New York City

NYC art exhibition gives food for thought

October 13, 2015 By Ula Ilnytzky Associated Press
"Temptation," part of an installation from the artist-duo David Burns and Austin Young, appears among the works of 30 artists in the multimedia exhibition “The Value of Food: Sustaining a Green Planet” at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The exhibition, currently installed in the cathedral’s seven chapels and 14 bays, explores food accessibility, sustainability and other food-related issues and runs through April 3, 2016. AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews
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There’s a whole lot of food for thought at a new art exhibition in New York City.

“The Value of Food: Sustaining a Green Planet” explores food production and access, environmental and agricultural sustainability and related issues.

The multimedia exhibition opened last week at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, which has a long history of addressing important issues of the day through the arts, programming and community dialogue.

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The exhibit features 30 artists whose works are installed in the cathedral’s seven chapels and 14 bays. It’s divided into seven themes: water, soil, seed, farm, market, meal and waste.

“As you go around the cathedral, the architecture takes you in a circle that heads toward the exit, so it’s almost like the food cycle,” said artist-curator Robin Kahn, who organized the exhibition with art historian Kirby Gookin.

The aim is to make people “think about how their food is being grown, where it’s grown, who’s growing it and how it’s processed, marketed, prepared and in the end what happens to the waste and how to recycle,” Kahn said.

Some of the artists are environmentalists; others focus on the intersection of food and art, or science and art.

The largest exhibit, by Tom Otterness, consists of three picnic tables arranged in a 38-foot row filled with chaotic scenes: a broken human figure, a dinner-plate-sized penny divided like a pizza and a cracked globe suspended on a pulley. The 1986 work has been variously interpreted as a civilization in decline and a symbol of gluttony, but its meaning is ultimately up to the viewer.

“Temptation” by the Los Angeles collective Falling Fruit, comprised of artists David Burns and Austin Young, looks at the allegory of the Garden of Eden — a place of abundance where “you would never do without,” said Burns. Their triptych, occupying three cathedral bays, includes Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden.

Burns and Young, who have mapped fruit trees on public property in urban areas worldwide, planted seven apple trees in the church’s garden. “Perhaps we can turn cities into places of abundance by planting fruit trees in public spaces” so that “nobody needs to go hungry,” said Burns.

Artist Pascal Bernier addresses industrial farming and the inhumane treatment of animals. His piece looks like nothing more than a tall white box until you peer inside. Mirrors magnify the cramped conditions of two taxidermy piglets.

Artist Tattfoo Tan searches trash bins for discarded food that has theoretically expired or has imperfections. He dehydrates and stores it as ready-to-eat meals. His piece features the vacuum-sealed bags atop large travel trunks alongside a display of other survival techniques he teaches to Philadelphia schoolchildren, like sewing and making a fire.

Sitting on the main altar is Christy Rupp’s sculpture “Extinct Birds” made of chicken bone fragments collected from restaurant garbage bins — “the emblems of today’s materialistic consumerism.”

Black-and-white images from photojournalist Matt Black’s project “The Geography of Poverty” are displayed on the cathedral’s exterior fence. He traveled around the country depicting food workers and the ravages of climate change.

Kahn hopes the exhibition will empower visitors to “look at food in a new way that’s more beneficial not only to them but to the Earth.”

Related workshops, talks and other programs are scheduled during the exhibition, which ends April 3.

It’s a way to “start a conversation that needs to continue,” said the cathedral’s dean, the Very Rev. Dr. James Kowalski.

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