Meet Eliot Z. Felde. He’s one of the collaborators of an interesting new book, Breadcrumbs. An American now living in Berlin, Felde worked with a group of local artists to create something between an art book and a celebration of… well, the concept of sandwiches. As well as delivering colorful recipes, it explores the way the sandwich, basic staple around the world, intersects with economics, art and culture. It’s a wonderfully designed book. And as Felde’s photo might suggest, he’s created something slyly playful. Looking at the book, we thought it would be great to have him tell us more about it. Here is our interview that we conducted via email.
I have a three questions to start with; what led you to Berlin, what led you to work in restaurants, and what led you to write this book?
I grew up north of Boston. Then I moved to London for my undergraduate degree. From London I moved to Paris and worked for some artists there for about six months. In Paris I was offered a job in a small Berlin publishing house, so I moved to Berlin.
What is your definition of a sandwich?
As a starting point for the project I loosely defined a sandwich as “an item of food consisting of bread with a filling” but as the project progressed, the sandwiches evolved beyond their initial definition into something new.
What inspired you about the sandwich as a starting point?
Part of it may come from the inability to follow rules curtly uttered such as “Don’t play with your food!”
But moving beyond the item of food, the idea of a sandwich implies something, situated between some other things. Infinite possibilities emerge from this. I imagine the space sandwiched between an artwork and a person looking at that artwork. There’s probably something suspicious going on in that space that’s worth investigation.
One of the more thought provoking chapters was Lara Smithson’s Singing Sandwich, one that features crickets as a primary ingredient Is it suggesting climate change will lead to depending on insects for nutrition? Or is is it poking fun at the idea of a boutique cricket harvested delicatessen sandwich?
It’s a lovely short piece of writing. It reminds me of some futurological descriptions from Stanislaw Lem. I guess your interpretation of how “fun” the poking may be, depends on your own perspective of our climate and our future. The idea of harvesting crickets as a source of protein is already a reality for a long time but the scale and context could depend on how we react to our changing climate.
Are layers in a sandwich similar to colors on an artist’s palette?
They can be! Or if left long enough alone they could be sediment for future archeologists to sift through in an attempt to retrace the actions that took place in the kitchen or studio.
How does art coincide with food?
Both are intended for digestion. Both have the ability to induce nausea. They both hold traces of cultural ritual, remedy and reflection.
Have you heard about the project from Salvador Dali and Lionel Poilânes, furniture made of bread?
I have not, however I visited a Dalí museum in Figueres, Catalonia where he lived for some time at the end of his life. The facade of the building is speckled with golden bread-like ornaments and the top of the building is crowned with large sculptural eggs. Neither I believe are edible.
On your Instagram, you post a lot of photos of your art projects. Food plays a big role in your artwork. Does your art connect with the past, present or future?
My own art connects with the past, present and future with clothing and textiles that exhibit their own traces of friction and hold memory visibly in their fibers. I work often with the concept of bureaucracy, for example using receipts as a material that documents past exchanges to inform a future context.
The artists in the Breadcrumb Project, do they bake bread?
Some of them do make their own bread. For example Mariana Sarraute’s recipe “Sleeping cuttlefish on paschal bread” includes a recipe for Paschal bread which is made from Wheat flour, salt, olive oil and a glass of water. Alternatively, the recipe from the artist Hannah Lees, “Oat Cracker, Fig, Fermented Cashew Cheese, Honeycomb, Pine Pollen” includes a recipe for Oat crackers which includes: Plain flour, brown sugar, baking powder, pink salt, olive oil or coconut oil (melted), oats and water.
Looking on your Instagram page, I found some interesting artwork featuring crackers and bread. How does bread effect you?
Like a duck I am in constant pursuit of bread even though it may not be the most nutritious food for me. The gluten slows me down but my love for bread is much stronger than my will to resist it.
There is a wonderful introduction in Breadcrumb by Jimmie Durham where he playfully dismisses the prestige of Lord Sandwich, Durham writes: “Before him, we are expected to guess, no poor person in the entire world ever thought to put meat, cheese or cucumbers and tomatoes in a bread holder, even though most of these jerks had no plates, knives or forks for thousands of years.”
In your book, there’s a chapter where you talk about “Chorleywood bread.” That interested me because artisan bakers look at that as mechanically processed, inferior quality bread. It’s puffy like a cloud with no substance. What’s your response to that?
I think there is some kind of resurrection of certain food items which have long been considered inferior such as SPAM or soft cheap white bread; people are re-examining these ingredients and tasing them again with revised curiosity. Fluffy like a cloud makes me think of the Japanese milk bread Shokupan which is also becoming more popular outside of Japan.
Why do you think baking bread during the pandemic has been so popular?
I think part of the fascination with baking bread is the subliminal idea that we are playing survivors in an apocalyptic circumstance. Baking bread also holds a similar magic to me that is similar to developing photographs in a darkroom, seemingly mundane ingredients coming together to form something more than the sum of its parts. Watching a loaf appear from the heat after slapping a cloud of flour and a splash of water together really feels like magic.
Toast has become a brand in, itself. Is it just another form of bread or a thing on its own?
I think of Josh (@LoserCrew) who wrote on twitter, “I fucking love toast, what absolute genius took a bite of bread and was like “cook it again”, unreal”
For this project, toast may have been significantly more important than bread solely on its ability to create crumbs on a scale that bread just can’t compete with.
Finally, tell us, what’s your favorite sandwich?
A fresh baguette, some mortadella and butter. This sandwich is my favorite not because it is the most tasty creation I could conjure, but I often make it when I am in motion, with time spent more urgently on other things. This sandwich represents a time when my mind and hands are active and occupied, when I don’t have time to go fishing.