May 25, 2012 § Leave a comment
Clowning: It’s Serious Stuff. Seriously.
Comedy has been around for a very long time: the Ancient Greeks roared with laughter at the masked characters of Aristophanes and Menander, Plautus and Terrence had the Romans rolling in the aisles at their stock characters, court-jesters and fools brought levity to medieval courts, Commedia dell’arte troups entertained the street crowds and royals of the Renaissance.
These characters and clowns were able to mock society, politics, famous people and rulers all under the guise of comedy. If a political commentary was made during a comedy, what would otherwise be treasonous if said by anyone else, became acceptable. And it served a crucial role in the social order.
For thousands of years, it was understood that these characters and clown figures could offer up a mirror to society and through comic lightness and pathos, had access to truths that were otherwise taboo.
Fast forward a few (hundred) years and one person changed that image, that understanding: Bozo. That’s right. The children’s storybook clown. What was once an honoured art form turned into an industry of children’s birthday-party entertainments. (Let’s face it, making kids laugh is a fantastic calling; anyone that can make a child laugh has done a great and wondrous thing… And yet…)
So began a rift in the clown realm: clowns that entertain at birthday parties (think Bozo), and those that pursue its historic traditions (think “Cirque du Soleil”). For the first time in history there was a divide between artistic and inartistic clowns.
This past week, the Haliburton School of The Arts was able to catch up with one of the “traditional-style” artistic clowns and ask her a few questions about her incredible – and much misunderstood – art form.
Haliburton School of The Arts – First and foremost… These days there aren’t a lot of people that grow up with the intention of being a clown (some are clowns, but I think that’s mostly a lack of maturity). When did you realize that this was what you wanted to be? Did it creep into your life? Was it more of a “Eureka!” moment?
Helen Donnelly – I have to say it was more of a creeping in; at first I resisted the artistic life. I wanted the steady teaching job, teaching art and drama. Then I tried my hand at acting and soon was seeking a more physical form of theatre and something with consistency. The gig-to-gig rhythm in the theatre world did not suit me; I wanted to dive into a discipline and devote myself to it entirely. I just never thought it would be theatrical clown!
HSTA – Many artists often are not supported (I don’t mean financially, but morally) when they finally break the news to family and friends that they will not become a lawyer or accountant or doctor… Were the people around you receptive to the idea at first? If not, have they come around since then?
HD – I can only remember my mom’s worried face when I announced I was dropping the idea of going to teacher’s college. I come from a long line of teaching, so I could empathize with her struggle! I’m fortunate that teaching found me eventually and I enjoy the 5 workshops I offer
each year, most of them in Toronto. It makes for an amazing break from the performance rhythm. Now, 20 years later, mom remains supportive and is placated by the steady work that comes my way. But I love to tease her by reminding her friends her daughter is ‘just a clown!’
HSTA – A lot of people associate clowns with funny-coloured wigs and balloon animals. How does your clowning differ from that?
HD – Yes, yes. Short answer is mine is the theatrical form of clown whereby the kind of clown you are alluding to stems from the American Circus clown and then to Bozo and then finally to the current ‘birthday party’ clown. Before Bozo, our art form was laudable, theatrical, and would never be seen on tv or in the privacy of people’s living rooms. Bozo (based on a book by the way) changed all of that. I like to refer to him as a ‘virus’, which spread throughout North America in the 50s and 60s till it reached places like Europe and South America. Now, sadly, it’s all a big mess. It’s a horrible time in history to be a theatrical clown.
HSTA – With the creation and subsequent success of Cirque du Soleil in recent years, have you noticed a marked difference in “clowning”. All puns aside, are people starting to take it more seriously?
HD – Well, not really. The ‘virus’ has a stranglehold on most North Americans. When I toured as a clown with Cirque du Soleil for almost 2 years, some people would come up to me after the show and ask me if I could come perform at their kid’s party…or they would walk right by, like we’re a dime a dozen. The public’s taste for clown has been sullied and I don’t know if we will ever recover. (I’m a laugh a minute, aren’t I?!) But I do feel that at the very least with companies like Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Eloise, Circus Orange, Theatre Columbus and Theatre Smith/Gilmour…at least there is a new reference out there for clown. It may make a difference in the long run.
HSTA – What is your favourite aspect of clowning? Is it the interactions with people? Helping people laugh? Taking on different personas? Something else entirely?
