Conference Report: ‘Sense Methods: Literature, History and Embodied Experience’

This review is also featured on The Polyphony.

By Rachel Clamp

Institute of Medical Humanities, Durham University

17 June 2022

Conference mind map, courtesy of the author.

Earlier this month, I was delighted to attend the Institute of Medical Humanities symposium ‘Sense Methods: Literature, History and Embodied Experience’ at Durham University. The symposium was designed to bring together colleagues with an interest in embodied experience and the senses to reflect on methodological and theoretical approaches and to provide opportunities for future collaborations.

I should preface this post with a brief disclaimer to say that I am not a sensory scholar myself. I am a third-year PhD candidate in the history department at Durham where I work on the history of plague and plague workers in early modern England and Scotland. I am, at best, sensory-adjacent. I do, however, try to gain access to past experience through my research, and I was keen to learn more about how I could incorporate theories of embodied experience and the senses into my work. Yesterday’s symposium allowed me to think critically about what exactly we mean when we talk about past ‘experience’. What is human experience if not sensory?

Conference mind map, courtesy of the author.

The day began with a rich and thought-provoking keynote lecture from Dr William Tullett in which he argued that whilst we might have succeeded in our approach to exploring and reconstructing smells in the past, we still have much work left to do concerning smell and/of the past. He demonstrated the need for scholars to ‘re-odorise’ the past, to develop an understanding of both the presence and absence of smells and the role of smell in history, memory, and heritage. He showed how the study of historical smellscapes can enrich our understanding of the past, allowing us to ask more difficult questions and make our arguments more interesting and persuasive. He suggested that with training and practice, humanities scholars could learn to smell ‘better’ and that the more we use our noses the more we are able to bring them into historical perspectives.

The remainder of the day consisted of a series of 10-minute ‘provocations’ rather than traditional conference papers. After each provocation, we were encouraged to write down our thoughts collectively and to draw connections between our responses.

Dr Megan Girdwood shared her work on movement and kinaesthesia drawing our attention to the early-twentieth-century researchers Vernon Lee and Clementina Anstruther-Thomson to show that the sense of movement extended far beyond the realm of conscious, deliberate motion. Having identified her partner, Anstruther-Thomson, as someone with an especially well-developed sense of kinaesthesia, Lee recorded the minute physiological responses she experienced as a result of engaging with renaissance art.

Lena Ferriday explored relationships between the body and the environment in her provocation on the pedestrian navigation of the Devon and Cornwall coastlines. She illustrated that local residents and those who worked in these spaces on a daily basis had a very different haptic relationship to those who visited the area for leisure. They possessed an embodied expertise that allowed them to walk over difficult terrain more easily, in turn allowing them to guide visitors through the landscape for a fee.

Dr Coreen McGuire investigated the ways in which we measure the senses, once again drawing our attention to the extreme diversity of individual experience. Using the example of a stethoscope, she encouraged scholars to broaden their interpretation of the senses and to look at breath and breathing as an embodied sense. She also demonstrated the importance of the objects used to measure senses for accessing hidden histories.

Paula Teixeira Moláns explored the issue of diversity of experience further by demonstrating the vast diversity of language used to describe sensory perception. She looked at the relationship between semantics and colour, showing that not all languages describe colour, and asked what meaning is left behind when we translate sensory language.

Dr Richard Bellis used the example of the eighteenth-century anatomist William Hunter to demonstrate the extent to which anatomists were required to actively engage with their senses during experiments. Hunter’s method for separating the placenta from the umbilical cord used sight, smell, touch, and even taste to better understand the processes he witnessed throughout the experiment. Once again, we returned to the issue of sensory standardisation. How did all anatomists know that they were experiencing a cadaver in the same way as their colleagues? The answer, for eighteenth century anatomists, lay in religious belief. Dr Bellis highlighted the contemporary belief that, providing an anatomist worked ‘appropriately’, the consistency of sensory experience was guaranteed by God.

