We chatted with Scratch ‘n Sniff Studio founders Emma Orlow and Serena Hovnanian about the inspiration behind their new venture which creates a conceptual space for exploring food in relation to art. The two recently curated their launch event, an Edible Art Benefit at Space Ninety 8 to support El Fondo Resiliencia, an organization in Puerto Rico committed to fostering environments for healthy, sustainable eating on the island, which is especially in need of aid after Hurricane Maria destroyed most of the land's agriculture.
The benefit was an exciting night of edible art installations to pick apart and munch on, music by Peterson, and signature sensorial drinks. Guests enjoyed Amborella Organics seed bearing lollipops, edible, biodegradable cups by Loliware, lounge area furniture by LikeMindedObjects, natural dye pillows by Nica Rabinowitz or Fiberhouse Collective and smell bottle sculptures by Julia Thompson. Read on to learn more about Scratch 'n Sniff Studio and the launch event!
Tell us more about who you are, where you are from, what you do
Emma: We’re both from New York City but we didn’t meet until college, through a mutual friend. I studied "Food Art as Body Politics" at NYU Gallatin's Individualized School of Study. I am a writer, curator, and artist, finding ways to meld the art world with food. Working with chefs, supper clubs, and art spaces, North Brooklyn Farms, Angela Dimayuga (Mission Chinese), The Hester Street Fair, etc. I also love writing personal essays in relation to food and self-published a poetry book called I Want to Scratch 'n Sniff You, about romance and food a few years ago.... which is where the idea for Scratch 'n Sniff Studio's name comes from.
Tell us more about Scratch 'n Sniff Studio. What inspired you both to start this venture?
Emma: When I met Serena a few years ago, I knew immediately we'd click! She has such a unique eye for everyday occurrences and is always tracking them in such interesting ways. She has this ongoing photo series on her phone where she catalogs different food that people drop on the sidewalk and another where she documents the variation in graphic design for plastic take out bags. I thought that was so funny because that year I was trying to be a smiley face takeout bag for Halloween! So, after graduating with a super niche major that there isn’t an exact job for out in the world---except for perhaps at the Museum of Food and Drink--- I knew I wanted to create a space for the projects I had already been doing for other people, but with my own voice, so I wouldn’t be so stressed that this job didn’t actually exist. I asked her if she’d be down. Even if it doesn’t spiral into a full-time paying job, Scratch ‘n Sniff Studio is a great way to get to collaborate with Serena and explore the kind of art making I want to see out in the world.
Serena: Yeah, Emma and I have vibed well from the start. We have the type of friendship that’s both exciting and energizing. We really just like to bounce off one another. I think the moment I knew our friendship had an idiosyncratic quality was when I showed her a vintage jello cookbook I had just purchased at a thrift shop. Of all my friends, she was the only one as equally enthusiastic and jazzed by it ha-ha. It was really this past year when Emma and I -- I think we we’re having dinner together -- started talking about all the side projects we had working on independently. I think we both had a general frustration over them, and we just had this desire to do something more substantial with them. Emma presented the idea about creating a studio and I was totally on board!
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Emma: I am mostly inspired to pursue this because of my own frustration with the exclusive and sterile way most major museums display art. That, coupled with the urgency of wanting to do something about the horrifying state of our food industry. I am really interested in being a curator at a children's museum. I think the way children learn through art, using sensorial experiences, should be the way we get to educate ourselves about art as adults, too. Sure, it sounds idealistic, but I think we can all agree that museums should actually practice more of the ideology their shows seem to portray. In terms websites, I go to: It's Nice That, Put an Egg on It, Sight Unseen, old issues of Lucky Peach, Gather Journal, and Feedback NY.