HD – It’s all of those, but most of all, I am most ‘me’ when I’m clowning. I don’t feel fully alive till I’m ‘in nose’, as strange as that may sound. I can’t explain it any other way and I feel so lucky and strangely cursed at the same time!
HSTA – How did you create your different clown personalities (all 5!)? Are they based on people you’ve encountered or were you inspired by any works of literature? Do any of them contain pieces of you?
HD – One is a hybrid (character/clown—‘Daisy’) who speaks English and is an autograph hound. She has some aspects of me but mostly I created her for Cirque when I first toured with them. The rest–Foo, Miss Posey, Mildred and Dr Flap(my healthcare persona)—are 100% rooted in me. My training is rooted in authenticity; I AM the material. The idea is to be honest with your audience; what is more honest than to be yourself, but show and reveal MORE of yourself? I like to say clowning is you…times 10! It’s life…times 10!
HSTA – How is clowning different than acting, for example? In both, you are required to take on different characters and both are certainly performance art. But does clowning bring any new challenges with it? Is there anything that’s easier? (ie no lines to memorize?)
HD – With clown there is no 4th wall, meaning we see and interact with our audience directly. We do not pretend they are not there. Also, even if there is a script (for example my one-woman clown gibberish musical goes up June 1 and 2nd; there is a script), the clown can ‘leave’ the script for a moment in order to ‘deal’ with an audience member. My favourite moments are latecomers to the show. I love giving them a particularly hard time! It’s funny, and honest and a great release for all. Bonus is, those people will never be late again! The other major difference is actors ‘play’ a character, clowns are ‘playing’ themselves. It’s the art of gently mocking and celebrating who you are, and not being precious and guarded. It takes a very brave, secure person to train in clown in my opinion.
HSTA – Did you grow up in a household where laughter was important? Has it always been something that comes naturally to you?
HD – Yeah, I did. We were constantly looking for ways to make each other laugh. I was the stereotypical ‘middle child’, vying for attention constantly. Humour developed very early. Growing up in a rural setting also ensured an insanely evolved fantasy life. And as a family we’d listen to old Hancock records or watch Laurel and Hardy or Lucille Ball on TV and Danny Kaye movies….I was very very lucky to be exposed to such great clown geniuses from such a young age!
HSTA – Dr. Patch Adams gained widespread renown for the ’98 movie of the same title for his experimental “laughter-is-the-best-medicine” style of practice. Since 2004, you have been working as a therapeutic clown; first at SickKids Hospital and currently at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. Do you think he’s on to something? Have you noticed any marked improvements in patients over the years that have experienced the healing power of laughter? Are there any cases that stand out for you personally?
HD – I like to separate my practice from that of Patch Adams for one very important reason: he is a medical doctor who donned the nose as a tool to relate to his clients better, whereas therapeutic clown artists use the art of clown as trained actors/artistic clowns as a tool to serve clients in healthcare. That said, there is a lot to be said for people who are fortunate enough to work as a clown in healthcare. I have a plethora of stories I could tell you about what I’ve witnessed or heard from other staff members who witness the work we do. Because we are Canada’s largest rehabilitation hospital for children, we often work in tandem with staff (nurses, OTs, PTs, Child Life Specialists) to help achieve team goals as well as working in duo with clients—to play for play’s sake. It would be impossible to pick just one story…the benefits are most often immediate and obvious.
But one unique thing I’m very proud of is our involvement with research in 2010. The challenge: Hospitalized children with profound disabilities can’t show or tell us if they’re benefiting from interaction with therapeutic clowns. The solution: A Bloorview team designs the first study to measure the long-term physiological effect of therapeutic clowns. Scientists measured physiological arousal, emotion and behaviour in eight inpatients. The results were so exciting! Every child showed unique patterns of skin temperature, sweat level and heart and breathing rates during clown visits that are not seen while watching television. Behavioural and emotional data suggest the children’s physiological responses to the clowns are positive. We were interviewed by CTV and since then I’ve shared our findings globally. They are published in a medical journal. That was a thrill!
HSTA – Do you have any advice for aspiring clowns? Is there anything people should be aware of before they decide to start clowning?
Those who look to clowning as a second career should know it will be a long road, and longer if there is very little artistic background and training. The art of clown, no matter where you apply it (healthcare, on stage, in the circus) involves ‘hard skills’…there is a strange assumption out there that if you have a good heart and love children you can pull it off with very little training (I think this is not their fault…again, I blame Bozo!). People like that are a little naïve and those who do it anyway with no training are a little scary. There is too much that can go wrong. So, advice for those who want to do it professionally? Proceed with caution and get great advice from those who know.