Dr Fraser Riddell looked at alternative models for describing sensory experience drawing on neurodiversity studies. If we have established that sensory perception and embodied experience are both deeply unique and personal phenomena, what sensory worlds could we access with reference to neurodiverse experiences? He asked scholars to think critically about the ways in which sensory history has been shaped by neurotypical assumptions.

In reflecting on the day, was struck by the way in which the work of scholars from such a broad range of interdisciplinary backgrounds shard aurprising number of common themes. One way or another, all presentations touched on the idea of the senses as skills that one can develop rather than phenomena that simply happen to a person, of the difficult process of measuring and describing the senses, the need to expand our understanding of what we consider ‘senses’, and the importance of the senses in the construction of knowledge.

In addition, the symposium made it abundantly clear that sensory experience is deeply personal and unique. This can make the process of defining methodologies and approaches exceedingly difficult. The answer, it seems, lies in interdisciplinary research. Only through collaborative, interdisciplinary research can we access the resources, knowledge, and expertise required to tackle the complex questions that sensory studies raise and arrive closer at our collective goal of better understanding the senses and embodied experience.

Around the Table: Museum Exhibitions

By Sarah Peters Kernan

This summer proves to be an exciting one for anyone seeking recipes-related exhibitions at museums, libraries, and other institutions. Many exhibitions featuring the history of food, medicine, and science are well underway or opening soon, and many of the below institutions have created online components to accompany the in-person exhibitions. You will also see below that two culinary museums have opened this year. Furthermore (and excitingly!), exhibitions of interest are already being announced for 2023, such as Staging the Table in Europe, 1500–1800. Be sure to check the websites for full descriptions, as well as information like hours, fees, directions, and COVID-19 updates. Thank you to all in the Recipes Project community who contributed to this post and let me know about upcoming exhibitions! We always welcome readers to share your trips to any museums and exhibits of interest to the Recipes Project community on Twitter or Facebook!

African/American: Making the Nation’s Table

Museum of Food and Drink (New York, NY, USA)

Through 19 June 2022

African/American offers a view of the breadth of African American culinary traditions and innovations. The exhibition celebrates and seeks recognition for the countless Black chefs, farmers, and food and drink producers who shaped American food culture. Visitors can experience 400 years of Black influence on agriculture, culinary arts, brewing and distilling, and commerce, particularly through their movements during the Atlantic Slave Trade and Great Migration. The exhibition features impressive installations, such as the Ebony Magazine Test Kitchen and the Legacy Quilt, a collaborative project celebrating people, stories, and art; the Legacy Quilt also includes an interactive, virtual experience. Links to other interactive experiences such as the Virtual Reality Theater and Mapping the Nation’s Table are available on the exhibition website.

Alchemies of Scent

Prague, Czech Republic

June 2022

Alchemies of Scent is an interdisciplinary research group exploring the practice of ancient Egyptian and Greek perfumery, studying its place in the history of science, and examining the changing connections between art, craft, science and culture in the ancient Mediterranean world. In June 2022, the group is hosting two public workshops and a performance. Participants in the workshops, The Metopion Perfume: Ingredients and Experiment, will learn the myths and stories of scents and substances of the Ancient Mediterranean by plunging into one of the first cross-cultural perfumes of the Greco-Egyptian world: the Metopion. Through smell, taste, and touch, participants will experience the differences between past and present ingredients. Additionally, participants will develop skills of interpreting ancient recipes. Alchemies of Scent is also hosting a dramatization of the myth of Myrrha (the birth of Myrrh according to Ovid and Hyginus) on 17 June 2022.

Animalistic! From Animals to Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients

Pharmaziemuseum Universität Basel (Basel, Switzerland)

Through 5 June 2022

Four institutions in Basel are exploring a single theme, the relationship between humans and animals, through four distinct exhibitions. Each exhibition considers questions such as “how has the relationship between humans and animals changed, here and elsewhere?” and “what are the strengths and abilities attributed to animals?” The Pharmacy Museum’s exhibition investigates the use of animals as drugs, active ingredients of pharmaceuticals, and symbols in the history of pharmacy up to the present day. These themes are addressed through a fascinating collection of texts, artifacts, and specimens such as bezoars, isinglass, musk, Spanish flies, and snake flesh.

