Ayako Suwa Exhibition

"Some people really can taste the rainbow". I remember the title of an interesting article I went through some time ago on the web. It was describing the synesthesia, a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sense leads to another sense. For example, some people can smell sounds and taste colours. According to neuroscientists, one in 5,000 people to one in 10,000 experience synesthesia. Some of these "brain glitches" – not to say human's superpowers - can also be learned during the time. For example, taste-odour synesthesia - the association of odour and taste - can be acquired and modulated by daily food experience. Recently I had the chance to experience it personally, and it left me truly astonished.

A few days ago, while walking lazily in Ginza, I noticed a colourful banner advertising the latest exhibition at Shiseido Gallery. The title “Taste of Reminiscence, Delicacies from Nature: Ayako Suwa Exhibition” intrigued me a lot, so I decided to give it a try. The curator Ayako Suwa (諏訪綾子) is an internationally renowned food artist. “The food experience as expressed by Suwa in this exhibition is a sharing of senses with others, which Japanese people have practised since ancient times in feeling nature’s beauty and transience, capturing it in poetry, enjoying incense, and making tea. At the same time, it is an experience of receiving inspirations from nature that have nurtured Japanese aesthetics and spirituality, and honing one’s senses.”

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All images courtesy of Ken Kato

Once entered in the gallery, a futuristic installation and semidarkness welcome the guests. The whole space here is conceived in a way able to stimulate all the senses. The first is the sight. An elegant set table in the centre is surrounded by eight white columns holding glass bells. Shaped with Japanese elegance and minimalism, this part of the exhibition is designed to deliver the first experience to the visitors. Walking around the table, one can look into each glass bell and smell the contents. Each of the items is a stimulus for the eyes as well as for the nose.

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I smelled all the contents twice, as suggested by the gallery staff. Some of those reminded me memories of my past, some others slightly altered my feeling for a few instants. I was asked to choose one among the eights, and I selected something that smelled like incense. Immediately I felt a reminiscence of my life in Naples, perhaps the scent of incense in the churches when I was attending a catholic school in my early childhood. Then, the staff brought me a paper with a text entitled "Endless Loop". The artist created a poem for each of the eight "delicacies", telling her reminiscences related to each smell.

After some time waiting in the queue, I was guided into a completely dark room. A small blinking light and a mysterious sound were already stimulating two of my senses. I used my third sense to touch what seemed to be a jelly candy. While I was still aware of the memory of the fourth sense - the smell of incense – finally, I could also stimulate the fifth and last sense by tasting the jelly. And then the magic happened. Am I one of the few people that can experience synesthesia? Or the artist just did the magic? The jelly tasted exactly like incense, even though I have never eaten incense. I could feel my five classical senses blending together through this incredible experience.

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In a recent Ted speech, Ayako Suwa stated that "to eat is to live, to taste is to evolve". Curiosity is the keyword of the evolution and thanks to it, our modern food culture and civilization has evolved. Our ancestors discovered new tastes due to curiosity, and they were able to evolve. Today we can evolve even more by using our sleeping curiosity. Suwa created several "Guerrilla restaurants" – also on this occasion, once a week by reservation - promoting a new concept of eating that stimulate all the senses. "Sensuous food, emotional taste" is the catchphrase of these events, where the lucky guests can experiment with unusual feelings. Here some: a taste of happiness, a fun flavour, a taste of guilt, a taste of anxiety slowly blended with terror, a taste of disappointment, a taste of shame and joy that slowly turns to pleasure, and also a taste of satisfaction.

Taste of Reminiscence: Delicacies of Nature

TitleTaste of Reminiscence, Delicacies from Nature: Ayako Suwa Exhibition
VenueShiseido Gallery
Period01/18/2020 - 03/22/2020
AddressTokyo Ginza Shiseido Bldg B1F, 8-8-3 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
AdmissionFree

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