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FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Weatherspoon exhibit explores the politics of what we eat

 | whitney@yesweekly.com

Anew exhibit at UNCG’s Weatherspoon Art Museum asks visitors to think about their relationship with food. Pieces in the exhibit offer a contemporary twist on traditional still life art that convey the politics behind what we eat.

“Food has been elevated to this same level of connoisseurship of fine wine, or even fine art,” said Curator of Exhibitions Xandra Eden. In Food for Thought Eden wanted to create an interesting and lighthearted exhibit to go with the museum’s annual Summer Solstice Party on June 21.

In the collection, even the most mundane junk food items are given special consideration. Massive paintings of donuts by Emily Eveleth, an artist out of Boston who has been painting the pastry for nearly 20 years, force the viewer to become fully absorbed in the construction of the food. The luminescent curves of the donut are sensual and evocative of the female body while jelly gushes out as though from a violent wound. At this vantage point the hyper realistic donut becomes something overly indulgent to the point of disgust.

In a cleverly staged photograph imitating a famous still life painting by Juan Sanchez Cotan, Quice, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber, artist Ori Gersht from Tel Aviv replaces the quince with an exploding pomegranate. In Hebrew, pomegranate means grenade, so that the photograph becomes a comment on violence in the Middle East.

An interactive component of the exhibit came from Los Angeles art collective Fallen Fruit. On May 20 Fallen Fruit held a lemonade stand that accepted an unusual form of payment. “Anyone who wanted a glass of lemonade were asked to draw their portrait on a lemon,” said Eden. Over 90 people between the ages of seven and 94 participated. The original lemons were displayed in front of a wall with framed photographs of about two-dozen portraits of citrus.

Fallen Fruit also created a cocktail especially for Greensboro to be served at the Summer Solstice Party using mulberries. Mulberries are plentiful in the Triad, yet rarely consumed. Fallen Fruit made and bottled mulberry moonshine using berries from Lake Daniel Park to draw attention to this overlooked fruit.

The highlight of the exhibition is a short film by Montreal native Denis Villeneuve titled “Next Floor.” The film is composed of the contrasting soft light and dark shadows that echo traditional still life paintings and opens on the scene of a strange dinner party. Opulently dressed people are seated at a table covered in plates of meats that are clearly sumptuous while grotesque. The diners frantically gorge themselves in a dark and empty warehouse with only the soft orb of a chandelier above them and a precise staff of at least 10 footmen refilling the plates as a small group of string musicians add to the macabre atmosphere.

Suddenly the floorboards beneath the table collapse and the dinners fall through. Without flinching, the maître d’ speaks the only line of dialogue in the film, “Next floor!” The obedient staff silently collect their instruments and begin carting food trays down the stairwell with glazed meats including rhinoceros and lion heads. The wealthy guests are covered in dust, but fine. After a pause the ritualistic, frenzied eating resumes. It’s not long before the table crashes through once again and the process repeats itself.

Finally, the floor caves in and the diners continue to descend, endlessly breaking through floor after floor with the moonlike chandelier gently trailing behind them like a light swimming through the dark ocean. The staff only stares through the gaping hole in the floor with composed curiosity as the echo of screams is punctuated by the rhythmic shattering of floor after floor.

The most obvious interpretation of the film would be that it cautions and criticizes excessive behaviors of a select group of privileged people, but the film is so beautifully eerie and intriguing that viewers can be satisfied even if some elements of the narrative are left a mystery.

The 12-minute film has won over 50 awards, including a Grand Prix for short films at Cannes. Along with the other pieces in the exhibit, it will either cause the viewer to lose their appetite or leave them hungry for more. Either way, Weatherspoon has given visitors plenty of food for thought. !

WANNA go?

“Food for Thought” runs June 21 through August 24 at Weatherspoon Art Museum located at the corner of Spring Garden and Tate Streets on UNCG’s campus in Greensboro. Visit weatherspoon.uncg.edu or more information.

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