around Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst, at the confluence of the 7 and E/F subway lines. As in other regional centres around the city, whether Flushing (Chinese), or Coney Island (former USSR), there is a culinary infrastructure of markets, dry-goods shops, restaurants, and critically, old ladies keeping the eateries honest.
Thai is of particular interest precisely because I’ve found it to be rare in Western cities – Thailand, unlike Vietnam and Cambodia, had a relatively peaceful twentieth-century. Nor was it substantially colonised. Hence there was less of a diaspora; the exodus that led to the awesome Vietnamese food of Paris, or the widespread, if often dubious, ‘Indian’ food in the UK. London has only a few decent Thai restaurants. Som Saa is run by non-Thais, but they, as so often, do a better job of it than natives. It had a fantastic energy when it was in the chaos of Climpson’s Arch, and I’m looking forward to their permanent digs. Nahm I never quite felt comfortable in, sweating bullets and hyperventilating always felt wrong in the expensively-bought serenity of Belgravia.
NYC’s Thai food scene hit the big-time with Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok Ny, which has great food. Personally, the pleasure sort of drops out of it when one sees the crowd – the Brooklyn/Manhattan food-tourism bunch, clutching their iPhones, seeking out the hottest new restaurant on Timeout.
For my money (and it would be a lot cheaper than any of the above), I would head out to Queens. On a weekday one might see no crackers unimaginatively munching on pad-thai, there are actual Thai families feasting, there are almost entirely Thai staff in the kitchen, often supervised by a portly mama, and when one’s done, there’s the supermarket nearby to pick up kaffir-lime leaves and frozen krachai.
This list is non-exhaustive, both in terms of restaurants and menus. Pick up David Thompson’s (aforementioned Nahm) Aharn Thai / Thai Food, it will tell more than you ever wanted to know about culture, history, traditions, ingredients, and recipes. The recipes are quite elaborate and few will follow them precisely, but they are useful as a canonical reference to be modified as ingredients, time, skill, and patience dictate. Unless otherwise mentioned, Thompson is a principal source of background material below. The book I actually use to cook is by Vatcharin Bhumichitr – a pragmatic volume that allows for shortcuts (for instance, taking a base red-curry paste, modifying it slightly to emulate other, similar, curry pastes).
Playground (Woodside Ave)
This is pretty awesome – a karaoke bar crossed with Thai restaurant, ironically next to the old Zabb space (below). Food is reliably spicy and a well-heeled Thai clientele, not dis-similar to Khao Kang, albeit a more comfortable space. As of Oct 2017, this feels like one of the top spots in Woodside/Jackson Heights.
Zabb Elee (Woodside Ave, don’t know anything about the Manhattan branch)
[Note Oct 2017: this review hasn’t been updated – but briefly, Zabb received a Michelin star in 2015 but has lost it in 2016, and seems to have changed ownership and name – the food is now merely okay, and mostly Isarn-style (Northeast)]. Isarn food has been trendy for a few years (Pok Pok Ny, Som Saa to some extent). The region is a plateau of 200m, and critically, near the great Mekong river, snaking along the border with Laos and Cambodia. Until recently, the land was densely wooded, inaccessible, and rural. The people of the region are a mix of Khmer and Lao, with the Thai being relative newcomers from the 10th-century. The land and people were poor, and the food pungent and spicy, so as to better relieve the monotony of white rice. Unlike the south, glutinous rice and coconuts are not features of the cuisine. Fermented fish (pla raa), raw minced meat salad (larp), a cornucopia of herbs, and grilling, as opposed to the elaborately cooked curries of Bangkok, are the norm here.
My favourites on Zabb’s menu: the grilled Thai sausage is superb, redolent of lime leaves and ginger. The yellow curry with bamboo shoot was awesome – a curry with a base of fermented fish (not that one necessarily can tell, the fishiness has been tempered and balanced as so often in the Thai repertoire), and the delicious aroma of sheets of fresh bamboo shoots. Bamboo shoots are fiddly to prepare, so this is a great dish to eat out (as is the sausage). Naamya Pa and Pak Tai were both good. The Lao Soup was excellent – a darkish broth – very different from the other soups, perhaps meat-based – and, in a pleasant surprise, the chicken version was quite different from the catfish. A word on Southeast-Asian catfish – I believe these might be from the Mekong river – they are pretty bony, but eventually one works out the structure. Still, I don’t love them, but they contribute a lot of flavour.