HSTA – You have a workshop coming up at the Haliburton School of The Arts this July 23rd – July 27th. What sort of things can people expect to take away with them from this workshop?
HD – It’s the kind of workshop that is very unique; it’s a mix of playful exercises, solo and group work, intro to stage. Students will be going on this personal journey of discovering who their clown is and at the same time sharing this journey with others in the class. So very private and very public at the same time. People take this workshop for many reasons, but sometimes the best reason is not knowing why they are taking it! I have been lucky in the students I’ve been honoured to teach over the last 8 years at Haliburton. They have been extremely generous and supportive of each other which, at its heart, is what clown is all about.♦
For more information about Helen Donnelly, or to contact her, please visit her website at www.helendonnelly.com
To learn more about this course, or to register, please contact the Haliburton School of The Arts at www.hsta.ca or 1-866-353-6464 x3
May 9, 2012 § Leave a comment
Growing up, art has always been an integral part of Matthew’s life – that and dreams of one day playing professional baseball. During his early teens Matthew spent his summers on house league and competitive teams, but as it started to get more serious, the fun seemed to slip away. The fun from drawing all his favorite comic book characters, however, never did. Although making millions of dollars batting a ball around was attractive, playing with pencils and paints seemed to take precedence.
Was it the right choice? Probably.
After attending an arts high school Matthew Mancini went on to study in the fine arts program at the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto. However, after his first trip to Italy, it became clear that traditional figurative and landscape work was something he wanted to explore. OCAD leaned more towards the conceptual and abstract aspect of art which did not appeal to him.
Upon his return, he left OCAD after completing two years to pursue a more classical realist approach that led him on a six-year study at a private atelier in Toronto of the techniques used in the 19th Century ateliers of Paris, France; those of which are based on trade secrets handed down since the Renaissance. Much of his work seeks to return to the archival craftsmanship of the old masters, as well as the humanist principles found throughout past movements of art. Most influential to his work are the paintings of John Singer Sargent, Joachim Sorolla, Zorn, Ilya Repin, Kramskoi, Rembrandt, Monet, and Annigoni to name a few, where the techniques of each combine to find their way into his own paintings.
Having a foremost interest in portraiture, landscape painting has become increasingly of interest. With Matthew’s spouse getting work in Minden, Ontario, in 2011, the move has given him ample opportunity and inspiration that Toronto can’t offer in the same way. The Canadian landscape is some of the best in the world and with formal portrait paintings taking anywhere from 1 to 3 months, the immediacy of landscape painting is quite satisfying. Becoming part of the Fleming College community in the fall of 2011 has been a great experience for Mancini as well, teaching workshop courses, and soon to be joining the talented roster of the Visual Arts Fundamentals: Drawing and Painting instructors.
This summer he will be attending ‘Art in Action’ in London, England: an annual event in which artists set up their studio and work while onlookers interact with them. Artists travel from across the UK and, in celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee, from commonwealth countries, as well. This event attracts more than 25,000 visitors over four days, and Matthew will have the honor of representing Canada.
Matthew’s days are spent learning, painting and teaching, as well as preparing works for upcoming events.
He can be reached via his website at http://www.matthewmanciniart.com/
Matt will be teaching summer art courses at HSTA, as well as courses at the Peterborough campus in the fall:
Painting – Design & Composition, July 9-13
Figure in the Landscape, Aug 13-17
Portraiture Workshop, Oct 27th, 9am – 5pm, Peterborough Campus
For more information on the courses including course descriptions, please go to http://flemingcollege.ca/school/haliburton-school-of-the-arts#course-calendar
April 26, 2012 § 5 Comments
A deep and gentle voice recounts to me this incredible story. Its soothing rhythm and pitch have no doubt stood this inspiring man in good stead as he helped people through various periods in their lives, good and bad, performing his ministerial duties.
