CHICAGO: Updates and Michael Rakowitz (Return and Enemy Kitchen)

Thanks to those who have written with suggestions for feast-related artists and projects. It's much appreciated and exactly what we were hoping might happen through the blog. Thanks also for sticking with me--I'm obviously still getting into the rhythm of blogging, since I'm averaging about three posts a year. We'll be working on that for 2010. In fact, I've promised a post each week covering new research as well as backlog, 

Artist Michael Rakowitz has been a collaborator since Feast's inception. The show first started to coalesce, in fact, years ago as we sat high in the stands watching a Yankees/White Sox game, chatting about art, life, food, and a shared love of baseball. Michael was then in the midst of preparing a new iteration of his ongoing public art project Return. Working with Creative Time, he reopened his Iraqi-Jewish grandfather's import-export business and began the Herculean task of bringing a shipment of Iraqi dates into the United States. This was in 2006, just a few years after the U.S. invaded and the UN lifted sanctions against Iraq, so the project was politically loaded, logistically complex, and poignant. As Michael's dates met various hurdles along their journey from Iraqi palm groves toward Brooklyn, the storefront became a site not only for Michael's documentation of the project but also for a lively ongoing discussion with a range of passersby including neighbors, entrepreneurs, curious foodies, and immigrant Iraqis. And it all culminated in the arrival, distribution, and consumption of the dates, which Michael described as "a fruit that asked questions."  Read about Return here and here.

Return builds on Enemy Kitchen, an ongoing work that also draws on Michael's Iraqi-Jewish heritage. For this project he invites groups of people--most often students or veterans--to prepare and share meals using variants of traditional Baghdadi recipes that he developed with his mother.
Michael keeps the quote-unquote enemy's identity present through this logo based on Iraq's flag, which he uses on cutting boards and aprons--part ritualization of the cooking experience, part subversive branding. 

(These images come from an Enemy Kitchen held on Memorial Day 2009 at the Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in Chicago, as part of a daylong event organized by Aaron Hughes and Iraq Veterans Against the War. And that's Sam Gould of Red 76 at left cooking with Michael. Check out Red 76's great Revolutionary Table project here.)

When I decided to move forward with the idea of an exhibition exploring the meal as a medium, Enemy Kitchen clearly had to be one of the core works. We're now playing with various ways to take it into public here in Chicago during the exhibition, and perhaps also in other cities as part of the run-up to the exhibition or as it tours to other museums. But we're not talking yet about just how that's going to play out. You may, in fact, just have to wait.

But it'll be worth it. These works use food as a catalyst for meaningful interactions that puncture received notions about American and Iraqi culture. They succeed because Michael rigorously analyzes the larger social, commercial, and political structures that surround specific foods, using his position as an artist to intervene within these structures. He makes them visible. He activates the poetry around them. He spins powerful stories out of them, and creates hospitable spaces in which those stories can unfold. And he grounds all of it in the concrete, sensual experience of biting into a date or tasting kibbeh schwenda.

And if you'd like to see some of Michael Rakowitz's most recent work about Iraq, check out his current project about, among other things, science fiction and Saddam Hussein--now at the Tate and covered in the Guardian.



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Stephanie Smith published on March 23, 2010 12:39 AM.

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Blog Description

This is an informal curatorial research blog for Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art, an exhibition about the meal as a medium for contemporary artists. The exhibition opens at the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art in February 2012.