Artists have been interfacing with the public as a creative act for quite some time. To consider the historical arc of this type of work, we can look to Kaprow's happenings, Fluxus' performances and Tiravanija's curry soup project. Currently, socially-engaged projects created by artists are continuing to emerge and are gaining momentum in the United States particularly though organized critical discussions such as the annual Creative Time Summit in New York and the recent Open Engagement Conference in Portland, OR. Social practice works are those that use active public participation and civic activity to engage in creative, critical thought about social action in public spheres. The artists and collectives outlined in Social Places, namely Elaine Tin Nyo, Eric Steen, Futurefarmers, and Conflict Kitchen, are involved in the cultural production of space and create organized environments to engage with a public to reflect on, act out, consider and analyze both everyday and global issues pertaining to social communities.
Eating and drinking are the only creative practices of the everyday in which all humans actively participate. Everybody makes choices with regards to food and drink, which reflects the ways they interact with and experience the world through lifestyle and nutrition as well as culture and economics. The artists profiled in this feature employ food in their work not just as an access point for larger conversations about and on consumption, but also as a means to acknowledge often unconscious everyday practices by encouraging participants to think of the practice of eating and drinking as an aesthetic and cultural choice and experience.
This pedagogical tendency connects the wide spectrum of private and public experiences engendered by these projects, from self-exploration to learning about other cultures. The production of space endemic to these works is the cornerstone of the field now known as social practice.
Elaine Tin Nyo uses food as a medium in tandem with gestures that examine American community life. Born in Burma and based in New York for the past several decades, Tin Nyo has created food-based rituals and actions such as The Bake Sale (1997) at Deitch Projects, which confronted the politics of the Soho gallery community and replaced the sale of artworks with that of baked goods. Tin Nyo's Tete de Moine Cake (FOOD/FAKE FOOD) (2009), part of the CAFÉ series at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC, used replicas of a cheese wheel and a cake that the artist had prepared to remind viewers about what cannot be consumed. Tin Nyo conveys in Icebox Plums (CAFÉ, POET Night) (2009), which encouraged visitors to steal juicy, ice-cold plums from atop a dripping block of ice and eat them, that there are still ways to indulge, even if what you desire seems to be unavailable for consumption. Tin Nyo also recognizes internet culture as it pervades American communities, and began the work Sour Cherry Pie (2010) as a way to connect with friends and acquaintances over this quintessential American food. Performing as a pie maker in her kitchen, Tin Nyo made one or two pies a day and then offered to share slices via email invitations, documenting in an email report that the slices had been eaten. By exploring the social and community practice of eating as an avenue for participation and consideration, Tin Nyo combines the alluring seduction and subsequent sensual release of experiencing the smells, sights, tastes and textures of food with that of the exquisite oddities of American culture.
Portland-based artist Eric Steen explores consumerism and leisure through both brewing and drinking beer in projects such as Pub School (2010) at the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art, and Art & Beer (2009) at the Portland Art Museum. In Pub School, Steen organized a six-week program of public events that explored local breweries in Glasgow, and included programs from beer sampling sessions and pub crawls to instructional workshops on homebrewing. In Art & Beer, Steen commissioned three local breweries to create new beers inspired by three works from the Portland Art Museum's collection; the new beers were then shared with the public at the opening. Both didactic and experiential, Steen's projects play up the social aspects of community drinking while also providing strong informational background about the production of beer, encouraging local consumer practices.
Futurefarmers, an international collective of artists and designers founded in 1995 by Amy Franceschini, function to challenge current social, political and economic systems. Using workshops and public actions as educational outreach tools, Futurefarmers use practices of cultivation, harvesting, growth and land use to inform communities of agricultural and environmental issues and arm them with tools to begin protecting their surrounding physical landscape. From collaborating with a local botanist, Academy of Fine Arts students and the general public in Sweden to develop a water saving system in their work Rainwater Harvester / Grey water System Feedback Loop (2008), to Victory Gardens (2008+), a public garden in San Francisco that transformed unused/underutilized land into food production areas which then helped spur a new city food policy, Futurefarmers connect with local communities around the world to foster a civic investment in and commitment to a culture of health and vitality.
Conflict Kitchen is a Pittsburgh-based project developed by artists John Peña, Jon Rubin, and Dawn Weleski, who use food as an access point to discuss current conflicts between the United States and other countries. The most ostensibly public of the four projects in this Feature, Conflict Kitchen currently takes the form of Kubideh Kitchen, a take out restaurant that serves spiced meat with mint and basil in barbari bread, wrapped in a paper printed with interviews with members of the Iranian community both in Pittsburgh and in Iran. Kubideh Kitchen also organizes dinners, discussions, and skype sessions between Pittsburgh and Tehran through a series of programs developed in collaboration with the local Iranian community. By creating a social space through eating and learning about food, Kubideh Kitchen acts as a catalyst for informal conversations about culture, diversity, and politics. A rotating project, future versions of Conflict Kitchen will feature cuisine from Afghanistan, North Korea, and Venezuela.
Tracy Candido is a cultural producer who organizes social practice projects and public programs in New York City and Brooklyn. In her work, Tracy confronts ideas pertaining to food as a community binder, as a fundraising resource, and as a point of sensory information in creative, critical and social spaces. Recent endeavors include Community Cooking Club, hosted by the Bruce High Quality Foundation University, which combines the concept of the potluck with the environment of the critical classroom. Previous projects include Sweet Tooth of the Tiger, a two-year experiment in baking with, eating, and selling sugar, and the Bake Sale Residency, a mico-granting project for artists. Tracy holds a Master's Degree from New York University in Visual Culture Theory.
Chelsea Haines is the Public Programs Manager at Independent Curators International (ICI), a non-profit that seeks to foster best curatorial practices through exhibitions, public programs, training, and networking opportunities. A recent M.A. graduate in Visual Culture Theory at New York University, she is publishing a revised version of her thesis, A New State of the Arts: Developing the Biennial Model as Ethical Arts Practice, in an upcoming issue of Museum Management and Curatorship.