ANIMAL’s feature Artist’s Notebook asks artists to show us their original “idea sketch” next to a finished artwork or project. This week, artist and comedian Sean Joseph Patrick Carney talks about making Experimental Aioli, seven signature aioli flavors paying tribute to a New York individual or institution of cultural influence including Bill de Blasio, Action Bronson and Matthew Barney for a performance installation in the group exhibition “Peristalsis” at Air Circulation in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Guess which one had weed in it.
In the summer of 2011, I was at a friend’s house in Portland, OR and his mother was in town visiting him. They’d invited me over for brunch, and she was making an elaborate and impressive spread for the three of us. As we sat down to eat, she placed a bowl of homemade aioli on the table to accompany one of the dishes. I fucking love aioli; it’s kind of like the thinking man’s ranch dressing. I was stoned out of my goddamned mind as we began to eat and an idea crossed my mind: Experimental Aioli. It would be a restaurant, an incredibly obnoxious and elitist one, that only served drinks and aioli. The theme would be BYOF (Bring Your Own Food) and we’d have pairing suggestions for each aioli, offering patrons the opportunity to order other restaurants’ food for delivery to try with our incredible sauces.
Except for talking a bunch of shit about how I was going to take out a massive and irresponsible business loan to eventually make this happen, I never really did anything with it. You can ask all of my friends from Portland though, and they’ll confirm that I literally would not shut the fuck up about Experimental Aioli for years. As proof, here is an email that I sent in September of 2011 to two of those very friends when I read a Gothamist article about some bullshit artisanal mayonnaise shop that opened in Williamsburg:
I was super annoyed, but whatever. They were running a retail shop; I had bigger plans. Eventually, I moved to New York in December of 2013. Shortly thereafter, a good friend of mine, Paulina Bebecka, approached me about participating in a group exhibition at a new gallery that artist Marcin Ramocki and some friends were starting in Bushwick. Air Circulation, as it would be called, was to be an interdisciplinary exhibition site where each year’s programming was centered around one particular theme. For the first year, that theme would be “food.”
Ramocki and Bebecka were curating the first exhibition, and she and I met up in the East Village after work one day in early February to talk about possible ideas for the show. I pitched her the idea of Experimental Aioli, and she was on board.
Obviously, this project is a playful nod to Gordon Matta Clark’s Food restaurant project in SoHo with Caroline Goodden in the 1970s. And there’s no shortage of references to contemporary artists who have worked with food, especially given away for free as a social experience, but I won’t bore anybody with a comprehensive list. My approach to this was less about the conviviality of the event, and more about the concrete comedic action of producing an obscene amount of gourmet mayonnaise.
Over the next several weeks, I shared a Google Drive document with Bebecka that included ideas I had for different flavors. The point was that each flavor that I developed had to be a tribute to a New Yorker, or New York Institution, of cultural influence. Since I’d just moved to the city, I wanted to do something in honor of it.
I took to Twitter and started to holler at the various people for whom I wanted to make a custom aioli flavor. With their favorite foods in mind, and the particular curiosities of their personalities, I began to write out individual aioli recipe ideas and possible food pairings.
Some people responded graciously, like Jerry Saltz and White Columns, others were too stoned to care, like Action Bronson and Matthew Barney. Nonetheless, I was undeterred by their silence and pushed forward with developing a flavor for them. In all, I produced seven different flavors, each in a limited edition of five.
Because of the fact that aioli’s main ingredient is raw egg yoke, I had to wait until the day before the exhibition to prepare all of it. Nobody wants to eat homemade mayonnaise that is a week old; it’d probably make one kind of ill. Still, I had a lot of prep to do leading up to the big egg-whisking session, and I ended up having the privilege of spending a bunch of time perusing the various industrial kitchen supply stores on the Bowery. I picked up some special bottles, 2oz and 4oz in size, so that I could offer a standard size at 4oz, and a “TSA-Friendly” version at 2oz that could legally be brought onto any domestic flight. Most of the snacks that airlines serve (pretzels, pita chips, etc) pair wonderfully with a sauce of this caliber.
It took me about thirteen hours the day before the exhibition to make all of the flavors from scratch. I did not employ any electronic kitchen gadgets; every aioli was whisked by hand, all of the ingredients finely chopped with a knife, and each bottle filled slowly by me. It got pretty Zen, actually. I even watched Tommy Boy and Can’t Hardly Wait while I prepared it in my kitchen, which by the end of the day that Friday looked like a fucking war zone. Oh, I also listened to a bunch of Scott Aukerman’s podcast Comedy Bang Bang. Everybody should check it out.
By approximately midnight, I had each flavor bottled, sealed, and refrigerated for release the following evening at the opening of “Peristalsis” at Air Circulation.
Despite being determined to be a BYOF pop-up restaurant, Bebecka suggested that I pick up some foods for dipping since it was highly unlikely that anybody would have brought their own food to the gallery. I compromised my ultimate vision (just kidding) and picked up a bunch of bread, various chips, veggies, and other things at that weird grocery store off the Morgan stop that is like fancy but really isn’t. During the exhibition’s opening reception, I stood behind a large table-type-thing and chugged Budweisers while people came up and sampled the flavors.
The most common response that I got was, “These are actually really good.” That’s because I’m a fucking good cook. I wasn’t making them to gross anybody out. Lots of people were exceptionally excited about the flavor “Rare Chandeliers” which I made for rapper Action Bronson because it had weed in it. They tried to scarf down as much as possible to see if they’d get stoned. I have no idea if they did or not.
The majority of the aioli was consumed, though I left behind a few bottles at the end of the night as I was planning to go party and did not need to risk having a bunch of mayonnaise explode all over the inside of my backpack.
EXPERIMENTAL AIOLI (2014)
(Photos: Anne Marie Chu Fong)
Carney’s work will be featured in the BHQFU End-of-Summer-Residency Show Bruce Ate My Homework at Essex Flowers, 365 Grand this weekend. An opening reception will be on Friday, August 22nd from 6:00pm to 8:00pm, followed by performances by Carney and others at BHQFU, 34 Ave A, 3rd floor at 9:00pm. Enrollment for Carney’s free fall course at BHQFU, Humor and the Abject, is now open.
Previous Artist’s Notebook selects:
Artist’s Notebook: Lincoln Correctional Facility Prisoners, Kate Levitt, Miles Pflanz
Artist’s Notebook: Labanna Babalon
Artist’s Notebook: Ann Hirsch
Artist’s Notebook: Am Schmidt
Artist’s Notebook: Rhett Jones
Artist’s Notebook: Brenna Murphy
Artist’s Notebook: Andrea Crespo
Artist’s Notebook: Genevieve Belleveau