Claire Olshan wants to infuse your healthy snacks with an artistic sensibility — specifically, a Dadaist one. The founder of Manhattan’s high-end clothing boutique Fivestory has embarked on a snack food venture called DADA Daily, wrapping crunchy cabbage petals and superfood-infused organic truffles in plasticine collage art.
Among DADA Daily’s offerings are “Schisandra” chocolate truffles, which are shaped like deep brown lips, as well as green, eye-shaped Matcha Latte-flavored truffles, and two savory snack options: hot turmeric cabbage petals and crispy almond-butter Brussels sprouts, sold in a head-shaped EPP container that doubles as a serving platter or chip bowl.
Spurred by the loss of reason affecting many in the wake of World War I, Dada artists in the interwar years questioned values and meaning in art and their surrounding world. The artists cared less about creation than subversion. Perhaps everything is art, a Dadaist might say. Perhaps nothing is art.
Perhaps Claire Olshan’s bougie shrink-wrapped snack food readymades are art. Olshan told me by email, “DADA is for anyone and everyone who appreciates the highest quality ingredients as well as appreciating a little chicness added to their day.”
Artist Tristan Tzara wrote in his 1918 “Dada Manifesto”: “Is the aim of art to make money and cajole the nice nice bourgeois? Rhymes ring with the assonance of the currencies and the inflexion slips along the line of the belly in profile. All groups of artists have arrived at this trust company utter riding their steeds on various comets. While the door remains open to the possibility of wallowing in cushions and good things to eat.” (If you ever claim to have a concrete resolution for that series of statements, the reanimated corpse of Tzara will appear and beat you with his monocle.)
Rehashing a familiar Dada anecdote, Olshan explains, “The name DADA, the story goes, was chosen in a typically Dada manner: by chance. Using a paper-knife, Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp and others in Zurich arbitrarily selected a word from a French-German dictionary. Its meaning — hobbyhorse — was, meaningless in this context. It simply served as an empty vessel into which artists could pour themselves.”
She adds, “Starting to see the connection???”
I think maybe I do. Tristan Tzara came from a wealthy family, like Olshan (nee Distenfeld).
Or maybe I don’t. Connections are the product of illusions. As Marcel Duchamp put it, “The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world […].”
The almond butter Brussel sprouts Olshan’s team sends me as a sample are shrunken and crisped to the consistency of a kale chip, seasoned with a peppery blend of moringa and spices. They spiral out and flake apart like so many dried flowers, waiting to be tasted, packaged inside a clear panel bearing the word DADA, marquee-style, in gold letters — a miniature stand-in for a museum’s glass vitrine. They are delicate, richly textured, and delicious. (They do get stuck on my snaggly teeth, though. Not chic.) I consume them all in 15 minutes and wonder what would be more subversive: to keep the bag or to throw it in the garbage?
The snack packaging borrows more from Surrealism than Dada. “DADA and Surrealist movements are in my mind tied to one another and extremely symbiotic,” Olshan says. (The movements overlapped in the 1920s, with artists like Max Ernst transitioning from “Dadaist” to “Surrealist.”) “It’s not about someone telling you what to eat or a critic telling you what’s art or not, what movement you belong in or not. It was art made by the individual for the individual. Marcel Duchamp has always been one of my favorite artists of all time. His ‘Bicycle Wheel,’ the first readymade, was a class of objects he invented to challenge assumptions about what constitutes a work of art.”
She emphasizes the “found” quality of the imagery in her packaging as a nod to the artists she admires. “We created all the artwork for the packaging on my dining room table using objects and materials found in my apartment … it was a little like us creating our own readymades.”
She described the process further, “We photographed [the objects] and zoomed in here and there to create the collages for the packaging. In each item, we wanted those collages to reveal themselves as you ate the snacks. As you eat the chocolates or sprouts or petals, the collages reveal themselves to the consumer. The consumer will probably think that once they are done the collage will make sense, but the fun part is that the colleges are so bizarre, weird, and random that they really will never make any sense!”
DADA Daily snacks are certainly a twist on traditional snack presentation — and on the healthy food market itself. By infusing decadence and whimsy into snacking, these food products do invite an unexpected visual experience to the typically mindless midday nosh. I won’t say whether the consumption aspect of the product negates their artistic value, because to make such a judgement would be naive of art’s commercial history. Maybe Olshan doesn’t understand Dada. Or maybe she gets it better than any of us do. After all, one might argue, every kind of art gets consumed, in one way or another.
DADA Daily snacks are available online and in select stores.