On the salad front, there was a sausage of raw and sliced pork sausage with papaya – it was interesting, funnily, though the sliced sausage reminded me of the gross hybrid of pate and baloney meat found in ‘authentic’ Vietnamese sandwiches. In a salad, however, somehow it worked. The Lao papaya salad with fermented fish and tiny purple preserved crabs was pretty good, but like many papaya salads, too sweet for me personally. The larp ironically, weren’t my favourite – I prefer to use lime leaves, lemongrass and loads of roasted rice – whereas Zabb’s were closer to Thompson’s canonical, simpler, version. Having said that, I had the catfish, and chicken, varieties, and both were great. They also have duck, beef, pork, pork liver, pork ear, crispy pork, and crispy fish – knock yourself out.
Sake Bar Zabb
While at Zabb, or probably on another day, check out the izakaya downstairs. Unrelated to the Thai restaurant, other than by name, the basement joint was started by a young Thai guy passionate about Japanese food. He has made a drinking den that could easily fit under the Yurakucho Arches at Tokyo Central. The Sapporo pitchers are super, as are the crazy, mayonnaise-and-eel sauce drenched rolls.
Kitchen 79 (Jackson Heights)
This place, with the most insane nightclub interior, was admirably summed up by Robert Sietsema which I’ll struggle to outdo. But a bit more on the south of the country: there is a low-lying region near Bangkok and then the thin, hilly, monsoon-ridden Isthmus of Kra. Tourists may know this area as it is near Phuket and Samui, and it is much less isolated than Isarn. The people are split between Muslims and Buddhists, and the food has something in common with Malaysia and points to the south, influenced as they are by traders plying the sea-route from India. Apparently there are also some marginal ethnic communities, such as sea gypsies and pygmies in the dark forests.
The food of the south is characterised by use of turmeric, coconut, and sour things like tamarind. Unlike in the north, fish is much eaten, fresh as well as dried. Not surprisingly, cardamom, cumin, and ginger figure in the cuisine.
Kitchen 79’s sweet staff freely admit that they mostly cater to non-Thai, given their location in the melting-pot that is Jackson Heights. Yet on weekdays at lunchtime, I see plenty of Thai eating there in little groups. The menu is forced to span all tastes, but I stuck with the stunning Gaeng Tai Pla curry, a brown curry from the south with vegetables and a base of (possibly fermented) mackerel and prawns. Another standout dish was the Kao Kling Moo, a southern dry curry paste with ground meat (I had chicken). This was one of the best Thai dishes I’ve had, ever. Both dishes are intense and spicy, and are much better shared with others.
Khao Kang (Woodside)
I’m a bit reluctant to post this one – it is tiny, a caff really. But it’s possibly the best of the lot, because of the variety on offer. One can see what’s freshly made that day, and try a few things. The clientele is almost 100% Thai, and young hip ones at that, but enough oldies come in to assure one that standards are being upheld. No one speaks English particularly well, which is reassuring. It was interesting to have reference dishes, such as the bamboo curry at Zabb Elee, here made with fish rather than prawns – I preferred this version frankly. There is also an astoundingly fishy curry here, seemingly made with fish head, smokily complex, intensely spicy, with either palm hearts or bamboo shoots in it – again, a must try. I find the eggs with pork belly in sweet brown sauce a perfect foil to the other spicy food, and any time they have vegetables, often simply sauteed with ginger and oyster sauce, I take those as well.
Paet Rio (Broadway)
The food is very good here, with lovely service and the place is stylishly decorated. I don’t have a specific recommendation, but do recall an intensely spicy catfish curry with Thai globe aubergines and green peppercorns. My fondness for this place comes down to the owner, who ran a tiny takeaway in Hell’s Kitchen called Wondee Siam – this was where I first ate real Thai food in 1997 – before taking rooms in Bangkok’s Oriental Hotel, the doyenne of Asia’s grand hotels. I understand Wondee has perhaps changed, subject to the forces that are altering much of the formerly-deserted bits of Manhattan, but Paet Rio keeps the fire going, and boy, do you feel the burn….
