Behind the scenes: September 2011 Archives

Spoerri4Blog.jpgOver the last century, artists have often sought to break down the boundaries between art and everyday life--and the Smart just acquired a work of art by the Swiss artist Daniel Spoerri (b. 1930) that exemplifies this way of working.

In the early 1960s, Spoerri pioneered a practice that he later defined as "Eat Art." As the name implies, much of Spoerri's art centered on meals: in addition to writing and making more traditional drawings and objects, Spoerri staged banquets and created restaurant-art-projects such as the fabled Restaurant Spoerri and adjacent Eat Art Galerie in Dusseldorf. These hubs of artistic experimentation and social pleasure attracted leading members of the European avant-garde art community as well as the general public. They were also sites where Spoerri created some of his famous "snare pictures," for which the remains of an actual meal were affixed to a table and then turned sideways to create an object that hangs on the wall like a painting. A kind of readymade still life, the composition was determined by chance--the residue of consumption and convivial interaction rather than aesthetic intention.

While researching Feast this past spring, I discovered that a classic, abjectly beautifully Spoerri snare picture--made at Eat Art on June 17, 1972--was at a Swiss auction house. The Museum was successful in acquiring it and, as a result, the Smart is now one of the few US museums to own snare pictures (along with the Walker Art Center and the Museum of Modern Art). The work will be a centerpiece of Feast along with a rich selection of other material by Spoerri.

After Feast's national tour, it will return to campus as a lasting resource for research and teaching--and, we hope, an inspirational example of how artists can make powerful works out of common experiences.
American artist, Michael Rakowitz recently shared with us a sketch of the Enemy Kitchen food truck he plans to create this winter for Feast. In the Enemy Kitchen project, Rakowitz uses his Iraqi-Jewish heritage as a point of departure for exploring food's potential to foster meaningful exchange across cultural difference.

Current plans for the food truck project involve inviting chefs from Chicago's Iraqi community to collaborate with Rakowitz on a menu, with members of the local chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War participating as servers.

Check back for regular updates on the development and launch of the Enemy Kitchen food truck.

Image: Michael Rakowitz's working sketch for the Enemy Kitchen food truck, a commission for Feast. Courtesy of the artist.
NickCaveiPad.jpgBy Diego Arispe-Bazan
MA'11 University of Chicago and Smart curatorial intern

As high-tech tools become more accessible and essential in every day life, rhapsodized about by tech-savvy urbanites and digital age apologists, the debate over their relevance has become a hot topic among museum administrators, curators, and programmers. A large component of my job as a curatorial intern at the Smart this summer involved evaluating visitor engagement with the artist videos that accompanied the Go Figure exhibition, so as to inform the development of interpretive media for Feast.

The Education Department was planning to conduct surveys regarding visitor perspectives on the exhibition, so I asked them to include a few questions about the videos, which showcased artists discussing the particulars of their work in short, conversational interviews. But I also decided to work undercover. In addition to the quantitative data docents could collect via survey, I added a qualitative, observational research component. I spent time in the gallery each day. I took notes in my own handy gadget (an old, Generation 1 iPod), recording the demeanor, body language, and trajectory of visitors within the gallery. I listened, and occasionally elicited statements regarding the videos as if I were merely an inquisitive visitor. While varying from individual to individual, general gestural and verbal cues are similar across the board. I also enlisted the aid of the gallery attendants after several of them, upon hearing about my project, enthusiastically volunteered their own observations of visitor movement through the gallery.

The debate on interpretive technologies was lively among the Smart interns. It centered on the issue of how multiplicity in experience could be flattened out. The argument is not without basis: interpretive technology, used indiscriminately, can turn a gallery into an arcade. In fact, certain visitors who shared this view eschewed the iPads entirely. However, through my observation and the comments gathered from the museum guards, it became clear that those who chose to pick up the iPads were eager to embrace the integration of interactive digital media into the gallery experience. The only negative comment was that the volume was sometimes too loud.

Ultimately, as innovative curators and researchers such as Nina Simon and Dana Carlisle Kletchka have explained, the inclusion of interactive media in the museum should not be viewed as an impending inevitability, but an opportunity to connect with visitors and enthusiasts. Far from oppressively didactic, the videos in Go Figure offered visitors an expanded understanding of the process behind the composition of each piece, and some of the theoretical entanglements that inspired them. Since many of the pieces to be included in the Feast exhibition are performative, or showcase objects employed in past performances--whether they are instruments or detritus--the interpretive media to be included should definitely continue in this vein. Because our goal is to enrich individual engagement with artists and their work, these enhancements seem to make sense.

Photo by Joseph Rynkiewicz

photos by Kristine Moss

By Jenn Sichel
University of Chicago PhD student and Smart curatorial intern

Ana Prvacki's Recipe for Slatko:
Required: Strawberry 1 kg, 1.5 kg of sugar

Preparation: Strawberries are carefully cleaned of leaves and handles, washed and squeezed, arranged in a dish and drizzled with lemon juice. Leave strawberries in the juice for at least two hours so they tighten and not fall apart during cooking. After they sit in the lemon juice arrange the strawberries in the cooking pot*, layer a layer of strawberries then a layer of sugar, then a layer of strawberries until no ingredients are left. Cover with cloth and leave over night. The next day add to the pot half a cup of water, put it on a high flame and cook watching to make sure it does not burn. The slatko will cook for 10 minutes and all the smell will stay in the strawberries. Take off the flame, remove the foam, cover with a wet cloth and leave to cool for a few hours.