The Essence of a Painting. An Olfactory Exhibition

Museo del Prado (Madrid, Spain)

Through 3 July 2022

This innovative exhibition allows visitors to experience the Prado’s collections through the sense of smell. In collaboration with the Perfume Academy Foundation and the “AirParfum” technology developed by Puig, the perfumer Gregorio Sola created ten fragrances associated with elements present in the painting “The Sense of Smell,” part of the series on “The Five Senses” executed by Jan Brueghel in 1617 and 1618. The fragrances allow visitors to appreciate elements in the painting in a new way. For example, Sola has crafted the fragrance “Gloves,” which reproduces the smell of gloves scented with ambergris, based on a 1696 recipe. All ten aromas in the exhibition are detailed on the website.

Food for Thought: Riddles and Riddling Ways

McGill Library (Montreal, Quebec, Canada)

Through 30 June 2022

Visitors to the Food for Thought exhibition will explore mealtime riddle practices through items curated from McGill Library’s collections and beyond. Focusing particularly on the 18th and 19th centuries, the exhibition reveals ways in which people bonded during meals. This exhibition stems from a broader project, the Riddle Project.

FOOD: Recipe or Remedy

Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, UK)

Through 27 January 2023

This exhibition explores the relationship between food and health over the last 600 years. The featured objects and texts on display consider changing ideas about how food could be used as a prophylactic, cure, and more. The exhibition also highlights the role of the physician, particularly Fellows and Members of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, in the development of food-based medical treatments. The website includes links to recorded talks and articles related to the exhibition.

Garum, Biblioteca e Museo della Cucina

Rome, Italy

Garum is a culinary library and museum tracing the history of cooking and eating habits from the fifteenth century to the present. The museum boasts collections of culinary artifacts used in haute cuisine, home kitchens, and the creation of professional pastry, chocolate, and ices. The library consists of a fine collection of antiquarian culinary texts, including rare editions of Platina, Scappi, Menon, Carême, and Escoffier.

“Window display #4 Chocolate molds,” Garum, Biblioteca e Museo della Cucina https://www.museodellacucina.com/en/vetrina-4-stampi-per-cioccolato/

LA Plaza Cocina

Los Angeles, CA, USA

LA Plaza Cocina, a museum dedicated to Mexican and Mexican American cuisine, opened earlier this year with its inaugural exhibition Maize: Past, Present and Future. Through objects, images, and cookbooks, the exhibition celebrates maize as a sacred grain and global food source. The museum will feature a new exhibition every six months. This culinary museum also includes online tours and exhibitions.

Awaken ______: An Experimental Exhibit, Prototype B

Mercer Museum (Doylestown, PA, USA)

Through Late Summer 2022

Henry Mercer established the Mercer Museum to give people tangible reminders of preindustrial daily life, including the collective acts of creativity, innovation, problem-solving, and making do. Prototype B, the second part of the exhibition series, Awaken, explores these acts through the themes of food, cooking, dining, and inheritance. The exhibit includes an installation devoted to cooking and recipes and another on dining and unforgettable meals. Visitors are encouraged to share their own food-related stories, traditions, and memories.

[Re]Framing Graphic Medicine: Comics and the History of Medicine

University of Chicago Library (Chicago, IL, USA)

Through 15 July 2022

Drawing upon prints, illustrated newspapers and magazines, comic books, zines, and more, this exhibition seeks to reframe the history of medical images towards a broader socio-cultural history. The exhibition’s images span a range of themes, perspectives, and eras to address topics such as environmental health, gender and sexuality, disability, and health inequities.

From the [Re]Framing Graphic Medicine exhibition: Hans von Gersdorff, The Wound Man, Feldtbuch der Wundartzney, 1530.The Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center. The University of Chicago Library.

