At Socrates, a work that fills both body and soul 1

“Eternal Flame” is not just a monumental work of art but a practical one, with four barbecue grills available for public use. The sculptor, Paul Ramírez Jonas, is seen getting the fire started at one grill in a documentary short about the work posted on the Socrates Sculpture Park website.

Queens is renowned for its cuisine, which brings in tastes from all over the world thanks to the borough’s heavy immigrant population. It’s a place where you can get meals derived from every populated continent — yes, including even Australia — and where a recently published cookbook is aptly titled “The World Eats Here.”

The book could just as easily have been called “The World Cooks Here.” So too, perhaps, could a monumental work of art now on display in Socrates Sculpture Park. Instead it’s called “Eternal Flame,” and it evokes the continuity of human communities in the form of the very foods and recipes brought here from all over the globe.

“Paul Ramírez Jonas’ ‘Eternal Flame’ is a monument in the form of a communal grill and imagines cooking culture as both a symbolic and real eternal flame — there is always a lit cooking fire somewhere on this globe,” Socrates Sculpture Park, which is displaying the piece until next March, says on its website. “The work honors the role of cuisine and cooking in cultural cohesion and expression among communities and identities, even when individuals and families relocate locally, nationally or internationally.”

Ramírez Jonas himself, in a short video about the work, says he “was thinking what is exactly the meaning of the eternal flame, what is eternity and how do we keep things alive” when he conceived of the piece.

One answer to those questions lies in cooking, in passing recipes down from one generation to the next. “The communal experience of sharing food — that exists for all people in all times and places — is what inspired Ram’rez Jonas to title his monument sculpture ‘Eternal Flame,’” Socrates spokeswoman Sara Morgan said in an email.

“Eternal Flame” consists of four connected barbecue grills, open for public use, with an obelisk rising above them. The obelisk has no point, almost as if it is unfinished, just as the work of parents giving recipes to their children continues through the generations unendingly. Near each grill is a picnic table painted in a bright, cheerful color.

“The idea of eternal flame in relation to food is really beautiful because it’s more than memories; it’s tradition,” Queens chef Jonathan Forgash says in the video, which features several cooks using the grills and speaking to the value of handing down traditions. “It’s bringing stuff from the past into the present with our cooking, and it’s not just a memorial it’s something we’re actually doing and sharing with others all the time.”

The grills are technically open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., when Socrates staff are on site, and may be used in any weather, on a first-come, first-served basis. Users must clean up after themselves and have been treating the work very respectfully so far, Morgan said.

 
‘Eternal Flame’
When: Through Sun., March 14
Where: Socrates Sculpture Park, 32-01 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City
Entry: Free. (718) 956-1819,

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