art


red treeplaceblog’s most recent post about maps talks about how artists are drawing on mapping conventions to question territory and re-imagine place.

In the daily life of cities, people are always on the move and always heading somewhere in the random harriedness of the streets; passengers anxiously straining to catch sight of their bus heading towards them. Looking into these works, there is the lure of other kinds of movement – of journeying elsewhere – while simultaneously straining to know our place. In tracing their pathways, we might end up in the middle of nowhere, though not before exploring that unquenchable longing to be if not somewhere then somewhere else.

I’ve said it before, mapping is so hot right now, and it seems that the link between urban living and mapping is particularly strong.

Last post, I talked about the work of fallen fruit and a project that I love, public fruit maps.  I also wrote that I would be looking at some Australian sites and projects that use food to build community. While it seems that Melbourne plays host to a particularly vibrant food-community-activism scheme, I couldn’t find much in the smaller cities at all, and sadly, there also aren’t many that involve art activism. I’m not sure what that says about our artistic community.

Certainly here in Hobart I haven’t heard of a formal food mapping project, but local knowledge about food-sharing is around. So far, by talking to locals, we’ve discovered the location of trees laden with apples in autumn, and fresh hops for beer-making.

So here are some Aussie examples from the web:

The VEIL Food Map is an online, urban food production map of Melbourne. Examples of urban food production include: community gardens, commercial production and market gardens, shared private gardens, and food produced on public space.

The Sharehood is all about sharing resources within your neighbourhood and helps you to meet and make friends with people in your local area. All sorts of things can be shared, such as sewing machines, vegetables, wheelbarrows, tools, cars, books and computers. Skills can be shared too: gardening help, bike fixing, accountancy, language skills, childminding, how to make wine or dance the tango.

Live Local is a place to share stories about improving our communities. Use the website to document your neighbourhood experiments – your stories about your experiences and adventures meeting neighbours, discovering neighbourhoods, improving your local economy, saving energy and making our air and water cleaner.

And of course, there is the vibrant Transition Towns movement, which has reached most regions of Australia. If you know of a local example of food-art-activism-community-building, drop me a line.

Last post I talked about the community collaboration potential in underground supper clubs. I think they are one expression of a growing movement that uses food to build community.

Well, it looks like there are actually a few supper clubs in Melbourne and Sydney. A recent article in the Australian, while rather trite, talks about how

Young food-lovers with “restaurant fatigue” are turning to word-of-mouth recommendations – on food blogs, or elsewhere on the internet, usually – to join these secret assignations. We’re talking inner-city folk in their 20s and 30s who are looking to socialise with like-minded people. As one underground diner says, “The food is usually pretty good at these things, but it’s more about community and sharing – sitting next to a stranger and becoming friends over a meal, like it used to be.” I ask if he fears getting stuck next to a loud-mouthed bigot for four hours. “Sure, you’ll have your annoying guest, but most people are cool. They’re interesting and they’ve lived a bit, because the people who seek out these dinners aren’t people who reckon a $10 parmigiana is a top meal – it’s hard [to find them] on purpose.”

Meanwhile, another phenomenon I am observing is in the art scene: the rise of art activism and community driven art projects that involve food. They are hot right now.

In Somerville in Massachussets, a spaghetti dinner and theatre event in May:

Performers included the following artists, thinkers, and doers :

  • Milan Kohout is a member of the Mobius artists’ group. He is a political street performer as well as a visual artist. Originally from the Czech Republic, he now teaches Tufts University and performs in the Boston area.
  • John Bell is a co-founder of the HONK! Festival in Davis Square as well as the NYC-based theater company Great Small Works–as well as a co-organizer of these dinners! He will be taking a historical perspective on the theme, looking at how our relationship to public space and performance in that space has changed over time.
  • kanarinka, a.k.a. Catherine D’Ignazio, an artist and educator, will discuss her project It takes 154,000 breaths to evacuate Boston, and examine the role that fear can play in public space, especially in the form of public transport awareness campaigns, terror simulations in public space, and so on.