Rice: A Story of Africa and the Americas

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (Cambridge, MA, USA)

Opens 16 June 2022

This mini exhibit set within the Resetting the Table exhibition is focused on rice cultivation in the Americas. It explores the establishment of the rice industry based upon African knowledge systems, the toll of the Atlantic Slave Trade, and the lasting culture of the Gullah Geechee, the descendants of the enslaved Africans who provided labor for the rice industry.

Through a Glass Darkly: Alchemy and the Ripley Scrolls 1400-1700

Princeton University Library (Princeton, NJ, USA)

Through 17 July 2022

Princeton University holds two of the twenty-three extant Ripley Scrolls, each spectacular manuscripts central to the transmission of alchemical knowledge in premodern Europe. This exhibition featuring Princeton’s Ripley Scrolls shows how European alchemists built upon Greco-Egyptian, Islamic, and late medieval knowledge to create a golden age of alchemy from the 15th through 17th centuries. An accompanying digital exhibition is also available.

If you’d like to feature a museum exhibition or collection on the Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.

Tales from the Archives: Around the Table: Research Technologies

In 2019, I spoke with Helen Davies and Alexander Zawacki, Program Coordinators of the Lazarus Project. Since that time, the project has continued to thrive and multispectral imaging has become an increasingly popular methodology for examining manuscripts and a particularly useful one when dealing with the stains, erasures, and other common marks found in recipe texts. The Rare Book School now offers a course on multispectral imaging and other scientific methods of book analysis, and the Coding Codices podcast recently highlighted the Lazarus Project in a conversation with Helen, now an assistant professor of English at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, Alex, still serving as a Program Coordinator, and Katie Albers-Morris, also a current Program Coordinator. Today we revisit this Around the Table chat for a helpful explanation of imaging and the Lazarus project. -Sarah Kernan

This month on Around the Table, I am speaking with Helen Davies and Alexander Zawacki, Program Coordinators of the Lazarus Project and PhD students in English at the University of Rochester. This month on the Recipes Project, we’ve explored all kinds of ideas about texture. Now, we’ll get a chance to learn about digital textures, and how technologies like multispectral imaging can help scholars unearth new information about manuscripts. Those of us dealing with manuscript recipes from any time period are accustomed to erasures, stains, and layers of writing. Helen and Alex provide information about the ways in which multispectral imaging can help us interpret these elements of our sources.

Tell us a bit about the Lazarus Project. Do you work with materials from a specific time or place? With what sorts of projects and partnerships has your lab been involved?

The Lazarus Project is a multispectral imaging endeavor located at the University of Rochester. We’re a mix of professors, graduate students, and undergraduates from a range of different fields all working to use cutting-edge technology to digitally recover lost texts and images. Many of us — Helen, Alex, PhD Candidate Kyle Huskin, and our advisor (and the director of the project) Gregory Heyworth — are medievalists, and so many of projects tend to focus on objects from that time period in Western Europe, but we’ve also worked on Biblical manuscripts from Egypt, pre-Columbian material from the Americas, postcards sent from concentration camps and censored by the Nazis, and eighteenth-century musical scores from Germany. We’ve partnered in the past with (to name just a few) the United States Holocaust Museum, the Folger Library, the Beinecke Library, the Saxon State and University Library Dresden, the Vercelli Chapter Library in Italy, and the Bodleian Library.

How does your lab select items to analyze? Do libraries and organizations reach out to you, or do you seek out specific items and projects?

A bit of both. Sometimes we’ll find objects that we particularly want to work on, and set about applying for grants and searching for funding to make that happen. Other times institutions or even private individuals will reach out to us about an object in their care that they would like to have imaged.

Could you explain how multispectral imaging works? Can you provide a few examples of what scholars can learn about books with this technology?

We take an object — a manuscript, for example — and photograph it first under discrete wavelengths of light, moving from the ultraviolet through to the infrared. Then we take another series of images under only ultraviolet, violet, and blue light, which induces fluorescence in the object, like when you wear a white t-shirt under a blacklight. We use filters to separate out different wavelengths from the fluorescence that the object emits, trying to squeeze as much data out of it as possible. Lastly, we take a final group of photographs while shining light upwards through the manuscript, which has the potential to reveal “ghost letters” — places where the ink has been removed, but the parchment has thinned enough to reveal where it used to be.