Eim Khao Mun Khai (Broadway)
In that blessed kilometre of Broadway, with its string of 7 Thai places (at last count), I rate this one for uniqueness. China’s southernmost province, Hainan, sent traders out all over Southeast Asia. They brought with them a dish of chicken poached in a stock; rice cooked in the fatty broth of the chicken; the broth served again as a ginger-laden soup. Often the stock itself incorporates a ‘master stock’, one that has been boiled, clarified, chilled, and re-boiled hundreds of times, until it gets an unparalleled depth of flavour. Eim Khao Mun Khai serves only one dish, poached chicken on rice with broth on the side. It was very tasty, even though schmaltz, isn’t really my thing, whether in Yiddish or Hainanese. I thought their version possibly was a bit lighter than the Singaporean take on the dish…
This is notable as a grocery for ingredients, as well as a place to buy some prepared food, and particularly, tubs of various curries and dishes, that I happened to have seen at Khao Kang. Possibly they have the same owner. There are also sweets, if one likes Thai sweets (I’m not a particular fan). It is also a sort of clearing-house for advertisments, and a youth-club. One can also get a mortar and pestle, important for making Thai food; note however, this type (terracotta) is only suitable for making soft things like papaya salad. A curry paste is better made in a granite mortar, best ordered online. The Thai grocery on Woodside Ave near Ayada sells one, but it’s too large, pricey, and feels aimed at the Westerner slumming it in Queens.
Sripraphai and Ayada (Woodside)
I have eaten at both, but to be honest, stuck with the more ‘particular’ places above. Both are very good, and were pioneers a few years back when there wasn’t that much Thai food in Queens, never mind NYC as a whole. Now they have become the best known Thai places and are mobbed by brunch-eaters from Manhattan and giggling Midwestern tourists. Probably weekday lunches are still good.
Arunee Thai (Jackson Heights)
This is supposed to be good, but I had a lunch-special dish there and didn’t particularly rate it. Perhaps it should be given another chance off the regular menu.
There are two I know of – one across from Sripraphai and another across from Ayada. Pok Pok Ny’s Andy Ricker seems to like both. I prefer the former – a very sweet owner, who took the time to tell me about restaurants in the area, the differences between various ingredients, and seemed to have fair prices. I picked up pickled mustard greens, lemongrass, and a few odds and ends. I would stay away from the Chinese supermarkets, if possible, for specific Thai ingredients: the green birds-eye chilis (so called ‘scuds’ by Thompson) were past their best and not remotely spicy, and the frozen galangal was water-logged. The supermarkets are fine for greens, but I’ve tended to go to Patel Brothers and Subzi Mandi in Jackson Heights – prices are good and stuff is fresh. Fish, prawns, etc. needless to say should only be bought in Manhattan (Chelsea Market’s The Lobster Place has great things mostly at fair prices, and I’m told the fishmonger Rainbo’s at Essex Street Market is good, at least better than the Chinese one in ESM).
What started as a review of Tauba Auerbach’s current show at Paula Cooper led to the question of how indeed a successful work of art might engage with mathematics – what might be some approaches to visualising abstract and often inaccessible concepts?
Prior to seeing the New York exhibition, I visited the artist’s 2014 show at London’s ICA, The New Ambidextrous Universe. In London, Tauba Auerbach exhibited about 7 objects, made of plywood, glass, perspex, and powder-coated steel. The objects, smooth-surfaced and minimal, yet elaborately turned and possibly machine-made, looked sort of like useless furniture. Formally, they were united by a concern with chirality: some carried a right-handed orientation, others left, while (and here my memory may fail me) a glass piece demonstrated a similar idea through light-polarisation. Despite, or perhaps because of, the show’s sophisticated intellectual premise, I found myself oddly un-moved by it – there was no punch to the gut. All I saw was reasonably nicely-made objects on low long plinths, in designer colours – stuff that would look great at Heal’s or an expensive Knightsbridge condo, and definitely looked like what art is supposed to look like.
Reading interviews with the artist, it’s clear that she has a fascination with the idea of maths, and while that undoubtedly finds its way into the work, I felt her pieces added but little to my understanding, or even appreciation, of chirality or of the eponymous book by the late Martin Gardner.
Her current exhibition, Projective Instrument is also built around a book, this time by an eclectic American architect, Claude Bragdon, whose interests spanned higher-dimensional geometry through to Theosophy. The exhibition had a number of her trademark objects, made during a glass residency, as well as woven paintings. These, or similar, paintings unfortunately were displayed to much greater effect, alongside Charlotte Posenenske’s work, in the gorgeous rooms of Indipendenza Roma (2015). The Paula Cooper show also featured seductively-coloured paintings made with custom-made implements ‘inscribing patterns derived from chain-maille, fractal curves, and four-dimensional tilings into the paint’ (press release). At the end of the day, however, they were pretty simple, inoffensive wall decorations that neither illuminated the mathematics nor particularly pushed the boundaries of artistic practice. Auerbach’s imprint, Diagonal Press, was, if anything, more interesting, showing copies of Bragdon’s book, amongst others. I couldn’t tell if they were for sale, or if they’re thrown in gratis if one spends (apparently) $150,000 on a painting.
