Bruised Food: a living laboratory 2019
Staged as a living laboratory, Bruised Food was a socially engaged artwork using methods of curation and public pedagogy to frame the discourse of the politics and aesthetics of food as employed by contemporary social practice artists. In adopting a curatorial and pedagogical mode informed by an ethics of care and responsibility, this living laboratory attended to the bruised ecologies of food and art by foregrounding the risks, uncertainty and frictions inherent in the potential encounters and exchanges between diverse participants. Through an experimental and iterative approach to testing, creating, engaging with, and displaying artistic ephemera and documentation, Bruised Food presented a series of process-focused projects from trans-local artists (Asia/Australia) who activated their research and audiences through performances, installations, workshops and critical dialogues around the precarious ecologies of food and art in a globalising world.
Bruised Food: a living laboratory was co-curated by Marnie Badham and Francis Maravillas (Taipei) and featured artists Arahmaiani (Yogyakarta), Keg de Souza with Lucien Alperstein (Sydney/Adelaide), D’Costa, Elia Nurvista (Yogyakarta/Berlin) and Stephen Loo (Sydney). The lab was part of the exhibition, Bruised Art, Action and Ecology in Asia at RMIT Gallery curated by Helen Rayment and Thao Nuygen as part of the ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE 2019 socially-engaged festival of exhibitions, theatre works, keynote lectures, events and artist talks considering climate change impacts and the challenges and opportunities arising from climate change.
In an interview in Le Monde, Jacques Derrida evocatively suggests that hospitality is ultimately “an art and a poetics”, even if “a whole politics depends on it and a whole ethics is determined through it”. Significantly, the question of hospitality as an artful way of relating to others, of poetically welcoming an unexpected guest, is both a condition and an effect of the question of eating and the sharing of food. Indeed, Derrida undertakes to recast the theatre of hospitality by dwelling on the question of ‘eating well’ (bien manger) as communion, sharing and commensality—for “one never eats entirely on one’s own”. To eat well is to consider the complex and precarious ecology of food as shaped by its encounter with people, cultures, environments, technologies and economies. Artists and curators working with food as a medium evoke this ‘bruised’ ecology, foregrounding the ways in which the processes of alimentation, gustation and digestion appear as ethical frontiers, as sites for the negotiation of our relation to diverse others in the world through our relations with food.
Staged as a living laboratory, Bruised Food employed methods of curation and public pedagogy to frame the discourse of the politics and aesthetics of food as employed by contemporary social practice artists. It took as its entry point the idea of the bruise to explore the conjuncture of food and art, their precarious ecologies, and affective economies of social exchange. Defined by its outline, like an imprint of a glass of red wine left on a table in an unbridled act of libation, a bruise is indexical, corporeal, and destined to fade. With its plum hues and mottled surface, a bruise marks the threshold of interior and exterior, and the fragile and ephemeral relations between people, objects and their environments. A bruise is also evidentiary and mnemonic, registering trajectories of contact and encounter with varying degrees of affective intensity and ephemerality. Indeed, the appearance of a bruise may be viewed as symptomatic of what Anna Tsing refers to as ‘friction’ – the “awkward, unequal, unstable, and creative qualities of interconnection across difference”, that arises as a result of diverse movements and interactions in our contemporary world.
In adopting a mode of curating informed by an ethics of care, generosity and responsibility, Bruised Food sought to engender forms of engagement and participation that pushed beyond conventional notions of relationality and convivial exchange. In particular, this project attended to the bruised ecologies of food and art by foregrounding the risks, uncertainty and frictions inherent in the encounters and exchanges between diversely situated subjects. In this regard, the jagged edges of the shards of dinner plates produced from Arahmaiani’s public performance not only shattered surfaces of language and identity, they also registered the potential failures of dialogue and interaction. These ethical and political stakes of food and eating were evident in the artist-orchestrated meals curated in this exhibition and the various ways they provoked moments of discomfort and anxiety as much as intimacy and sociality as the participants engaged in commensal exchange. This was evident in Stephen Loo’s probing of the neuropsychological condition of ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response), through his performative acoustic banquet whereby the sounds of mastication were amplified in the space of the gallery in ways that recast the spaces of buccality and aurality as both an alimentary and ethical frontier.
While Loo considered the material, spatial, cultural relations between speaking, hearing and eating, other artists in the laboratory deployed key ingredients (salt, rice, spice) as vectors, which opened onto the jagged terrain of identity, culture and economy in an increasingly mobile and ecologically precarious world. Keg de Souza and Lucien Alperstein’s performative lunch engaged us to think about our relationship to salt through the history and future of food production and consumption, by adapting our diets to suit the changing environment around us. Elia Nurvista’s artwork examined the complex entanglement of rice in global-local dynamics of exchange and the political economy of food sovereignty and food security, as well as the contradictory and ambiguous relations that it engenders in Asian diasporic contexts in Australia. Rhett D’Costa’s multi-tiered installation examined his hybrid background of British, Australian and Indian culture as culturally composite ethnicities, speaking to the fluidity of place, belonging and identity formation, and the consequences of mobility and migration in transnational environments.
Bruised Food thus resonated with the interconnection between ethics and aesthetics and tapped into the affective agency of art through all of the senses. By deploying and experimental and iterative approach to testing, creating, engaging with, and displaying artistic ephemera and documentation, the exhibition set the table for the enactment of radical hospitality and generosity, one that is attuned to the performative, relational and sensuous processes of the alimentary in art, its relation to the everyday and its entanglement in the political economy of survival in a globalising world.