Photographing the object is only the very tip of the iceberg, though — almost never do any of the images reveal all or even much of what we’re looking for. Next, we process the images using software originally designed to analyze satellite and aerial imagery. This can be a very laborious and time-consuming process.

Our goal is to recover texts and images that have been lost to time and damage. Palimpsests are a great example of the kind of thing that scholars can learn using this technology. In the medieval period, people would sometimes erase entire manuscripts by scraping or washing the parchment clean, and then re-use the pages to make a new book. The “undertext” — the book that was erased — is often illegible, far too faint and obscured by overwriting to read. We try to make that undertext visible again, usually for the first time in centuries. Other times we work on objects that have been damaged by fire, water, chemical staining, or simple fading, all with the goal of bringing scholars new texts to work on and study.

During a July 2019 workshop on Spectral Imaging in Cultural Heritage, the Lazarus Project team shared information about imaging methods with a group of participants. Participants at the workshop could see how chemical reagents are used on palimpsested manuscripts. Pictured here: pumice is used to palimpsest parchment, and then a reagent reveals the erased writing.

As you know, our readers deal with recipes of all kinds (medical, household, culinary, alchemical, etc.) We encounter strange marks and stains all the time in our books! What can multispectral imaging tell us about those marks and stains?

Multispectral imaging can help readers work with a variety of stains and marks in a variety of ways. Firstly, we can help you see through them. MSI can help readers see underneath the stains. This can be very important in manuscripts whatever been treated in chemical reagents. As you and your readers likely know, chemical reagents were widely used for a time in order to bring out ink that had faded. Yet this momentary gain in legibility was frequently followed by long term damage to the manuscript. MSI can help digitally reverse these stains. Hyperspectral and other imaging modalities can be leveraged to look at material composition of stains. Multispectral, however, mostly helps with legibility rather than material analysis. A group of scholars has recently tried to push the material analysis capabilities in new directions through the Library of Stains project.

At the workshop, an image of the Rotovap system distilling the wine + oak gall solution.

What kind of training or partnerships might be necessary for a humanities scholar without a digital background to incorporate imaging into their research?

An interested humanities scholar would first need to either purchase a multispectral imaging system or partner with a group or institution that owns one. This partnership could take the form of receiving some training in operating the technology (unless the group would be doing both the imaging and the processing, as we often do) or being lead scholar on the project.  Training could incorporate learning more about MSI on site or image processing training. There is a range of software available for processing including ENVI (which we use), Matlab, Python or Image J (for which imaging professionals built various custom toolkits). A lead scholar partnership involves a humanities scholar reaching out to us for imaging, working with us to secure funding for the project, and then this individual driving the research. We will work with them to ensure we get as much data as possible from an item, but they lead the transcription, translation and examination of the document. This gives non-digitally inclined scholars the opportunity to work with multispectral images and recovered texts.

How did you become interested and involved in digital humanities and the Lazarus Project?

All of our team members have come to the Lazarus Project through different routes.

Helen: I had the opportunity to photograph early print books in the York Minster Library while working on my MA in Medieval Studies. This led to me pursuing a digital humanities MA and further imaging jobs. Eventually, a friend of a friend asked me to do some work for Lazarus and then Greg encouraged me to apply for a PhD to continue learning from and working with the project.

Also at the workshop, Alex Zawacki transfers the reagent.

Alex: I found out about the project as a first year PhD student at the University of Rochester. I was fascinated by the idea of recovering lost texts. I started working with the project to see what we could find, and I am now cultivating my own projects to search for lost material in my own field.

Do you have any favorite Lazarus Project items you’ve worked with, so far?

We all have our own individual favorites we have worked on in the past.

Helen: My all-time favorite is the damaged medieval world map in Vercelli, Italy. There are only a handful of large scale medieval wall maps to survive (others have fallen victim to bombs, binders and other forms of destruction). The map in Vercelli survives, but has been largely unreadable. We have imaged it, recovered it, and, I am happy to report, as of last week I have created an entirely new digital facsimile of the document. However, I have loved getting the chance to work on a variety of objects from ancient coins to Old English poems to early modern globes.