A second take on maths-in-art comes from Falke Pisano’s rather good show at Hollybush Gardens (London, 2015), entitled The Value in Mathematics. Pisano’s approach was more cerebral, less apparently infatuated with maths: in fact, there was very little about maths per se. It was more about the teaching of mathematics, and how the subject is presented in society. The exhibition consisted of a number of flat works, sculptures, and videos. The flat works seemed to be unified by descriptive texts or titles on the wall, while the sculptures had in common an open structure, relatively humble or light materials, and open plinths. For me, the overwhelming aesthetic was that of Modernism, of graphic design from a pre-computer era. However, on closer viewing, particularly of the prints, the organising principle revealed itself: the various prints described what could be characterised as systems of valuation or exchange. What animated the exhibition were the videos which, curiously, brought a more human and less conceptual feel to what could have been a cold and information-heavy exhibition. Only at the end did I read the press release, and worked out the political sub-text of the show: as I understand, it challenges the impression, apparently promulgated by mathematicians, that mathematics is somehow objective and ‘value-free’, whatever that means. The exhibition proposes that the teaching of mathematics makes it inherently political, context-dependent, and hierarchical. Whether one thinks Pisano’s particular programme is interesting or not, her handling of the material is deft, a collage of politics and the scientific, woven into a fictional system of thought, perhaps intentionally layered, obscure, even obtuse . I found Pisano much more convincing than Auerbach, where the maths seems just grafted onto a high-end design practice in order, one might surmise, to lend gravitas. At a presentational level, I liked the fact that Pisano’s show gave the impression that it could only be bought in its entirety, or even if bought piecemeal, the individual works would always be somehow connected to the installation. Auerbach’s were as distinct art-objects as they come: almost painfully asking to be collected.
Having looked at two artists working with maths, I wanted to highlight the counter-example: a mathematician attuned to visual aesthetics. Thomas Banchoff, a geometer at Brown University, pioneered the use of 3-D computer graphics to explore higher-dimensional geometries. In the old days, mathematicians used plaster Schilling models, such as those in the Harvard, MIT, or Oxford collections, to visualise complex geometric objects. Banchoff’s contribution was to use CGI to animate the shapes, allowing the viewer to perceive the model as it unfolds in time and thus form a mental image of what a 4-D object might look like and how it might behave. I would argue that, by allowing manipulation of the objects, the viewer could ‘fly’ around the shape in a way that simply wasn’t possible before, and intuition could be built directly from the image, rather than being mediated through the symbolic logic of the maths, or the drudgery and expense of finding physical models. Moreover, the physical models remain in a fixed 3-D configuration, whereas the digital allows for any 3 of the possible 4 (or higher) dimensions to be projected.
However, as Banchoff doesn’t reference the conventions of the Artworld, either by contextualising his images vis a vis Theory or presenting them in an arty way, perhaps he wouldn’t be thought of, nor call himself, a practicing artist . Yet, I feel his works are of far greater profundity than either Auerbach’s superficial approach or Pisano’s valid and interesting, sociological critique. They marry visual aesthetics with a potential for conceptual or perceptual access to a reality that lies beyond the mere image.
An artist whose approach parallels Banchoff, while acknowledging, and being acknowledged by, the Artworld, is Manfred Mohr. Still producing, with recent shows in London (Cubitt Gallery  and Carroll/Fletcher [2016/2014/2012]), he used some of the earliest plotters to produce works on paper, notably a series exploring views of the 4-D cube, a so-called hypercube or tesseract. Mohr’s work visually has an affinity to Minimalism’s serial tradition, but genealogically is better placed in relation to Concrete Art, particularly artists such as Jeffrey Steele and Anthony Hill. Mohr’s geometric focus, and a methodical exploration of all combinatorial alternatives, impacts the viewer through its sheer exhaustiveness and perceptual immersion. Some of his pieces, even more than Banchoff’s, imply the physically-impossible and the infinite. It is notable that he achieves this without colour, without any quasi-mystical or metaphysical twaddle, and his works are entirely governed by the internal logic of their generative rules.