Serena: Yeah, all the sites Emma mentioned are really great! I also think vintage cookbooks are an amazing source of inspiration just in terms of graphic design, food styling, general presentation and all the odd combinations too. Also, traveling for me has been very influential. I am fortunate my family not only loves food but loves to travel -- we’ve been to Armenia, India, Japan, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Namibia, Hong Kong, etc., and in all those places I always find myself consuming and appreciating the variety and unique ways in which food is valued. Everytime we visit a new place, I make sure to make a trip to the local grocery store -- where I end up spending wayyy too much time browsing the aisles.
What should people expect to experience at the Edible Art Benefit?
Emma: Fun! Edible art installations we'll be making, music performances by Peterson (Matt Peterson and Jack Conway), sensorial drinks that will include edible cups by Loliware, seed-bearing lollipops by Amborella Organics, lounge area furniture by LikeMindedObjects natural dye pillows by Nica Rabinowitz of Fiberhouse Collective + smell bottle sculptures by Julia Thompson. We're not advocating for ourselves as chefs or anything. We're just creative people who love the idea of using food as an art form.
Serena: A real good time!
Environmental advocacy and sustainability are important to you. How are you applying this objective to your events?
Emma: I am not sure if that's the forefront of the themes of our events, but it's definitely something I'd like to be really conscious of. I would never want to use food in a way that is wasteful. So, yes, we'll be making it into "art," but then whatever we have leftover we will recycle into our own personal meals after that, and if not that, we'll compost it. We got some of our food from the event from a company that uses food that would be otherwise be wasted by farms for being "ugly" and sells them to consumers or restaurants at a discounted rate.
Serena: Yeah, like Emma, I’ve always been conscious of sustainability. In college, I actually lived in a co-op whose main focus was committed to environmentally sustainable living. For this event, Emma and I also made sure none of the utensils, glasses or plates were plastic but instead compostable or reusable materials.
What projects do you have on the horizon? Any goals for the new year?
Emma: My friends and are were just talking about doing some sort of food-comedy art performance. I also have a gig doing art for a restaurant that's about to open in Greenpoint. I would also love to get more involved in the food community in Bed-Stuy, my new neighborhood.
Serena: I was just talking to my friend Zack Wilks about collaborating on something together soon. For like the past two years we’ve been talking about wanting to create a series of zines with photography, reviews, creative writing, etc. but always found ourselves too overwhelmed by other things that we were never able to do it. We are hoping this year we actually do! I also recently purchased an old Super 8 Film camera and I’ve been wanting to test it out / experiment on some short films with my friends.
Do you have any dream projects that you would love to explore?
Emma: Hmmm... well, getting to incorporate food-based art in more physical spaces would be special. And curating an environment for all the people working in the food art space could be involved in. Doing some sort of installation in rooms of a dollhouse for other restaurants, or in a community garden would be awesome. I'm not religious at all but I'd love to do Edible Art Shabbat. Also, I would really love to know more about gleaning and foraging. The integration of tech in the food world is really fascinating to me. I'd love to work with Smallhold, this mushroom/tech company.
Serena: I dream often of starting my own publication or quarterly magazine! I know there are a lot of steps and logistics involved but I think in a couple years I will more fully bring this dream into fruition. p.s. Em, talking about gleaning and foraging you should def watch the documentary The Gleaners and I by Agnes Varda.
What are some of your favorite spots in NYC?
Emma: In terms of physical spaces I love Lil' Deb's Oasis (A restaurant / art installation in Hudson, NY), Outdated (a general store/ cafe in Kingston, NY), and the collaboration with artists that Mission Chinese and Lalito think about. For more direct art spaces: Fisher Parrish Gallery (formerly 99 Cent Plus/ HandJob Gallery) + R & Company Gallery, The Hand Space, Kimberly Klark, and The Sculpture Center.
Serena: Hmm food related: I love Dimes Market, Sunshine Market and Saltie. Non-food related: Noguchi Museum, Printed Matter, Calliope, Spandex World, Greenwich House Pottery, and Three Lives & Company Bookstore. Ooo, I also love going to Mother of Junk and sorting through the huge pile of discarded photographs and negatives.
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Photos: Heidi Lee