*IMPORTANT: the slatko should be cooked in a cast iron pot, and nothing else should have been cooked in it before so the sugar does not burn. When we made it for the Hammer I ended up buying a new Le Creuset pot that I now use for regular cooking.

This recipe yields about three jars of mouth-vibratingly sweet slatko. Make your own batch and let us know how it turns out!

By Jenn Sichel
University of Chicago PhD student and Smart curatorial intern

During a normal day at the museum, we all work diligently behind computer monitors and occasionally go to meetings in conference rooms. During a not-so-normal day at the museum, we might all drop what we're doing to help with a big installation. But one Friday in August, we all dropped what we were doing to head to the community kitchen at the Experimental Station to make and can 60 jars (well, 59 after I dropped one) of a traditional sweet strawberry jam called "slatko." And by sweet, I mean VERY sweet--1 1/2 kilograms of sugar for every 1 kilogram of strawberries! All of us chopped, cooked, and sealed jars together--interns, registrars, event planners, educators, curators, and even one mother-of-the-curator--it was a real family affair. The slatko we produced will be used for the Greeting Committee, an interactive, site-specific installation by Feast artist Ana Prvacki. Come February, you'll all be able to sample the sweet fruits of our labor. Literally.

Last week Ana explained to us the very personal roots of her installation that brings a new hospitality ritual to the often sterile museum environment:

I grew up with a possibly semi fictional story about multicultural manners and misunderstanding. My Romanian mother married my Serbian father and moved to Yugoslavia in 1975. There was a lot of curiosity about her arrival, family and neighbors were all dying to meet her, a young foreigner from the land of gypsies, vampires and Ceausescu, what could be more fun over coffee! Apparently they knew she was pretty but also possibly a thief, or at least very hungry and wild. And when she finally arrives she is tiny, does not speak a word of Serbian and is understandably confused by her welcoming committee standing expectantly in the doorway. Someone is holding a tray to her. She has not been informed that it contains a jar of jam like substance called "slatko", literally translated as "sweet", and it is indeed sweet, a kind of honey jam with sugar that makes the roof of your mouth vibrate. Next to it is a glass with teaspoons and a few glasses of water, the protocol being to have a spoon (or less) of the jam followed by a glass of water and then enter the household, with sweetness and welcome in ones mouth. My mother, unfamiliar with the custom and eager to make a good impression proceeds to consume the entire jar, one spoon after the other, with mmmmm's trying to sound and look delighted like any good guest should. Half way though the jar her hosts are in awe, amazed, worried, nodding to each other, she really must be hungry, they have it hard in Romania, what good sweet we make...It is unclear what happened next and I wonder if anyone tried to stop her, or if they brought out another jar. I will ask her, but I doubt she remembers clearly in her sweet delirium.

Enjoy the pictures of our adventures in slatko-making. More to follow, including a recipe!
Laura preparing flat bread.jpgIn an ideal world, every class would involve going to your teacher's house for lunch, and, ideally, they would make grilled octopus. Grilled octopus is delicious, but the treat isn't the whole appeal. Our class visit at Laura's served multiple functions. It provided us with a fuller context in which to situate Laura's photography practice, and to think about her use of food in photography to deal with themes of labor and time. It gave us more material for our ongoing discussion of contemporary practice and hospitality. And on a more biographical level, having lunch at Laura's apartment was a lesson in her three-year-old son's penchant for basketball, in her relationship with her cat, and, more generally, in her consideration of the relationships and boundaries between the assemblages she composes for her still lifes, and the things that frame her domestic life.

The conversation at Laura's hinged on details: stories behind chairs or kitchen cabinets or the plates she made, about the decision to pair pistachios with slow-cooked onions on the flatbread she served with the octopus; details about family history and food, and the layered ways in which histories of recipes overlap with histories both of economy and of love. Having previously eaten as a group at Theaster's Dorchester Project, Laura made comparisons between Theaster's and her own approach to bringing people together for meals, and about taking pleasure in providing for people. As Laura's and Theaster's practices exist in different spaces, different milieus, and on different scales, the two also represent different kinds of hosts. At the Dorchester Project too there is a sense of being impressed by the personalities of things--by the bowling alley floor boards and long dining benches, the collections and archives. Their interest has to do with the breadth of resources and contributors essential to the integrity of Theaster's project. By contrast, at Laura's house the overwhelming impression is of the specificity and extent of her own daily aesthetic decisions. Where Theaster's hosting practice seems to be about projections of cultural influence, Laura's is about their internalization. Given the themes of Feast, of the course, and of Laura's practice, many of these moments take place in the kitchen: the ethic articulated by emptying the remains of wine glasses into a growing jar of vinegar on a wooden counter, or the presentation of a large soufflé following a lunch already larger than most of us are used to on a Wednesday.

There is this ideal of eating meals with professors, and of having the opportunity to see where they live, or how they live, because we want to feel that the people we are learning form are also available and receptive to us as people. Witnessing part of Laura's process of negotiating a new form in her practice has been a valuable experience for me. For her project for Feast, Laura has been working out a departure from the specific mode of photography she's been so identified with, looking to reflect on themes such as accessibility and generosity, which have long been present in her work, and to engage them from a different angle. Hosting us for lunch felt like practice.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Behind the scenes category from September 2011.

Behind the scenes: August 2011 is the previous archive.

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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.