Alex: I’m torn between the Codex Boenerianus, the Black Book of Camarthen, and a single manuscript fragment from the University of Rochester’s Rare Books and Special Collections department. The latter had been used as a binding fragment and was terribly faded and stained. No one had been able to read any of it in the 50 years that it had been in the university’s care. That one was particularly rewarding, as not only were we able to recover nearly the whole text, identify the work to which it belonged (Richard FitzRalph’s Summa Questionibus Armenorum), and trace some of its provenance and history as an object, we also found that it was the only witness to that text in a non-European library — and very possibly the oldest extant witness.

Thanks, Helen and Alex, for chatting with me about multispectral imaging! You can follow the Lazarus Project on Twitter @Lazarus_Imaging, Facebook @LazarusProjectImaging, and Instagram @lazarusprojectimaging. If you’d like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.

Around the Table: The Art of Food

By R.A. Kashanipour

We recently had the opportunity to chat with Olivia Miller, curator of the Art of the Food exhibit at the University of Arizona Museum of Art.  Olivia has been at Curator of Exhibitions at the museum for nearly a decade and this exhibit is features more than 100 works from the renowned collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his Family Foundation.  The exhibition uses a variety of mediums to examine food in a variety of non-alimentary contexts, from satire to social commentary. With prominent artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, including Damien Hirst, Hung Liu, Analia Saban, and Andy Warhol, the collection shows the ways that food is our communities, relationships, cultures and languages.


R.A. Kashanipour on behalf of the Recipes Project: Thank you so much for taking to the time to talk about this wonderful exhibit! What was the inspiration, particularly the focus on food? How did you select this collection of works? 

Olivia Miller: I first visited the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation in Portland in 2019 to look at the collection. My intention at that early stage was just to gather information and to see what types of works were in the collection. Being part of a university art museum, I strive to curate exhibitions that are interdisciplinary with various entry points for engagement. We want as many students as possible to visit our exhibitions, so it’s important to have shows that connect to contemporary issues.

As I was going through the artworks, the topic of food kept standing out to me. I can’t explain exactly why—it just made sense because Tucson is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, there are many faculty and researchers on campus vast knowledge of food, and it’s a broad topic that would allow me some flexibility in the curation. It seemed like the perfect topic to explore.

Selecting the artwork was challenging. For one thing, food is a huge subject to tackle, so I had to figure out what themes to focus on and which artworks illustrated those themes best. The Schnitzer Collection is quite large so I had to make tough decisions on artworks to exclude from the show. Eventually, I narrowed down the checklist to 109 works after selecting the themes for the show: community, control, dissociation, food for thought, elixirs and libations, eye candy, and still life. Through those themes I made sure to include a mixture of well-known and lesser-known artists and a variety of mediums.

RP: The collection is impressive, particularly the variety of works. What kinds of media are included in the exhibition?

OM: There are many different types of media in the show including: paintings, sculpture, glass, ceramics, screen-prints, ready-mades, and lithographs. However, there are some artworks that take a traditional medium to a new level. For example, Red Groom’s Deli is a three-dimensional lithograph that extends off the wall and into the viewer’s space. Some works, such as Malia Jensen’s salt-lick sculpture, or Ed Ruscha’s prints News, Mews, Pews, Brews, Stews & Dues use food itself as the medium!

RP: What messages and insights about food do you see this incredible collection of artists communicating ?

OM: Some artists, such as Ellsworth Kelly in his plant lithographs, are focused on the aesthetics of food. Others, like Abraham Cruzvillegas’s Ichárhuta, speaks to environmental concerns and the accompanying social impact. Damien Hirst’s Last Supper series speaks to the over-reliance on prescription medications and making a parallel to the artificiality of processed foods. The incredible part of learning through art, is that although the artist may be communicating a specific message, contemporary events and people’s personal experiences add additional layers of meaning to the artwork. This is also part of the art of curation. By framing certain artworks in this exhibition, I’m adding a new interpretive lens to the work. In this way, the meaning of all of these artworks is ever-changing.

