Written by Conor O’Brien, thelivinggallery.blog[at]gmail[dot]com
Air Circulation is a recently opened space at 160 Randolph St, which according to the gallery’s website is “a zone of artistic research and play…interested in content, narrative, and experience.” Marcin Ramocki, one of the gallery’s co-owners, explains that the gallery plans to dedicate itself to one specific, yet broadly interpretable, theme each year. Their premiere show, “Peristalsis,” initiates the first of the gallery’s annual themes, which is concerned with “food, nutrition, human digestive biology, and global food politics.”
Including performances and public participatory events such as a “Conceptual Cake Party,” one of the ways the gallery has dedicated itself to this theme is the construction of a functional kitchen within the space. Ramocki explains the kitchen will have a variety of uses throughout their year long gastronomic exploration, including potentially acting as a stage for food-related performance. The act of placing a kitchen within an art space in itself highlights the performative and ritualistic aspects already inherent in cooking and food preparation. “Peristalsis,” named after the motions of the muscles that propels food down the throat, features work by Mimi Kim, Mia Brownell, Oasa DuVerney, Jude Tallichet, Saeri Kiritani, Sean Joseph, Wojtek Doroszuk, Matt Freedman, Kenneth Tin Kin Hung, Lucia Love, and Ronald Reyes.
Eating, like all basic biological functions that reminds of animal nature, has been transformed universally in human culture into ritual and performance, distorted by various convolutions into something separate from the cycles of the earth: growth, harvest, and fertilization. In our society primarily, the act of eating has reached an apex of sterilization where at no point, from consumption to defecation, is it necessary for the average person to slaughter, to reap, to fertilize, or generally to come into direct contact with anything resembling a natural cycle.
It is this state of disconnect that forms notions of material hierarchy: the food product which is immediately useful to us for nutrition and energy is considered higher than the product of the digestive process, which in this state of disconnect has lost its purpose, is thought of as waste and is hidden and flushed away in a ceremony that resembles, not coincidentally, the burial of a corpse. Both “waste” disposals ceremonies symbolize an aversion to the natural cycle, signified by death, which is an affront on and a negation of our conceptions of human identity. It is not surprising, then, that such notions of hierarchy extend into our social structures.
Of course these hierarchies are illusions, but they do illustrate how our attitudes towards eating or other biological processes conditions our understanding of social order. The “Peristalsis” exhibit asks the viewer to draw this connection between the biological and the socio-economic, how our attitudes toward our biology, which at times expresses itself as shame or disgust yet not without a childlike interest and curiosity, shapes our identity as a species and is recreated in our social structures.
It is clear that such biological functions are fundamental in shaping society, and are of the utmost concern for those who hold power in it. It has long been understood that in order for a government or power structure to retain control over the general public, it must keep that public fed. This method is much more effective than forceful oppression. A public that is well taken care of, which has all of its basic needs met by a system of power, is not likely to try to revolt against that system on any fundamental level. A well-fed public may wish to change a few superficial aspects of the system that provides for them, but to overturn this system completely would also mean abandoning the sense of security and stability that it provides. Economically, this general public is referred to by the biologically potent term “consumers.” A consumer is ultimately a threat to those who wish to maintain power, because by definition a consumer is someone who perpetually consumes, and is never satiated. This is due to the fact that even if a particular need has been completely satisfied, it opens the door to new desires. An effective system not only feeds its populace in the literal sense, but also provides for the needs and desires that arise once a person has been well-fed, intellectual, political, spiritual, social, and is flexible enough to keep providing for new desires as they impose themselves. The most flexible systems even allows for the transgression of their own laws, in ways that satiate a public’s need to revolt without actually threatening the system. American democracy is an example: the public’s desire for political upheaval is sedated by a steady biannual change in leadership, even though this change leaves the system, at its core, intact. But even the most flexible system cannot continue to account for new desires indefinitely, at some point these perpetually voracious consumers will find their ever-evolving needs are not being satisfied at the same rate they are increasing, leading to revolution.
“Peristalsis” explores consumption on all of these levels: how eating/digestion shapes our identity as a species and fosters a sense of community, how learned food habits are perceived as indicators of class or culture, the food industry’s relationship to power structures, and the ceremonial aspects of eating. Sean Joseph’s performance “Experimental Aioli” during which he presents an array of flavored aioli derived from celebrities and public figures including Tina Fey, Bill de Blasio, Biggie Smalls, and others, is a comment on how our consumption of celebrity culture satiates a hunger for entertainment, and the ways celebrities are packaged and marketed to appeal to all facets of the populace. Kenneth Tin Kin Hung’s video “The Fast Supper,” which features the Christ of da Vinci’s painting gorging himself on fast food, is a humorous take on how eating is featured heavily in religious ceremony, and the use of institutional religion in satisfying a broad spiritual hunger.
Saeri Kiritani’s sculpture “100 Pounds of Rice” of a begging women constructed from rice, and Ronald Reyes’ 30 sec video loop “Indeleble,” featuring a dancing man dressed as the Chiquita Banana mascot, are both comments on the exploitative practices of the food industry, and a kind of exploitative “digestion” of other cultures. Mia Brownell’s surreal painting “Still Life with Flu” and Wojtek Doroszuk’s video “Festin,” which features a feast table overrun with pests, comment on the phantasmagoric and nightmarish effects of feasting and food excess. Mimi Kim’s painting “La Saucisson,” which depicts a woman wrapped in the same manner as a sausage in a butcher shop display, comments on the relationship between fetish and food culture, as well as the marketing of the female body as consumable object.
The rhythm of the throat mimics the rhythm of the river. Even this far inland, one can sense, as if by magnetism, the thunderous muscles clench around cement and steel, a knocking at the gates, answered with our own silent muscular rhythm. The city inflates like a whale bladder, riverwater pumped into the veins of streets and buildings, released through a hundred thousand gurgling faucets; only to be flushed, this same element that digests continents, into some untrodden mental murk. The sacrifice must always follow, though we stave it off as long as we can. The sacrifice is the rotted god ingested and fed back into the soil: the flowering of new gods. The sacrifice is the blissful horror that succeeds a protracted era of rigid harvest. When it turns its head, its eyes are reflective as seashells, and silent except for a trapped, ancient echo growling like an empty stomach.
160 Randolph St.
Sundays and by appointment