18 reasons engages the community through food and art. They offer an ongoing programs of wine tastings, art shows, community dinners, food classes and interactive workshops.

In Toronto, Hart House Social Justice Committee, Art Committee and Farm Committee explored the connection through a panel discussion, “From Field to Art: Discussing the Link Between Food, Art and Social Justice.”

Finally, the fallen fruit project, created as part of an artistic collaboration by David Burns, Matias Viegener and Austin Young is

Using fruit as our lens, Fallen Fruit investigates urban space, ideas of neighborhood and new forms of located citizenship and community. From protests to proposals for new urban green spaces, we aim to reconfigure the relation between those who have resources and those who do not, to examine the nature of & in the city, and to investigate new, shared forms of land use and property. Fallen Fruit is an art collaboration that began with creating maps of public fruit: the fruit trees growing on or over public property in Los Angeles.

Over time they have expanded. Projects now include:

  • Public Fruit Jams in which we invite the citizens to bring homegrown or public fruit and join in communal jam-making;
  • Nocturnal Fruit Forages, nighttime neighborhood fruit tours;
  • Community Fruit Tree Plantings on the margins of private property and in community gardens;
  • Public Fruit Park proposals in Hollywood, Los Feliz and downtown LA; and
  • Neighborhood Infusions, taking the fruit found on one street and infusing it in alcohol to capture the spirit of the place.

Here’s a good overview of the community garden scene from the Guardian:

Artists are engaging with issues around the environment and society. Suddenly, there is an abundance of projects that seem to be affecting the way America’s cities think about themselves…”What artists do is seed things. They plant ideas,” says Michaela Crimmin, head of the RSA Arts and Ecology Centre. Which maybe explains why these cheap, relatively small-scale projects like Franceschini’s can have such an influence.

Next post I’ll talk about local projects and organisations.

Collaborative cooking ventures known as underground or secret supper clubs are a fairly  recent phenomenon. I am not sure if there are any in Australia.

You book online, and are sent a confirmation email with address. You dine with maybe six to twenty guests and, at the end, pay a contribution for your food and wine.

The meal is served in a private establishment, probably someone’s house, but what you eat is restaurant quality.

While I am sure the food and the experience for the guests is outstanding, it seem to me that the experience for the chefs is what prompted the movement in the first place.

From this article in the Atlantic:

But it’s my time in the kitchen that had stuck with me. I can’t imagine living with three roommates, let alone operating a business together to boot. And yet on Saturday I saw none of the shouting and contretemps that propel reality cooking shows and bedevil professional kitchens. Bonhomie may be amateurism’s greatest virtue.

The writer is excited by the casual and playful atmosphere that this form of collaborative cooking creates. Another article in the NY Times says:

They are not in it for the money or for Buddha Bar-size crowds; instead, they say, they are in it for the community and the creative freedom. It’s hard to imagine even the most adventurous legitimate restaurant encouraging customers to hack the hindquarters off a boar’s carcass. And underground restaurants have found their niche. Stringing together the farm-to-table movement and a bloggy kind of interactivity, they have gained a following among food lovers, mostly in their 20s and 30s, who have an opinion on local versus organic, prefer intimate and casual to grand and ceremonial, and are open to meeting people and building connections in new ways.

Wouldn’t this be most people’s preferred environment for creativity? Pat Kane, author of The Play Ethic, talks about work as play. He asks:

What would organisations be like which encouraged creativity, open-ended learning and experiment – the essence of play – as preferred characteristics for their employees or colleagues? What kinds of products, services and actions would these “players” generate?

Since reading his book a few years ago, I’ve been on the lookout for organisations who have the values of play as a foundation of their operation.

Underground supper clubs seem to be one example of this. People are interested in working in playful collaborative environments. If they can’t play in their workplaces, then they create their own spaces, in their own time, out of virtually nothing, for some serious after-hours fun.