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Posted on Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 5:17 a.m.

Gallery Project offers some 'Food for Thought'

By Jennifer Eberbach


Part of James Reynolds' "Last Supper Series" in "Food For Thought."

Gallery Project investigates our relationship with food from every angle in "Food for Thought." 38 artworks of all sorts created by about 30 contributors reveal how food touches every aspect of the human experience—from personal reflections, to cultural critiques, social or political statements, to thoughts on health, and beyond.

Gallery co-director Gloria Pritschet, who co-curated the exhibition with co-director Rocco DePietro and Plymouth artist Kevin Ewing, thinks it is the perfect time to do an exhibition about food. “Food is really up for people right now,” she says.

“The White House addressed food issues and obesity, and people are talking about issues of class and availability of healthy food. Many people have been scared by different food poisonings. I think more people are reading labels and realizing what’s in their food. And the local food movement, which is represented in the show, is gaining strength. It’s a sign that people are waking up to what they are putting in their mouths,” she says.

Some of the artworks draw awareness to where food comes from, how it is farmed, and what goes into it before it hits our plates. Joshua and Sarah Smith, who live on a ranch in Rawlins, Wyoming, raise grass-fed beef. Their hanging sculpture and poem "Poaceae" gives visual form to the old saying, ‘you are what you eat.’ Wire mesh shaped like a slab of beef is filled with grass and hung from a meat hook. The accompanying poem and the artwork draws attention to our place in the food chain and how “we feast on these beings/ which sup on these grasses,” as the poem reads.

Nearby, a series of documentaries of lectures by famous autistic animal behavior pioneer Temple Grandin play. Many have seen actress Claire Dane’s portrayal of Grandin in the recent award-winning biopic. She is famous for designing farm animal handling techniques with the perspective of the livestock in mind.

Local cake artist Heather Anne Leavitt only uses local ingredients to make her Sweet Heather Anne cakes. Her six-level Mile High Cake is a Styrofoam version decorated with real icing. The decorations on the cake diagram where each of the cake’s ingredients came from before reaching her kitchen—all local places like Tantre’ Farm and Sunrise Poultry.

A number of the artworks in "Food for Thought" examine topics like consumer culture and the food choices we make. Artist Sandra Dupret of Haliburton, Ontario charts her own eating habits over her lifetime in a series of felt artworks on 15 small canvases, "A Personal Food Evaluation, 1969-2011: The Early Years, The Middle Years, Recent Years." Over time, she went from eating highly processed foods to more natural food. For example, she ate Cheez Whiz when she was young, cheese-flavored crackers when she was a bit older, and now she eats just plain old cheese.

Artist Andrzej Maciejewski of Yarker, Ontario contributed three still-life photographs of fruits from his "Garden of Eden" series. The pieces play off the way classic still life paintings from art history celebrate the beauty of nature and fertility. However, in Maciejewski’s version, all of the labels are left on the fruit, uglying up the composition and distracting the eye. His artist statement hints at how the work shows how people are “slowly destroying nature.”

A few pieces employ a survey in one way or another. One of the artworks Pritschet contributed to the show, "Where did you eat lately?," polls gallery visitors on where they were when they ate recent meals. People ‘vote’ by putting marbles into different types of cups labeled with phrases like “watching TV,” “in my car,” “at my desk at work,” or at the “dining table,” which are popular choices.

James Reynolds, an artist from London, England, documents what prisoners on death row ate for their last meal in his "Last Supper Series," photographs of orange food trays. Long Beach, Calif. artist Rebecca Sittler weighed meat patties served at independent restaurants in her area for her work "The Weight of Non-Franchise Meat." She documented each with a photograph, paying homage to Robert Cumming’s 1971 artist book "The Weight of Franchise Meat." In her artist statement, she explains that the work documents “an imaginary ‘burger war’ between independent restaurants the exists in the shadows of larger franchised establishments.”

Ann Arbor artist Tom Nighswander's photographs, "Dumpster Diving," document one Saturday night's worth of trashed food in Ann Arbor trash bins. "I try to show the carnage and beauty that can be found in everyday trash," he says in his artist statement.

There are also highly personal accounts of food in the exhibition. Ann Arbor artist Julie Renfro mounted some of her mother’s recipe cards in frames and decorated them with beads and small objects. All together they resemble a patchwork quilt of a personal history.

And Rocco DePietro describes his pastel and pencil drawing "I’m Staying for Dinner" as a scene from a dream he had about being served a soup full of animal parts amongst figures he describes as “zombies.”

Near the back of the gallery, two pieces present disturbing views of meat. Bloomington, Indiana artist Lauren Duffy’s "Reaching, Falling, Crawling" ceramic sculptures depict featherless chickens with huge seemingly genetically-modified chests. They look as if they are almost ready to go to market, save the fact they appear to still be alive, struggling on the floor.

A more disturbing and transgressive look at the topic of food is Thomas McMillen-Oakley’s "White Meat," a photograph showing a nude man from the back, chained up with his different sections marked off with a black marker, as another man gets ready to butcher him like a farm animal.

The exhibition contains many thought-provoking works that ask you to consider your own relationship and feelings about food. More artists in the show include Jason DeMarte of Ypsilanti, Brenda Oelbaum of Ann Arbor, Hilary Dana Williams of Des Moines, Iowa, Erin Garber-Pearson of Toledo, Ohio, Melanie Manos of Ann Arbor, Cayla Skillin-Brauchle of Athens, Ohio, Amy Feigley-Lee of Detroit, Teresa Peterson of Detroit, Jamie Fales of East Islip, New York, Rob Todd of Ypsilanti, Katie Halton of Ann Arbor, Joel Panozzo of Ann Arbor, as well as an installation of photographs, a video, and pamphlets about threatened foods from Slow Food Huron Valley and Slowfood International (care of Kim Bayer, an community contributor who wrote about the exhibition).

In the end, choices about what we eat and how we feel about food and the natural world are highly personal. Instead of telling us what to think, "Food for Thought" asks the viewers to be conscious of their own feelings and opinions. “Each decision is right for each different person depending on your own value system and your own context. The exhibition represents a lot of different people’s contexts,” Pritschet explains.

"Food For Thought" is on display through Dec. 11 at Gallery Project, 215 S. Fourth Ave.