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Filming Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art

Communications students seek to capture exhibition’s convivial spirit on film

Film Feast

Performance artist Ana Prvacki in “The Greeting Committee”
at the Smart Museum of Art

A new exhibition at the Blaffer Art Museum will provide a multi-sensory experience to the guests who visit the museum this fall.

The Blaffer has planned an auditory and palpable experience for all that participate in the Houston iteration of Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art. The result is an exhibition that completely immerses visitors into the artists’ creations, including cameos in the films being produced on the show.

Students enrolled in Dr. Temple Northup’s Fall 2013 documentary filmmaking course will produce and direct new films about various parts of Feast in Houston as part of their course work.

UH is only the exhibit’s second stop since its genesis at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago in 2012.

“The exhibition includes the display of objects, photographs, and videos as well as participatory projects staged during the run of the exhibition,” said Claudia Schmuckli, director and chief curator at the Blaffer Art Museum. “The theme of the exhibition also offers a unique platform for collaboration with multiple partners from a variety of disciplines both on and off campus.”

One partnership is with Dr. Northup, assistant professor at the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and his students. Last semester, his documentary filmmaking students created short films about food in Houston as part of the Gulf Coast Food Project at the University Houston, of which Dr. Northup is a co-director.  Several of those films have been selected as Feast installations.

“The goal of this collaboration is two-fold,” said Dr. Northup. “One, it will give my students some small projects to work on together as they plan and then eventually shoot their large semester project. Two, it should provide Blaffer with some nice video packages showing what they had going on during the Feast exhibition. I think it represents a really great way that two different departments can work together.”

In addition to the students’ films, the work of more than 25 professional artists will be on display in the exhibition, which has its public opening on September 6.

One performance piece is Ana Prvacki’s The Greeting Committee. As part of this work, UH faculty, staff, and students will welcome visitors to the museum with a spoonful of Serbian slatko, a sweet strawberry preserve served to guests as a traditional gesture of hospitality.

Another work is Lee Mingwei’s The Dining Project. Three Blaffer guests will have the opportunity to dine one-on-one with the artist after hours in the museum, seated within his unique sculptural installation.

The Smart Museum of Art described the exhibition as defining an important new category of contemporary artistic practice – “the artist-orchestrated meal.” It curated Feast as an examination of the history of the artist-orchestrated meal, assessing its roots in early-twentieth century European avant-garde art, its development over the past decades within Western art, and its current global ubiquity.

In Houston, the Blaffer curated Feast: A Dinner Series as the exhibition’s spring and summer preface to its September opening.

The dinners, hosted by Houston art collectors, featured meals prepared by Chef Philip Speer, director of culinary operations at Uchi restaurant, with wine pairings selected by sommelier David Keck, general manager and wine director at The Camerata at Paulie’s.

Each dinner for 30 guests was the result of a creative collaboration between artists and chefs. Every experience was developed around a concept or theme that explored and relayed in both aesthetic and culinary terms a unique, multi-sensory experience.

Nancy Elliott attended the July 20 dinner organized by the artists, The Art Guys. The dinner was held at Gensler Design Studio, located downtown in the Pennzoil Building. The Art Guys posed as “motivational speakers and leaders” who hosted a playful, company-retreat themed event.

“It was unique!” said Mrs. Elliott. “The Art Guys gave a hilarious presentation, during which time we enjoyed wonderful appetizers, each one a self-contained little work of art. Our first course was bagged up like Chinese take-out, but contained an assortment of items including a pickled quail egg and champagne grapes.”

The meal also included a dim-sum-like cart, sashimi, and other selections such as halibut, lobster and short rib.

“The atmosphere was one of levity -- from the hilarious presentation by The Art Guys to the whimsical presentation of the food,” Mrs. Elliott said.

Each of Feast’s artistic exhibitions presents a learning opportunity for Dr. Northup’s class.

“The student groups will have to choose from a list of Feast’s interesting activities and film the event,” said Dr. Northup. “This should include doing an interview with the artist(s), interviewing people in attendance, and getting footage of the event itself. They will then edit the footage into a short package.”

Blaffer is curating several public events to enhance and expand the Feast exhibition, including meals, food markets, film screenings, public lectures, an archived materials showcase, and performances that together will adapt Feast for a local audience.

The National Endowment for the Arts awarded the Blaffer Art Museum a $50,000 grant in support of its presentation of Feast.

Blaffer visitors can refer to their website for event listings. They can be found on the special exhibitions page: http://www.blafferartmuseum.org/feast-radical-hospitality-in-contemporary-art/ as well as the events calendar: http://www.blafferartmuseum.org/events/

- By Monica Byars

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