How do you feel about eating in public? How about eating in public with a bunch of strangers while onlookers examine your personal eating habits?
That's what artist Tsehai Johnson is asking people to do at tonight's performance piece in Riverfront park, where adventurous diners will gather at 6:30 p.m., choose a dish from her exhibition, and find a spot at a big table for dinner. "I'm taking the everyday act of eating and making it art," she says.
The performance piece, Lessons: A Dining Performance, surrounds a collection of ceramics inspired by a survey Johnson conducted to investigate social mores connected to eating. In that survey, she tried to highlight the ways in which food is more than just sustenance. And the project is an ongoing process: She still goes to dinner with strangers to talk to them about meals, and keeps looking for social networks that have sprung up around food.
"In all my work, I like to explore cultural expectations surrounding the home," Johnson says. "This project takes very private habits and makes them public."
When she created the work for the exhibition, which opens August 5 at PlatteForum, Johnson wanted to display those private thoughts and habits. Some of the pieces draw from what participants told her; others have text scrawled on them, detailing how someone thought about food. All are displayed on pop-up shelves meant to invoke cupboards -- if cupboards exposed, rather than hid, their contents.
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Tonight, Johnson will take those private habits to another, very public level. By asking participating diners to choose dishes that speak to them -- and then asking passersby to engage diners in discussion -- she hopes to stimulate conversation about subjects we normally keep to ourselves.
Even the food she's serving plays a role. Johnson worked with Cissy Yin at Bang! to create a menu of comfort-food favorites meant to stimulate conversation and conscious choice-making: two kinds of chicken, for instance, one of which is healthier than the other.
She hopes the event will be not just filling and informative, but fun. "I asked everyone to wear bright clothing," Johnson says. "I want it to be festive."
Details about the event, which runs from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., can be found here.