Place Settings I and II
Part I: Morris Lum, Karen Tam (in collaboration with Tea Base) and Reel Asian
Part II: Adrià Julià, Larissa Sansour and Reza Nik
Critical Distnce Centre for Curators/various sites across Toronto
June 18 – August 15, 2021 and August 21 – September 17, 2022
Place Settings is a large-scale, durational project that considers how food functions to connect and disrupt. Focusing specifically on the intersections of food, public space, and architecture, Place Settings points to formal and informal structures that offer forms of nourishment, be they physical, emotional, social, or political.
Tending to concerns ranging from food sovereignty to community building, Place Settings brings together a series of critically and socio-politically engaged projects integrated into various public sites across Toronto. At the core of this project is the idea that the means by which food is produced, distributed, and consumed directly relates to wider issues of social injustice, unchecked corporate interests, climate change, and the overwhelming depletion of natural resources on a global scale. At the same time, the ways that individuals and communities make purposeful decisions about how to cultivate and share food reveals moments and movements of self-determination, reciprocity, and interdependence.
Place Settings addresses these wide-ranging concerns through installations and programs, engaging with systems of food distribution and consumption through their spatial forms. Each of the artists within this project reflects on how relationships to food are often informed by public or shared space. The architectures of food become sites of negotiation, and each artist’s work creates an opportunity to interrogate the infrastructures that produce and circulate what we eat.
Like food itself, this project is inseparable from the wider ecology in which it is produced. Place Settings finds itself situated within a spectrum of food-focused arts programming in Toronto and beyond; recognizing the shared questions and urgencies of these varying programs remains central to this project. Many people have helped bring food and art together and this project identifies itself as being in dialogue and conceptual collaboration with these ongoing efforts.
The multiple points of engagement realized through Place Settings are intended to speculate on the potentials of public sharing and social transformation at the centre of food-focused arts programming. Through artistic practice and critical inquiry, this project is a sustained exploration of the possibilities that might emerge when we resist the idea that food is purely transactional and instead consider the complex entanglements of space and sustenance.
Morris Lum’s billboard project features the interior of the Forestview Chinese Restaurant (2011), which closed in 2014. Operating as a memorial of sorts, Lum’s image signals Chinatown’s changing landscape as it shifts and adapts to external gentrifying forces. Turning this space inside out and displaying it so publicly also speaks to Lum’s ongoing interest in acknowledging sites that feed us socially and nutritionally.
Karen Tam’s project includes a billboard image at Artscape Youngplace coupled with a planter box in which she has grown from seed to various Chinese vegetables and herbs. The billboard brings together images of Tam’s grandmother on her thriving balcony garden, various drawings by Tam of the veggies grown here and a drawn reinterpretation of a certificate of horticultural merit awarded to Tam’s grandmother in 2008 for her community plot. The project’s second location includes a garden of herbs and vegetables grown and cared for by Tea Base using Tam’s seeds. Structures like planter boxes and balcony gardens outpace their humble forms, more immediately connecting us to fresh food and to a sense of community when shared. These specific planters and their collaborative tending offer a further reflection on the importance of access to culturally specific foods, locally grown produce and the networks of care that often develop around these unassuming structures.
Reel Asian’s contribution to Place Settings features video-based works by artists Nelson Wu, Farrah Miranda, and Basil AlZeri presented on VUCAVU’s online platform for free. We approach food through bodied, material sites that reflect our relationships to one another, the land, and ourselves. These works expand beyond food as the act of consumption, contemplating varying pathways food is brought into existence, whether through kitchen utensils from a beloved store, repetition and stillness in sites of food preparation, or collective movement as resistance. Beyond the content, the respective formats of each video-based work further interrogate and negotiate the complexity and fluidity of food relationships. Viewable alongside the works are in-depth artists talks that share further insight on the process, themes, and reflections of the project.
Reza Nik’s sofreh for two references both Iranian food and drink carts and ‘Sofreh’, a loose term translated to a textile on which food is served but that often functions as a shorthand for various preparations, practices, ceremonies and rituals. This improvisational performance is mediated through a roving structure that considers the spatial facets of food and feasting as narrated through diasporic and intergenerational experiences and memories.
Larissa Sansour's Soup Over Bethlehem (Film, 9′) depicts an ordinary Palestinian family, Sansour’s own, around a dinner table on a rooftop overlooking the West Bank city of Bethlehem. What starts as a culinary discussion about the national dish ‘mloukhieh’ soon evolves into a personal and engaging conversation about politics – thereby emphasising the symbiosis of food and politics so indicative of the Palestinian experience. (Description courtesy of the artist).
This screening of Soup Over Bethlehem was accompanied by a response to the film by Serene Husni, addressing various concerns ranging from language and food histories to the complexities of ‘national dishes’.
Offering a meditation on the history of production, consumption and expansion of popcorn in modern colonial history, Adrià Julià’sThe Penitential Tyrant: Dolores Is Pain reflects on the historical and socioeconomic intricacies of the global corn industry and its relationship to Mexican culture and the popularization of popcorn in the United States after the Great Depression, especially in regards to popcorn’s connection to cinema.
This film-performance was presented at the AGO in conjunction with their exhibition Faith and Fortune: Art Across the Global Spanish Empire.
Julià’s contribution to Place Settings also included a billboard of A Very White Flower and a screening of Popcorn, a film is adapted from footage originally presented by the San Diego-based camera company Photron of a single kernel of corn exploding into popcorn over twelve seconds. Shot with a slow-motion high-speed camera that the company sought to promote, the found mini-film was reimagined by Julià and stretched into Popcorn, a feature film. (Descriptions courtesy of the artist).