A/D/O by MINI | Interview with Emilie Baltz: choreographer of the…

Emilie Baltz: Choreographer of the Senses

"If I was really radical, totally of my true self, I’d call myself a choreographer."

Emilie Baltz has held many titles, among them food experience designer, performer, author, industrial designer, artist, and is as comfortable designing a physical object as she is choreographing a gesture to accompany it. Imagine a machine that puffs out scents of emotions, or an orchestra in which conductive ice cream is the instrument played with your tongue. If this is abstract to picture, it is because her work is designed to be experienced and explored: part performance, part experiment, and largely part play.

Baltz’s work stems from a recognition that, wound up in our consumption of art and design, is a privileging of aesthetics and form, and a prioritizing of sight above the other senses. She conceives and realizes these dreamlike events as lucid provocations that the audience is invited to hear, smell, taste, touch, and embody. Through attending, one is transformed into an active participant in the pursuit of discovery and becomes privy to the delightful surprises hidden in Baltz’s projects.

For a recent workshop at A/D/O, Baltz posed the question: “How can we develop more creativity in the way that we relate to the world around us if we have new, different and maybe a more profound understanding of how our senses work?” This quandary was the impetus for Scent of an Idea, a sensory storytelling experience hosted by UMAMI. Led by Baltz and Brian Quinn – who organizes underground supper-clubs in New York – attendees had the opportunity “stretch olfactory muscles through a series of delicious and avant-garde exercises.” Moments of introspection, and immersive food tastings allowed each participant to develop their own scent identity, and use it to “design a personalized specialty cocktail, spice mixture, and edible bouquet.”

Baltz has what she would describe as “a natural curiosity of wanting to discover new ways and new worlds,” and is interested in sharing her fascination. Whether it is through her books L.O.V.E FOODBOOK and Junk Foodie: 51 Delicious Recipes for the Lowbrow Gourmand, or as faculty in School of Visual Arts’ Products of Design program where she teaches a class called Designing Delight, Baltz is upbeat and questioning.

Baltz notes that performative food-based projects have taken place for a long time, and mentions Marie-Antoine Carême – Napoleon’s pastry chef who created recipes, menus, and wrote books outlining table settings, that if done today might be called immersive installations. What has changed is the context and the desires of the public. In the midst of a cascading trend of practitioners exploring experiential design and immersive food-based installations, social networks like Instagram amplify the frenzy to use it as a promotional tool. In this context, Baltz sees practitioners on a spectrum between work that fuels “the novelty of visual stimulation” to work, more similar to hers, that is “immersive and performative.”

There is a demand for the palpable momentum and joyful vigor she generates. Baltz reflects, “this is a cliche statement right now, but we're alienated from our senses by using our phones. We crave human interaction and like big feelings and risk.” Her work fosters an environment to be present and invigorated.

Despite her critiques on the effects of technology, clients commonly and predictably will ask her to create some sort of tech integration. “I see something that's happening in the world of tech that doesn't feel very human, and emotionally I feel compelled to contribute in another way. So that's where a lot of the more interactive tech pieces are coming from, [...] thinking of ways that we can bring a little bit more of this childlike play to it. Where it is filled with wonder and is hopefully fostering curiosity in people, instead of it being something that is either too didactic or solution oriented.”

This practice is exemplified in Eat Tech Kitchen, an ongoing collaboration with artist and designer Klasien van de Zandschulp, where visitors interact with the space-suit-clad duo and an “AI Bot Chef” to create recipes as a commentary on digital consumption.

Along with the proliferation of new tech, Baltz is conscientious about the threats we are currently facing as a society and the bleak futures that are being imagined. “When you see the world going one way, I think that as a creative you have a responsibility to respond to your context. And so this is also the phase that I'm in right now, responding to the context.” She summarizes her response by saying, “Personally I feel compelled to just create more joy.”

The Scent of an Idea workshop took place at A/D/O on April 12, 2018.

Text by Lily Saporta Tagiuri.

Portrait photographs by Sara Kerens. Workshop photographs by Noah Fecks.