Jaclyn Backhaus

The Snack Manifesto: A Case Study in the Hoarding of Informational Tidbits and the Science of Artful Nibbling


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1. The Hypothesis.

“Snacking” is the artist’s constant and fluid documentation of small and inspirational encounters with nouns: People, places, objects, and words. The motivation behind snacking is the eventual saturation and subsequent output of art influenced by these encounters. Documentation occurs most often by way of notation, although picture and video are also quite acceptable.

“Snackology” is the study of the artist’s Snacking patterns, both to further engage in the exploration of individual aesthetic as well as to further awareness of Snacking as a collective form. The element of sharing found Snacks is introduced here, and the relationship between Snacker, Snack, and wider audience is beneficial (if not imperative) to the furthering of the Snack’s presence in the artistic process.

2. The History

Harriet the Spy. The love for a belt of tools, a seeming grab-bag of trinkets looped in loops and slung on waists. And, of course, the journal. I could live without the tomato sandwiches and the egg creams. But, oh, I say, the journal. Composition Book complete with Rorschach blot cover, pages rife with wide-ruled freshness. Harriet is to be emulated; it was she who set the stage for the Snackery and Scribery. The method to the madness had yet to be seen.

It may all have started back when I used to sleep with all of the stuffed animals on the bed with me for fear of furry hurt feelings. Or when I would save the wrappers of a year’s worth of Trick-or-Treat candy to preserve the memory of each gloomy house, each doorbell rung, each spooky motion-activated woo-ing ghost and/or dancing spider. My habits for sentimentalizing and humanizing objects, places, turns of phrase, odd findings, chance, coincidence, strange road signs, breakfast foods, keys, grandma’s jewelry box, door handles, and curtains seemed innocent and weird. Spoons were Cinderella, napkins fashioned the ball gown, and Forks played Prince Charming. They would dance across tabletops until dinner was served. And I was safe in my habits before I knew what they were.

The Snacking movement begins and ends with wonder, with questions, with a curious eye. It’s the middle parts, the linking bones, the tiny puzzle pieces brought together in curvature to create the journey of the Snacker’s process. A wandering eye may peep-Thom at the Snacker-in-action and label it strange. And what isn’t strange about the glints and glimmers of ourselves we find in objects? And what isn’t strange about our constant, cyclical need for reassurance, for satisfaction? Strange we may be, we snackers/artists/humans, but our strangeness we embrace.

3. What are Snacks?

Snacks can be defined as non-meals. The small foods we ingest to curb tiny bouts of hunger. Betwixt the nutritionally sanctioned three meals a day, our tummies grumble and we reach for a small cluster of what-have-yous. The morsels we pop, chew, and swallow are often forgotten on their way past the gums. Just a simple lift, a nutritional boost. Just “a little something to hold me over.” But a true Snacker is someone who holds dear each M&M, who licks the thumb and index finger after each deft pluck of a Cheeto. Someone who sees the beauty in the little things, who acknowledges the imperative role specificity plays in cultivating the richness of the everyday. Snack, in our context, passes beyond the realm of the edible; we’re talking not about the morsels of mouth, but the morsels of mind. They are the bits that trick us into entering into a dialogue with them, just as them tater chips trick us into munching on a handful. Of course, we don’t usually tell our friends how awesome them tater chips is, but that’s half the fun of Snackin’.

And so I say! Snacking = a form of miniature satiation and inspiration, and this form can be applied to several different contexts. Well, I have only applied it to the creation and the enriching of Art, but I imagine that other contexts could benefit from it. I imagine that day-trading is a form of snacking. Amateur bird-watching. Sporting events aired on smaller-grade ESPNS, like Strong-Man Competitions and Tournament Bowling.

My penchant for classic emotional hoardism displaced itself into my note-taking, my quote-taking somewhere between my first viewing of Titanic and senior year of college. I felt the need to corroborate my findings and distribute them, in an attempt to inspire others to do the same. And so, my snacking became public with the vast and winding channels of Dickens, through a quote from Bleak House emailed to friends and teachers.

Mr. Skimpole, having “nothing to live upon but love, fell in love, and married, and surrounded himself with rosy cheeks.” His good friend Jarndyce and some other of his good friends then helped him, in quicker or slower succession, to several openings in life; but to no purpose, for he must confess to two of the oldest infirmities in the world: one was, that he had no idea of time; the other, that he had no idea of money. In consequence of which he never kept an appointment, never could transact any business, and never knew the value of anything! Well! So he had got on in life, and here he was! He was very fond of reading the papers, very fond of making fancy sketches with a pencil, very fond of nature, very fond of art. All he asked of society was to let him live. That wasn't much. His wants were few. Give him the papers, conversation, music, mutton, coffee, landscape, fruit in the season, a few sheets of Bristol-board, and a little claret, and he asked no more. He was a mere child in the world, but he didn’t cry for the moon. He said to the world, “Go your several ways in peace! Wear red coats, blue coats, lawn sleeves, put pens behind your ears, wear aprons, go after glory, holiness, commerce, trade, and object you prefer; only--let Harold Skimpole live!"

In response, I received quotes from Rilke (“Women, in whom life lingers and dwells more immediately, more fruitfully and more confidently, must surely have become fundamentally riper people…”), Voltaire (“We must cultivate our own garden.”), and a YouTube clip from Family Guy (“Oh ma Gawd, you’re a horse?”). One response, from a dear friend named Elinor, included this:

“PS. I dig the subject line of this your email... better tasting snacks than the Tostitos and Con Queso dip I'm eating.”

4. The Elements

I. OBJECT. A ten-cent photo from a street vendor. A pair of dice from an antique shop. A broke-down ’57 Chevy pickup on I-17. The phrase “human beans.”

II. PRESERVATION OF ARTIST’S RELATIONSHIP TO OBJECT. The buying of the photo. The rolling of the dice. The picture of the Chevy. The Tweeting of “human beans.”

III. SHARING OF PRESERVATION. Via oral recounting, blog, email chain. A public display of affection to the moment.

IV. THIRD PARTY RESPONSE. The email reply, the Facebook “like,” the conversation, the giggling spawned over “human beans.”


5. An Example

In the bracing and bunkering and hunkering down for Hurricane Irene, my roommates and I were listening to NPR and prepping a hefty game of RISK. One of the interviews centered around Cheryl, a Coney Island resident who did not evacuate the area but instead stayed behind and spent the night at her local evacuation center; in this instance, it happened to be the Coney Island Museum. Spending the night at a Carnival show, with tin toys, ventriloquist dummies, penny farthings, and photographs of famous elephants.

Later that night, I was cleaning out my paper bin (or bins. One who Snacks is bound to several crates of tiny notes and tchotchkes). I found a stack of calling lists, registration forms, and informational brochures from a Speeddating service I once had the misfortune of working for. Immediately, parallels between the Coney Island evacuation museum and the inherent truths of Speeddating made themselves known: Insecure and worried people in a tiny space for an established amount of time. Strangers forced to know each other. People prone to sweating, prone to shouting, people unhappy in their circumstance, people trapped in their fever dreams, people with bursting synapses, people foaming at the mouth. People with everything at stake: house and home, family, future. It all hangs in the balance and the scales may tip in the next moment. The ring of the bell, the sounding of the alarm. A storm brewing in the distance, a heart beating. The need for eye contact, for human contact, for the calling of and/or seeking of loved ones. A vacuum of space and time, a room full of silence and small talk, the yearning for connection, the yearning for the outside world.

I don’t know. It would make a good play.

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