On Saturday, May 5, 2012, the Smart Museum of Art hosted a symposium relating to the topic of their current exhibit, “Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art.” This symposium, aptly (if not blandly) named “Symposium: of Hospitality,” consisted of several panels, a performance piece called The Identical Lunch Symphony, performed by Alison Knowles and a group of musicians, and a food truck presentation, which included culinary artists from Enemy Kitchen (Food Truck) and E-Dogz Mobile Culinary Community Center.
All of these discussions partnered beautifully with the exhibition, theIdentical Lunch and Enemy Kitchen both had displays in the show, which brought another interactive element. A majority of the performance pieces documented in the show are also performed at the Smart on a regular basis to encourage an air of community, which inspires the concept of hospitality. According to Amy Mooney, a professor at Columbia College, these performance collaborations are shifting the moods of Chicagoans, “That’s what social change actually is – it’s the duration of a public arts project,” said Mooney in a panel on the Radical Domestic.
Upon arriving at the symposium, visitors were served “Slatko,” a sweet strawberry preserve that is served to guests in Serbia as a traditional gesture of welcome. So one might have “sweet” thoughts and discussions.
According to a student docent at the show, Feast has been one of the most popular shows that the Smart Museum has put on in the last few years. It could be argued that the strong performing elements and the untraditional style of the exhibit is bringing in more patrons. For example, Alison Knowles’ performance of the Identical Lunch Symphony was performed during the May 5th symposium. Knowles, in conjunction with a group of musicians, combined the ingredients required to make her identical lunch in a variety of blenders. Knowles conducted the musicians as she would a symphony in their blending of the lunch, which was then served to the audience.
The performance, which has no clear origin other than a start date of 1969, is also formally portrayed in the show by six silkscreen panels of Knowles’ friends enjoying the lunch and a small covered reproduction of the Identical Lunch: a tuna fish sandwich and a large glass of buttermilk.
The concept behind this piece is that no object, even an identical lunch, is truly the same since the human experience is constantly changing. According to Knowles, the project did not originally occur to her as art, it was simply her routine to attend the same Chelsea diner for lunch. Although soon, one of her friends Philip Corner, a composer, suggested the lunch could be a performance and soon Knowles began documenting the lunch. The opportunity to see the piece performed live, however, added an interactive element to the physical display.
After a few moments of blending, Alison Knowles went around to all the actors and checked her concoctions before saying, “We’re going to have one more round before we serve.” The “soup” was then served to the audience.
The score for the performance states, “The Identical Lunch: a tuna fish sandwich on wheat toast with lettuce and butter, no mayo, and a large glass of buttermilk or a cup of soup was and is eaten many days of each week at the same place and at about the same time.” In order to stay true to the score, the Smart Museum also stocks the lunch materials for purchase so every single museum patron can experience the piece.
Another popular performance piece in Feast is Tom Marioni’s, The Act of Drinking Beer With Friends Is the Highest Form of Art. Marioni invites a crowd of people who bring their guests and they simply enjoy each others company, listening to jazz and Marioni’s stand up routine, while enjoying the relaxed atmosphere and dim yellow lighting.
The performing pieces in the show are interspersed by photography, video, sculpture and mixed media works following a timeline, which reaches back to the 1930s to an analysis of the Manifesto of Futurist Cooking. This timeline, which incorporates one of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ well-known Untitled candy sculptures, ends with a display of Michael Rakowitz’s Enemy Kitchen and Flying Feast a butter sculpture and ink drawing by Sonja Alhäuser, gives a thorough, multicultural analysis of the radical hospitality exhibited by humans and all of the social, and even at times political, ramifications of sharing a meal.
The only work that the curatorial team chose to display at several different locations throughout the show is a series of photographs by Laura Letinsky. Letinsky photographs collaged still lifes of images bothered from housekeeping, fashion and food magazines to create sights of slightly desolate tables, which usually appear to be post-meal. These semi melancholic pieces broke up the show beautifully while leaving the viewer to question on what exactly happens when the hosting and hospitality is over.
Feast turns everyday moments of simple nutrition and socialization into more than art, but a celebration of everyday life. The artists in this show use meals as a synecdochic expression of society. We all have to eat, but Feast invites you to consume artist-organized meals.