The Taste of Weather
Photography by Walter Wlodarczyk
“I wanted water to smell more wet,” the artist and writer Emma McCormick-Goodhart, bedecked in a shimmery hair wrap, explained as she poured a ritual bath from an abalone shell over my outstretched hands. “Like petrichor;” that crisp smell of new rain. Not frankincense and myrrh, but Montauk seawater with stinging nettle and violet leaf anointed me as I entered the backyard of Pioneer Works, which had been transformed for a dinner-cum-installation titled Skywriting Supper and organized by McCormick-Goodhart, Arley Marks of Bushwick mead bar Honey’s, and the chef Danny Newberg. Past the three long tables set for the meal, Marks offered glasses that he designed himself, with two ice cubes each, for patrons to place under wide leaves flowing with Yola mezcal, apple cider and Italian herbal digestif amaro. This vegetal fountain, which appeared to sprout naturally from the landscape of this Red Hook oasis, was designed by Marks along with the experimental florist Saipua and featured tree branches gathered from his childhood home.
Around 7:30 the dinner began, served on tables spread with moss and twigs. (“What does moss really smell like? What does dirt really smell like? People don’t know that!” a novelist to my left exclaimed to her neighbor.) The meal, devised by chef Danny Newberg with drink pairings by Marks, was earthy too: magic molly (a potato, it turns out) and ground cherries, fermented ramps and cabbage, beans and matsutake mushrooms topped with crispy herbs. While we ate, a soundscape mixed by Patrick Higgins scored our dinner—or, really, we scored it ourselves; there were contact mics hidden throughout the table settings and hydroponic receivers placed in the cocktail fountain and ceramic washbasins. “We are collectively co-authoring a piece that writes itself as it goes on,” McCormick-Goodhart declared. Our sonic interventions, which were layered with samples of renaissance lute music, were being broadcast live on Montez Press Radio.
As the event’s title suggests, the sky was another site of this work. An orange-ish beam traced the edges of the backyard and as the night progressed an iridescent ceiling appeared, glittering currents like a miniature aurora moving mystically above, all the creation of Brooklyn-based studio Nitemind. Flags with text written by McCormick-Goodhart and printed by Justin Suazo of Software Studios fluttered 19 feet overhead. To further engage a “poetics of air,” attendees were invited to write into the sky themselves with smoke and scent: there were sticks of palo santo and matches for each guest, and a surreptitiously smoked Marlboro or two also fragranced the scene. If one were superstitious, they might believe McCormick-Goodhart’s rites had truly manifested her search for petrichor; just as dinner wound down, the sky opened up. The atmosphere, after all, is a medium most unpredictable, one that often prefers to write itself.