The last, and potentially most interesting approach, is to view maths as an essentially performative practice. ‘Performative’, a over-used word in art-speak, is utilised in a specific sense here: the act of drawing a picture, handling a plaster model, manipulating a digital model, are ways of understanding, visually and haptically, how a given mathematical concept, for instance a multi-valued complex function, behaves: where are the zeroes, where lie the saddles and branches? This sense of the term ‘performative’ is taken up in the papers of Xin Wei Sha, a professor in Differential Topology who has sought to look at the practice of mathematics in light of analytical constructs used in art and critical theory.
In my view, what’s interesting about this approach is that it can be seen to break the understanding of a given mathematical problem into three levels: an intuitive grasp of the problem, let’s say the true knowledge; a symbolic quasi-linguistic analysis, such as a proof; and a graphical or haptic ‘feel for the thing’, which I equate with the performative. The actual drawing, digital image, physical model, blackboard scribbled with equations are residues of a symbolic or performative method. These physical residues can be put in a book, and indeed, if packaged a certain way and accepted as such by relevant competent judges, can be called art. But if the primary content of mathematical understanding is fundamentally intuitive, lying somewhere between the visual, the symbolic, and the physical, then it’s likely that a non-mathematician may never really access that content. Moreover, without facility with these tools, he/she is unlikely to communicate effectively with trained mathematicians operating in a network of peers . The most we can do is ‘poke’ at it, try to access it by manipulating the geometric objects, or, more interestingly, engage in a Wittgenstinian project of ’drawing connections’ between the mathematical objects and the world-at-large. To the extent these syntheses, these connections, are haunting and unexpected, we judge the success (or lack thereof) of art like Auerbach’s or Pisano’s.
I end with an analogy to Land Art. Certain artists such as Walter De Maria were concerned with documenting an ungraspable moment in time and space, or in the case of his Dia Beacon pieces, an apparently obvious yet subtle mathematical idea. Yet in the case of The Lightning Field, the primary aesthetic experience remained in him, and an element of it now invests the few viewers who can actually make it out to New Mexico. Similarly, Hamish Fulton and Richard Long made their experience, their walks, often in the countryside, the apparent content of their work, accessible substantially to themselves. The documentation is entirely secondary, from an aesthetic point of view, if not from a financial/re-sale perspective. It is as if, knowing they can never compete with the immensity of nature, they made minimal, repetitive but exquisitely calculated sculptural gestures: Et in Arcadia ego.
2 See Arthur Danto’s What Art Is (2013) for an introduction to how the late Danto analysed the perennially interesting question of what art is, and the circularity in art’s definition, particularly in the age of the ready-made.
3 Subject obviously to exceptions such as M.C. Escher, and his collaboration with Lionel & Roger Penrose.
David Chang, one of New York’s most prolific restauranteurs (the Momofuku stable), writing recently on the food blog/magazine Lucky Peach, waxed lyrically on about Tokyo’s food. Mostly good, and well-known, points, but a couple of comments are in order. I’ll excuse the gratuitous expletives and the overuse of the superlative ‘best’…maybe that’s intended for the hipster audience.
His overall point, that Japan (specifically Tokyo) borrows magnificently from other food cultures, and lends out its aspiring chefs on secondment to top restaurants from Yountsville to Modena, is spot on. But I think the point can be driven deeper – the Japanese have a gift for internalising the culture of other countries, presumably more so in the post-WWII era than before, and to a certain extent, combining that with a highly-developed indigenous culture, to create a synthesis that, in style and quality of execution, isn’t matched anywhere else. The key words here are ‘internalising’ and ‘indigenous’. I don’t think they’re just copying the food – the chefs, but perhaps even the kids with crazy outfits in Harajuku, are looking at, and living, the culture, the music, the film, the clothing that they’re interested in, whether it be American, Italian or French. There is a passion (to use a hackneyed word) and depth to the research that shows through in the simulation, a stage set, that is a Tokyo restaurant.
Equally, this painstaking simulation is not being dumped on a blank substrate – Japanese culture, and food, are obviously immensely developed, and years of low immigration have had the perverse effect of maintaining a certain purity in both cultural practice and practitioners. Your average person really gets their food culture, they’ve grown up with it, haven’t necessarily seen much else, or have only seen it through a Japanese cultural filter. So the French, Californian, or Italian food in Tokyo has a distinct Japanese imprint, if only in the attention to detail, the arrangement of the room, the handling of light and space, the exceptional quality of the ingredients (as Chang points out). Thus, the simulation becomes a simulacrum.
