Wild Art: The Aspen Space Station crew feasts for art’s sake | AspenTimes.com

Wild Art: The Aspen Space Station crew feasts for art’s sake

Katherine Roberts
Special to The Aspen Times
Brian Mallon, left, and Jeff Porterfield cook up a tasty meal.
Ajax Phillips/Courtesy photo

The Aspen Space Station continues its astonishing run of artistic expression around the Roaring Fork Valley with new programs being introduced in very late summer and into the fall. Self-deprecatingly described “benign dictator” of the endeavor artist Ajax Phillips recently invited a group to participate in the newest offering, a blend of culinary and performance art presented as The Wild Food Lab.

Attendees were picked up by artist and “Aspenaut” Axel Livingston at the base of the property. As we drove up through the forest on the backside of Aspen Mountain, we observed the flora and fauna alongside the winding, steep dirt road; those were the forest floor items that would eventually land on our laps for dinner.

The group of about 12 participants who registered in advance for a nominally priced ticket were greeted at a small cabin at the top of the hill. The cabin is one of several unique structures that dot the dozens of acres nestled beneath a variety of large-scale sculptures and the now-ubiquitous sign the property and art exhibition are known for, which reads, “EARTH IS SEXIER THAN MARS.”

Led by Phillips, a group of artists, activists and design thinkers, alongside other supporting organizations and donors, have formed a network called Kairos Futura. It operates within the framework of the existing Aspen Space Station project, hosting events, both educational and social in nature, as well as exhibitions and art-making exercises. Wild Food Lab pairs these creative concepts with a duo of local chefs, Brian Mallon and Jeff Porterfield of Stick & Bindle, who, on Aug. 22, led our group of dinner guests through the hunting, gathering and preparing of a foraged meal over open flame (and over enriching conversation about art, sustainability and planning for our collective future).

“We imagine a food scene that is truly celebratory of the bounty right in our backyard,” said Mallon about their partnership with the Aspen Space Station.  “The theme of this year’s Space Station is particularly resonant for that very reason — it is easy to imagine a future where climate or political disruptions mandate a return to local economies, and while that mandate can seem frightening and suggest scarcity, I have found in my time farming that the inverse is true. There is an abundance of food, art, music and communal joy when we slow down and work with our surroundings.”

Phillips agrees.

“How do we forge a local, sexy future? Food is a part of that,” she said, while adding logs to the fire, which would eventually become the group’s cooktop and continual source of heat on the rainy evening. “We are building our own futurist movement.”

Her curated and committed community helps create visions and solutions for the future, and how we eat is an essential piece of the puzzle, she said. “It’s all about adaptability.”

Our crew of Almost Aspenauts ventured down one of the trails from the dinner prep station and went on a guided hike, led by Mallon and Porterfield, but not before the two chefs — one a former farmer, the other previously a sous chef at Bosq — gave the group a detailed rundown of many of the plants and flowers we’d both discover, and eventually eat, throughout the adventure. Details included a brief lesson on what to look for when foraging for mushrooms (expert advice: don’t go without an expert in tow), the fact that fireweed is as delicious as it is beautiful (the leaves are lemony) and how the weather, water, warmth and other factors affected both what was gathered that night and created considerations on how to build sustainable, adaptable eating practices in the future. After about 40 minutes of hiking, we were ready to return to the outdoor kitchen to enjoy a vegetarian feast of Asian-style noodles in vegetable broth and homemade chili oil, topped with foraged accoutrements.

Mallon and Porterfield brought pre-made pasta dough, mixed with vegetable ash, which turned the noodles (hand-pulled by the group) as black as squid ink. Boiled in water alongside cabbage, celery and scallions, they were tossed in bowls, topped with a combination of garlic paste, Sichuan chili flake and gochujang (a mild Korean chili flake), then topped with boiling oil to create an aromatic, spicy — but not too spicy — broth. The foraged ingredients were incorporated just before eating. In addition to the fireweed, the team added wild vetch (a cousin of the pea tendril), yellow coral mushrooms, lambs’ quarter, cow parsnip and dandelion — all picked that day literally in Phillips’ backyard.

Everyone ate, then ate a second helping (or maybe that was just me), and discussed the overall mission of Kairos Futura and the Aspen Space Station, which plans on more Wild Food Labs in the coming weeks and months, as well as additional events, such as a party with edible art in late September and a Prophecy Future Ritual in mid-October.

“We want to imagine a future that may look more like our ancestral past, when we are determined to work with and appreciate the Earth,” said Mallon.

A delicious vision, indeed.

A plate full of foraged food next to the fire.
Katherine Roberts
The fire that kept everyone warm.
Katherine Roberts
A foraged mushroom.
Katherine Roberts
Ajax Phillips
Brian Mallon cooks over an open flame.
Ajax Phillips
Ajax Phillips
Upcoming events

Wild Future Book Club, 6:30-8 p.m. Sept. 16
A secret, full moon meeting of The Wild Book Club to discuss the book ‘A Brief History of the Future’ at a location that will be disclosed upon registration. To register, email director@aspenspace.org.

Party Like its 2222, 6-9 p.m. Sept. 17
The theme is Solar Punk. You are a beautiful, enlightened nomad from the future. You live in the forest with a pod covered in solar panels. You have a 3-D printed greenhouse where you grow all your own food. This is Aspen Utopia Redux, where we are living our best lives right here on earth.

Full Moon 200 Year Prophecy Future Ritual, 7:30-8:30 p.m. Oct. 9
Join Nori Pao and other Aspenauts for a ritual during which we’ll prepare and place the clay tablet prophecies that Nori will be helping Earth Force members create throughout the Wild Future Outpost. This is a by-invitation-only event, and you will need to pass the Future Proof Exam to join.

More info: thefutureisonearth.org/events

Activities & Events

Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass to start fall lectures

Anderson Ranch Arts Center’s new fall lecture series will run weekly from Oct. 20 through Dec. 6. The lineup consists of artists nationwide who will be spending one to three weeks at the ranch completing projects within their area of expertise and exploring new work in the studios.

See more