As urbanised humans are increasingly distanced from the means of food production, the choice of what and how we eat becomes a political act. The artists participating in Plenty at ACE Open – who double as farmers, microbiologists, interviewers and cooks – suggest a range of perspectives we might bring to our relationship with food. Curator Toby Chapman says food is a prism for examining what “sustainability, nourishment and satisfaction mean and look like for us as individuals and as a community.”
How can we think actively about these choices? And how does the way food is produced, marketed and sold intersect with colonialism, capitalism and class? Food is at the centre of Plenty, but Chapman intends for it to act as “a metaphor or a placeholder for us to be able to think more broadly about these kinds of issues.”
Eight artists have been commissioned to make new work that considers these questions in different ways. James Tylor’s cookbook, Mai: Contemporary Kaurna Food, celebrates Indigenous food, history and the landscape of the Adelaide Plains. Tylor, who is of Nunga (Kaurna), Māori (Te Arawa) and European heritage, presents an installation of wall-drawn maps and local plants, and during the opening weekend he cookedselected dishes from the book. Tylor’s project, Chapman explains, is about experiencing, tasting and learning about Indigenous cuisine, but it is also about recognising Indigenous culture as a living culture to be nourished and protected.
In a post-industrial farming future, it may be up to urban individuals and small collectives to manage and care for their own food sources. Urban Sun Project, 2018, by Sasha Grbich and Kelly Reynolds, considers and tests what this future might look like. Coles Greenhouse Truss Tomatoes are used as a starting point for an exploration of community versus industrial production. Grbich and Reynolds illicitly propagated the trademarked tomato seeds, grown at Sundrop Farms three hours north of Adelaide, from the store-bought fruit, and disseminated seedlings among their extended networks to raise. Urban Sun Project extends beyond the confines of the gallery, but visible elements include research documentation, improvised planters and a live-feed of plant welfare updates from guerrilla growers.
Jamie Lewis invites us into the stories of those whose lives intersect with the iconic Adelaide Central Markets, from the mostly European-Australian stallholders, to young Asian-Australians for whom the markets are an intergenerational hub. Yesterday Tomorrow Here Today, 2018, is an audio experience, designed to be listened to through headphones over a coffee at Lucia’s, an iconic market cafe. Also encompassing an installation at ACE Open, Lewis’s project draws a connection between a 150-year-old commercial and agricultural institution and a 21st-century contemporary art space. Like the voices and stories in the audio piece, the format of Lewis’s project connects old and new worlds.
Food is a rich site for explorations of cultural identity. For colonial Australia, Chapman explains, “national identity has been tied up with agriculture and prosperity”. Importantly, though, he says “our relationship to food – the way we are growing, eating and consuming it – is changing.” The food industry in Adelaide, and Australia more broadly, is positioned at the forefront of major cultural and environmental shifts. In Plenty, eight artists imagine what these changes might look like; they picture new approaches to food that prioritise and sustain community and cultural life.