Curated by Tayah Leigh Barrs and organised with Laurence Owen
September/ October 2017
Studio_Leigh is pleased to present ‘Fickle Food Upon A Shifting Plate’. The exhibition gathers the work of ten artists around the subject of consumption. Set above a commercial restaurant’s kitchens the exhibition riffs on the parallel between art and food as creations to be consumed and around the similarities between looking and tasting, understanding and chewing, investing and digesting.
The exhibition takes its title from the 1702 Emily Dickenson poem ‘Fame is a Fickle Food’, which intimates the caprice of artistic success within the language of feast and famine:
Fame is a fickle food
Upon a shifting plate
Whose table once a
Guest but not
The second time is set
Whose crumbs the crows inspect
And with ironic caw
Flap past it to the
Men eat of it and die
A solo exhibition at Dundee Contemporary Arts, 13th March – 23rd May 2010.
The Connoisseur might be defined as a laconic art historian, and the art historian as a loquacious connoisseur. Erwin Panofsky, Meaning in the Visual Arts, 1955.
The Connoisseurs is an exhibition defined by the seemingly disparate series’, collections and groupings within it. All of these works reference cultural sophistication or a refined taste through their materials, execution or selection. In a mannered fashion they borrow an aspect of the classical art form: portrait or still-life image, the outdoor or the domestic scale object.
The Connoisseurs presents an awkward marriage of numerous distinct references: digital technology, food science, community craft workshops, speculative fiction and macro-economics. The title alludes to both the professional and amateur status of a connoisseur.
“Whilst there is an obvious relationship to pop art products, what we are seeing here is not the abstract gleam of Campbell’s soup or the Coca-Cola logo, well-known to the masses, but a particular niche of class-informed life-support offered by Ryvita cracker biscuits, Optivita cereal and Rice Dream milk substitute. What these commodities promise is dieting, purity and health. Quiet restraint, subtle control, mind over body. There is also the matter of the sculptural materials themselves. Mosaic sits unevenly in contemporary art: it is both a traditional skill with a rich history, and its connotations of workmanship, but also an ‘arts and crafts’ process, often occupying unfashionable crafty women’s groups.
What is most striking, however, in the unease with which the depicted products become monumental. The very nature of the middle class lifestyle is somewhat private, quiet and cosseted. The dream of a private, walled garden. There is a price to pay for this, however. For why should anyone care about a cosy private life? A similar sensation is felt in Douglas Coupland’s ‘Generation X’ (1991) when a character, who has attempted to ‘opt out’ of the contemporary treadmill of his generation of America, returns home for Christmas. Trying to give his family a valuable gift that is unrelated to commerce, he fills the living room with thousands of candles. The family are overwhelmed and happy, but there is a problem. Life too quickly reverts to normal: “It is a feeling that our emotions, while wonderful, are transpiring in a vacuum, and I think this boils down to the fact that we’re middle class. You see, when you’re middle class, you have to live with the fact that history will ignore you. You have to live with the fact that history can never feel sorry for you. It is the price that is paid for day-to-day comfort and silence. And because of this price, all happinesses are sterile; all sadness go unpitied.”” Excerpt from ‘The Dangerous Supplement’, Laura McLean-Ferris, Wound 6, April 2009.