It is not his unfailing lifelong dedication to helping others, though, that will be the subject of this article. Instead, this article will touch upon the incredibly lucky turn of events that united this outstanding sculptor with his passion for soapstone carving, and helped to shape one of the most down-to-earth artists I’ve ever met…
Born and raised in London, England, it was no secret that Kim Warne would never grow up to be an artist. His art teachers never ceased to tell him that he lacked ability. Warne recalls one assignment in particular that he was required to paint: “Nelson’s Fleet”, showing the great tall-masted ships of Nelson himself. Perhaps he was ahead of his time, perhaps he was simply unappreciated for his ability to think outside-the-box, but needless to say, Kim’s rendition was not well received. He’d painted a grey smudgy background with a few vertical sticks poking through it with the familiar red, white, and blue of the British Ensign proudly snapping in the wind. The piece was titled “Nelson’s Fleet in a Fog”. Anyone who’s ever been to London on a foggy day would likely understand the accuracy of Warne’s depiction. Sadly, it did not win him any favours with his instructor.
As a young adolescent, he and his family braved the war years in London. Even today, he is still able to recall the horrors of the bombings that rocked his city to its foundations. At age fourteen, shortly after the war, he and his family moved away from London, across the ocean to a country kept safe only by its inaccessibility: Canada.
Due to his sporadic education during the war, Kim had a nearly insurmountable challenge before him: catch up to his peers in school. While he excelled in English and the Humanities, his poor showing in mathematics and science were a chore to get through. Most notably, though, was perhaps his art education: after only a mere three weeks of classes, Warne’s father received a call from the art teacher – a call that would not only change the course of Kim’s life, but also destroyed any chance of the budding artist inside reaching its potential.
In short, the art teacher explained that Kim had no skill in drawing. Unless he dropped the course, the young Warne would stand no shot of gaining entrance to university down the road. The course was dropped, another Humanities was picked up, and Kim’s skill in art was all but forgotten.
The next fifty years consisted only of art appreciation. Not even his children’s school projects could coax the crushed artistic spirit of Kim Warne from the deep, dark, place of rejection from his high school days.
It wasn’t until, approaching retirement, his artistic wife Wilma forced him to find a hobby that he began searching for his niche.
He already knew that drawing and painting were not for him. A lackluster experience in stained glass convinced him that melted sand and hot lead were also not in his future. By pure happy coincidence, a friend of his invited Kim over to try his hand at stone carving. Armed with some spare tools and a piece of stone, Warne set-to with a will…
“There’s excitement that comes of creating something out of a boulder – the boulder looks ugly – but there’s something beautiful inside it,” he explains.
One of his mentors, a renown Inuit sculptor, would encourage him and urge him to perfect his technique and figures. Looking at Warne’s pieces, he would turn them over in his hand and would make suggestions, inspiring Kim to seek out areas for improvement. At one point, his mentor was looking at a piece, turning it about. Warne was sure he was going to spot some flaw that he’d overlooked. Instead, his mentor spoke the five greatest words for any artist to hear, “That is a piece of art.”
His initial subjects were the loons and bears of the Canadian Wilderness. His style is recognizable as minimalist, but by no means lifeless; in his eyes, the animals should appear as if they could just get up and walk away at any moment, despite their sleek finish . Warne has since branched out into inuksuit, whales and dolphins, and even frogs. The penguins happened along after an inspirational visit to the Falklands Kim and wife, Wilma, took a few years ago; they waddled into his collection this past winter. He has also begun creating a unique line of “Comfort” statues: a mother cradling a child, but with the child offering comfort to the mother as well.
In 2004, Warne’s work was selected to be given to 26 delegates of a week-long international NATO conference. Close upon the heels of this incredible honour, Kim was nominated to the International Guild of Master Craftsmen in 2006. It was a juried selection that took place in London, England, and was hosted by a customer already possessing eight or nine of Warne’s pieces. More recently, Canadian soldiers who travelled to Holland to celebrate the liberation of the Dutch nation after the Second World War took various pieces as thank you gifts for their host families.
Over the course of the last decade and a half, Warne’s work has been shown across the country and has been displayed in various galleries. His award-winning sculptures are spread out across the globe in Germany, Australia, Holland, Norway, England… Every year, they travel slightly farther afield and find some new remote corner of the globe to reside in.
There is no denying how humble he is about his work either. “It’s a real pleasure to have people want to have your work in their home,” he confides. No customer is taken for granted.
While he may have slowed down slightly in the last couple of years, he is still very much enjoying every moment of carving. The idyllic setting of his studio, overlooking Minnicock Lake, certainly inspires.
For more information about Kim Warne’s work and his studio Soundings: Discoveries in Stone & Fabric (in partnership with Wilma), please go to www.soapstonecarvings.com
March 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
PROCESS 29: Meet the Artists! Reception from 7-9pm, Thurs March 22 at the Rail’s End Gallery, Haliburton ON. The show is ongoing to March 31, 2012.
