When guests walked into the Tucson Museum of Contemporary Art for their fall fundraiser, a surrealist dinner party, they were greeted by two large screens with looping video footage of a man's face covered in different kind of food.
In one video, he's pouring milk onto his head, which is inside a bag of cereal. In another, he has both the head of a Bratz doll and several hot dogs attached to the side of his head, and is smearing melted cheese on his face. There's a Chef Boyardee situation, a meat contraption, a lot of bananas and one where he's covered in donuts.
MOCA Executive Director and Chief Curator Ginger Shulick Porcella says the museum's fall fundraiser is traditionally designed to attract a younger demographic to the museum, and it was successful. Adults of all ages are gathered at this event, inspired by Salvador Dali's surrealist cookbook, Les Diners de Gala. If you haven't tried any of the recipes from the book, you're missing out on delicacies like "frog cream" and "toffee with pinecones," as well as some astonishing (and often erotic) illustrations.
Luckily, the food at this event is edible and enjoyable. For the surreal effect, there are chips spread all over the table between dishes and a red light shining on the buffet that makes everything look indistinguishably the same color. Easy.
When I first arrive, I'm delighted at the mismatched floral pants and shirt I see one man wearing, or the flower-and-butterfly-covered hat on another woman. As the night progresses, the bar for weirdness raises. Three separate men are dressed up as Magritte's "The Son of Man," that painting of a man whose face is covered by a green apple. A woman wearing a long necklace made out of fake lobsters surreptitiously sneaks a photo of a man wearing a bird mask. One woman is walking around in a skirt and bra made entirely of lettuce. A woman dressed as a butterfly beats them all out in the night's costume contest.
"We are literally in a Salvador Dali painting," I overhear one woman saying. "Everything's so bizarre."
Neither of us were prepared for "Edible Wardrobe Malfunctions," the runway event and centerpiece of the night by New York-based artist David Henry Nobody Jr.
Two men in thongs start the show off. One is wearing false breasts, and he's walking the other one on a leash. Their erotic, spank-filled walk down the runway ends at a four-post bed we've all been avoiding all night because the posts are covered in peanut butter. They lay down on the bed and proceed to absolutely coat one another in peanut butter they're pulling out of industrial-sized bins.
They're followed by a line of people wearing undergarments and paper doll-like dresses which only cover their fronts. Their faces are covered too--with distorted paper masks of celebrities like Kim Kardashian. After they do their individual struts, they all line up on the runway and things start to get actually crazy.
The guy from the looping food videos—who turned out to be David Henry Nobody Jr. all along—and a group of henchmen with pantyhose over their faces, start covering the models in food. They're taping bananas to their heads. They're attaching produce to people's armpits. Then there's trays full of shaving cream getting smeared on people and topped with boxes of cereal, chips, mustard, Cheetos, slices of bread and spray bottles full of what looks like soda. Meanwhile, the peanut butter people are doing things like sucking peanut butter off one another's toes and making erotic use of a carrot.
"I don't know about the peanut butter thing," says someone behind me.
"This is f***ing me up, actually, whatever is going on over there," adds another.
The red carpet of the runway is covered in food, and some of us are realizing too late we're sitting in the splash zone. Just as the audience seems to be reaching peak discomfort levels, suddenly the models are all on the bed, moving and sliding against each other. The woman in the lettuce outfit from earlier throws herself into the pile, and within moments, no one can tell which one is her anymore.
Then they take a bow and walk out.
The room is stunned, for a few moments. I go to wash some sort of shaving cream and pasta sauce combination off of my shoe, and then wait for Nobody Jr. to come back from being hosed off. He is only partly hosed off when I find him (there's mustard in his ear), but he tells me the performance showed fake, distorted celebrities becoming a part of the consumerism they often help to promote—specially junk food, the toxicity and fakeness of which he says reminds him of toxic America.
"The goal was to create a sense in the audience of going from being dehumanized to an act of art that made us all feel human again," he says. "I felt a deep sense of connection with the other performers at the end."
I thank him, but am unsure if he accomplished his mission. Based on the shocked faces in front of me and shocked pronouncements behind me, people were feeling... well, shocked and strange throughout the performance, not excluding the smeary coming together on the bed at the end. It wasn't until later that I realized he had, in a way: He got a roomful of strangers to come together and feel the exact same way.
I run into the man who started the show off on a leash, who tells me he goes by Little.bitch93, or just Antonio. Had he ever done anything like this before?
"In my wildest dreams," he says. "But sometimes you don't get that to be reality."
Dreams becoming reality in one fantastic, erotic and often bewildering night. If that isn't surreal, what is?