Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How Do You Take Your Tea?

Meret Oppenheim, darling of the Dada-ists, created the fur-lined tea service to the left, coyly titling it "Object (Le Déjeuner en fourrure)," which roughly translates to "lunch in fur."

Considered shocking when it first appeared in 1936, "Object" hasn't lost much oomph over the last seventy-plus years. A viewer who encounters "Object" is first struck by its sheer perversity. By covering it in fur (from a Chinese gazelle) Oppenheim has rendered the tea service unusable. And yet, if that viewer is anything like me, he or she can't not imagine what it might be like to use the cup, saucer and spoon anyway.

This, I think, was Oppenheim's goal, and one she achieved admirably.

You first fill the cup with tea, soaking the fur inside it completely and watching as one or two loose hairs float lazily on the surface. Next, you pick up the spoon to scoop some sugar from a nearby bowl -- one or two or more, to your taste -- then dip the spoon into the cup and stir until the sugar is dissolved. You tap it against the cup's rim, because that action is practically automatic, then set it down on the saucer. Finally, you grasp the handle -- careful, the fur makes the cup both slippery and more heavy than usual -- then place your lips against the hairy rim and enjoy a surreal sip. At this point, you might put the cup down and pluck a hair or two from the tip of your tongue.

Is "Object" horrifying? Not exactly. Not even when one takes the time to imagine what it would be like to use it. But it does cause a shudder and that, sometimes, is just as good.

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