“Chaotic” was the one word student Don Fitzgerald used to describe it. An assault on the senses, an explosion of art: it is the exhibition of our Visual and Creative Arts students’ Conceptual Development project.
Aptly named, Process 29 is about the process, from start to finish, of creating a body of work fit for a gallery. Students experiment with mediums, with techniques, forms, ideas; they’re told to let go and work their concepts rather than simply creating one masterwork of art: exploration and discovery are the name of the game. What matters is not the art at the end, but how the students arrived at it. In many cases, their works are in progress, ideas they are fleshing out and trying on like new sets of clothes: right colour/wrong size, right size/wrong shape, right shape/wrong material…. Let’s face it, just because we’ve tried it on, doesn’t mean we walk away from the store with it and that is exactly what Process 29 is about. Can the students develop an idea, play around with it, try new things and explore? When something doesn’t feel right do they keep at it, hoping it will grow on them in time? Or throw the idea back on the rack with the discards? It’s all part of the process…
Elinor Whidden, the instructor and herself a sculptor/performance artist, stresses that there is no handholding through this entire course: these students have brought the entire show together. Various committees of students have taken responsibility for several different aspects of the show; from marketing and promotion, to reception planning, installing, de-installing… This group of wildly creative individuals has come together as a team to ensure that despite their differences in personality, taste, technique and style, their art is represented cohesively as one unit.
“It’s very exciting,” Whidden explains, “since for most of these students it’s the first time they’ve ever displayed work in a gallery. But it makes them vulnerable as well; displaying work leaves them open to criticism.” She stresses though, how important feedback can be to an artist. “They need to know if their visuals translate to the viewer with the intentioned message.”
After all, typically with visual art, there aren’t any written words to explain what’s going on; the largest part of the communication relies on the artist’s ability to convey meaning with an image or sculpture. “That the show is about process and not about the art is really interesting,” says VCAD student, Emily Gur. “It reveals more about everyone themselves and their interests…”
Students are asked to go on a voyage of discovery with their art. They all take different paths on this journey, but the end result is what is crucial: there is no official “end”. The works that are on display are not necessarily even completed. Ideally, the “VCADers” are simply investigating (and enjoying) the search for a “happy accident”.
“It’s really helped me. I never would’ve thought of using any of these materials before,” shares Justine Beauregard. “From the beginning of the year, you can actually see how much everyone has grown in their own artwork.”
And so – without calling in the art critics – that the students themselves can acknowledge how far they’ve come in such a short period of time, tells us their first show? It’s already a success.±
This show is a collection of work from Lauren Ogilvie, Luke Smit, Matthew W. Pearce, Mitchell Doris, Emma May Ross, Andy Anderson, Caitlyn Bloch, Aaron Jones, Megan Marie Morritt, Jessica Brabant, Magic Karpet, Rob Stock, Giuseppi Zuliani, Andrew Hamlen, Michelle Tarkington, Tsiokeriio Brant, Emily Gurr, Meghan Gale, Justine Beauregard, Colin M. Smyth, Cree Tylee, Mandy Ryan, Meghan Didier, Donald S. Fitzgerald, Trent Denne, Elise Elena Verikaitis, Jessica Beaulieu, Nicole Bruce and Jamie Smerdon
For more information about any of the programs at HSTA, please call us at 1-866-353-6464 x3 or visit us online at www.hsta.ca
January 28, 2012 § Leave a comment
Fleming College – Haliburton School of the Arts has so many great and talented individuals walk through these halls that we decided it was time to showcase them.
Starting now, once a week, we will feature our “Artist of the Week”: a real, living breathing artist that, at one time, attended one or more of our programs. Quite often, the artist will have their own website so be sure to follow the links!
If you are a former student (or know one!) and would like to be featured on our blog, let us know! We’d love to hear from you!
November 18, 2011 § Leave a comment
Dean of the Haliburton School of the Arts, Sandra Dupret, and Photo Arts Faculty, Andrzej Maciejewski, both participated in a new food-themed exhibition for the Gallery Project in Ann Arbor. The following is a review of the Show by Jennifer Eberach for annarbor.com.
Gallery Project offers some ‘Food for Thought’
Tue, Nov 15, 2011
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 annarbor.com 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, Ann Arbor, USA.