Damien Hirst, “The Last Supper” (1999)

RP: How does The Art of Food contribute to ongoing conversations about food and spark new ones?

OM: The Art of Food is certainly intended to contribute to ongoing conversations about food, but hopefully in a way that inspires more people to join in on these conversations. As a curator on a university campus, it is very important for me to remember that I work in a unique place with incredible access to current topics. While a particular subject might seem old-hat or common knowledge to me, the museum is often the place where young students or community members are introduced to these conversations for the first time.

In this light, I hope that people leave the exhibition with a heightened awareness and a broader perspective about food. I hope they leave with a level of critical thought about where their food is sourced from, how food is integral to maintaining community, and who has agency over their food choices. Naturally I hope that people also understand the integral role that art plays in communicating ideas about food, telling food histories, and inspiring a call to action.  

RP: Which works have garnered the most attention?  Are there any issues or conversations that have developed that have surprised you? 

Chris Antemann, “Covet” (2013)

OM: The porcelain sculptures by Oregon-based artist Chris Antemann have been very popular. She worked with the Meissen porcelain factory to produce them. They have the aesthetics of the Rococo style, so in addition to being genuinely beautiful works, they are also quite amusing. There are also two small, early watercolors by Andy Warhol, painted when he was only 19 years old. Those have really surprised people because they are not used to since they are more familiar with his Pop Art aesthetic than his earlier expressive works. The Roy Lichtenstein Bull Profile series has also been very moving to people. It is a series of six screen-prints that begins with an image of a cow that gets gradually broken down into an almost-unidentifiable geometric abstraction. It really speaks to the disconnect people have between their consumption of meat and the individual living being it comes from. People have also been very drawn to the glass sculpture by Emily Brock. It is called Diner Story, and it shows a woman sitting at a diner counter wiping up her spilled coffee as bacon and eggs cook on the stove behind the counter. People are fascinated by the fact that she made this miniature scene out of glass, but there is also a melancholic mood about the piece that is captivating.

RP: What other events and collaborations are a part of the Art of Food?  

OM: Chelsea Farrar, Curator of Community Engagement and Willa Ahlschwede, Assistant Curator of Education and Public Programs have done an incredible job planning various events and collaborations in conjunction with the exhibition. Two complementary exhibitions in our community gallery have focused on food. The first was a collaboration with ArtWorks, an on-campus arts program for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. They worked with a class in the School of Art to create an exhibition centered around food and memory. We currently have an exhibition with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona and photographer Kathleen Dreier that highlights the personal food stories of Tucsonans. One of the most important collaborations was with the Campus Food Pantry. For the first month of the exhibition we collected donations that went directly to students on the University of Arizona campus. It was really important for us to call attention to the food insecurity that exists here, right on our campus. We have also had a number of public events including a Community Day, community garden tours, artist talks, scholarly talks, and even a food-themed art trivia.

Community Food Stories in The Art of the Food

RP: How can we continue to talk about food and art at the University of Arizona?

OM: Well for one, we should continue to exhibit artwork about food that speaks to its evolving significance. This exhibition has only scratched the surface and there are many more artists and issues to discuss around food. The subject will continue to evolve in our daily lives and artists will continue to respond to those changes. It is important to remember that there are incredible similarities between food and art. They are both cultural manifestations and are made in similar ways—a chef’s kitchen can be likened to an artist’s studio. Food preparation and art making involve a knowledge of the past, changing technologies, creativity, and innovation. Consuming food and consuming art are both multi-sensory experiences that can inspire different ways of learning. They both nourish the soul. Because of this, I think it is important for faculty to incorporate food and arts experiences into their curriculum whenever possible.

RP: Thank you! We will be sending students to the exhibit, especially those from my Food Studies and Latin American Studies courses.

Roy Lichtenstein, Bull Profile (1973)

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