Here I would characterise Chang’s comments on Italian food, if not French, as slightly ignorant and perceptive at the same time. Italian food does not just have to be pasta, as anyone who has spent time in, say, couscous-laden Trapani (Western Sicily) or rice-growing plains of Po Delta, can attest. But Italy does have a strong resistance to change, as well as an internal food culture that Italians feel, rightly so, is well worth preserving. But, here’s the difference with Japan: people, from what I can see without having interviewed hundreds, actually don’t want to eat much imported food. Even outside Italy, while one sees plenty of well-heeled Italians at ethnic street-food stalls in East London, but most Italian tourists pile into Soho’s Princi, which they know from Milan.
Here, in my humble opinion, is the difference with New York and London – two other world cities with very good food. I would argue that neither America nor England have the same quality of indigenous food, that substrate, that Japan has. America, as a country so young and foundationally built on immigration, can have no ‘native’ food culture. So everything in New York is a simulation, for better or for worse. England perhaps had some interesting food before WWI and WWII, and in the last 20 years, chefs such as Fergus Henderson (St John in Clerkenwell is the best one of his) have done a heroic job resurrecting the old recipes, but again, it’s all (re)created: the average youngish Londoner seems, from my own anecdotal experience, to care more about what he/she drinks and smokes, and where, than the food. So both New York and London seem to produce copies, more or less acceptable, of foreign food. But their copies, particularly in London, are mass-produced, soul-less affairs, more reminiscent of an accountant’s spreadsheet, redolent of return-on-equity and price-points, than the work of single mad chef. New York is a bit better, but again, rising rents, the internet, the phenomenon of food as something one watches on a screen, have taken much of the fun out of the restaurant scene.
There are plenty of exceptions, particularly outside of Manhattan – for instance, Sake Bar Zabb, an simulated izakaya , set in a poorly-ventilated basement in Jackson Heights, a neighbourhood in Queens previously only known for really bad Indian (i.e. Pakistani and Bangladeshi) food sitting in pools of fetid grease. Curiously, Zabb, which shares the name with an excellent Michelin-starred Thai restaurant upstairs, is run by an enthusiastic Thai man who has sourced hundreds of objects from Japan to create his little sarariman‘s drinking hole, complete with foaming pitchers of Sapporo and squishy raw octopus in grated horseradish.
Moving on to a controversial point, in this most politically-correct of cities: the last difference I would point out between the New York restaurant scene and Tokyo’s, is the makeup of the cooking staff. Look around any good, but perhaps not top-end, restaurant in much of New York – most of the cooks are Hispanic, with a smattering of Bangladeshis, African-Americans, Chinese, etc. I can’t help thinking that the French or Italian food coming out of those kitchens must, in a majority of cases, necessarily be totally disconnected from the culture and experiences of the cooks making it. Surely, if food isn’t just something you put in your mouth, and is a cultural or communicative experience, the fact that the person cooking the food hasn’t grown up with it, or at least taken a multi-year deep interest in it, surely must detract from the ‘essence’ of what one is served.
Unless Japan has changed in the 5 years since I last was there, most of the cooks are Japanese, and the Japanese chefs have often spent years in Western kitchens learning about food they’re cooking and the context it exists in.
I’m sure some will object to these comments, but the fact that restauranteurs such as Danny Meyer and Andrew Tarlow are moving over to a no-tip policy could lend some support to my view: the extortionate tips in New York only go to front-of-house staff. This means that the cooks, the people who obviously matter more, are being paid much less than the decorative foliage swanning around the dining room, their fawning equal parts strafottenza and passive-aggression.
I would end by pointing out some of the finest, most interesting, most passionate (again that word) food in New York still comes from the kitchens that are family-run, or at least held firmly within a given ethnic group: the sushi bars (Hibino in LIC is a fave), the absolutely stonking Thai joints in East Elmhurst/Woodside (start with Zabb Elee, Kitchen 79, Khao Kang, & Paet Rio), the filthy but delicious regional Chinese stalls of the Golden Mall in Flushing, or that joyous margarita-meat-and-arepa extravaganza that is the Colombian restaurant Delicias in Woodhaven.