Bemis resident Shilpa Rangnekar’s first solo show was a food-themed art installation at the Garden of the Zodiac Gallery titled, ‘Identify It. Share It. Eat It. Live It.’
Bemis resident’s first solo show outside the box quenches appetite for food, thought and art.
By MICHAEL J. KRAINAK
It’s been said, “we are what we eat.” One might also add, “How we eat.”
This doesn’t bode well in America where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than two thirds of all adults are either obese or over weight.
It appears the mantra for American culture with regard to food is: “We live to eat” rather than eat to live. Yet, ironically, the former can apply to hefty and foodie alike, often putting both on the wrong side of the scale.
Whether one craves “all you can eat” and “supersize me,” at home or away, or small plates, organic and sustainable, it’s still a matter of quantity as well as quality. One’s “profile” may still be the same. We truly are the choices we make. Our cultural values do reflect the human condition.
Not unusual that such food for thought be the concern of nutritionists and the medical field alike. But it is a surprise when an art center incorporates food awareness and community engagement into its creative vision as well as a thematic residency. Such is the current initiative at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts put into place by former Executive Director Adam Price and Program Director Amanda Crowley.
One such artist who has benefitted from this food-themed residency is Shilpa Rangnekar, who lives and works in Jaipur, India. Rangnekar has successfully transitioned her Culture Kitchen Archive project into her first solo exhibition, which just closed at the Garden of the Zodiac gallery in the Old Market.
CKA is her ongoing, creative effort to know and explore a place through its food culture in partnership with the communities of the region. It also was meant to inquire into the relationship between home and food.
“Food is one of the means to our perception of identity,” Rangnekar says. “The way we eat, and what we eat not just differentiates us with others but also, at the same time reflects aspects of a home, community, culture and geography connected with it.
“The show was in a way my gesture to know and share the culture that I belong to, but it also shared the common elements of emotions and desires that we all possess irrespective of our differences.”
Aptly titled Identify It. Share It. Eat It. Live It., the exhibit consisted of three food installations that encouraged viewers to partake in her offerings as a sort of ritual of communion and identification. The titular first installation featured a word search puzzle made of Mathri, deep-fried crackers in the shapes of letters that formed human qualities, such as empathy, courage, joy and hope, which the artist encouraged viewers to “solve, share and eat” with others.
The second, “Desire Food Cupcakes,” were made from an Indian recipe, Khaman,which were steamed and savory rather than sweet, and adorned with coconut and green chutney to add texture. Each one hid a human desire that was only revealed when you picked a cupcake up, thus possessing more of a risk as with a fortune cookie. Greater risk but doubly rewarded by sharing this unknown bond of taste and desire with another culture.
It’s worth noting that Rangnekar collected all 60 of the said desires from visitors during her Open Studio at Bemis last month and they were generous with such choices as: peace, stability, a big house, vacation, patience and…good food.
The last installation, which was actually the first one encountered in the main gallery, this writer found to be the most complex and interesting. Called “Eat Your Choice,” it was composed of Modaks, fried dumplings made of flour and stuffed with coconut, jiggery and cardamom, each with a label illustrating one of 555 personality traits listed by noted psychologist Norman Anderson.
Anderson organized his list in a descending order of likeability it and ran the gamut from sincere and honest to realistic and amiable, from cautious and shrewd to compulsive and demanding, ending with the least positive, phony and liar. It was his attempt to gauge real human values as opposed to more superficial, pop cultural ones like wealth, social status and physical beauty.
Viewers had to choose and remove the labels before eating the fruit of their labor and were no doubt conscious of their choice while enjoying its “taste.” Which is interesting because though all 555 qualities and dumplings were on display, a Herculean as well as epicurean feat (or feast) in itself for Rangnekar as chef, dumplings were devoured regardless of “likeability.”
Regardless of which installation, it’s important to understand that though the artist recognizes that we are what we eat…and choose, in no way is she being judgmental about one’s preference or personal taste. At the most, her performance and audience participation show is humanitarian and accepting, qualities she believes all cultures share in common and communion.
“I incorporated both positive and negative personality traits (in each installation),” Rangnekar said. “I feel making a choice of quality is a very personal gesture. Sometimes you want to be selfish, but in the show, the viewers were thrown in a situation where they have to make a choice in front of others, and also consume.
“Another reason for using negative qualities was to observe, does food work as an agent tempting enough to alter the choices one makes (by) going for negative ones?”
Apparently, yes, as the audience seldom hesitated to experience something new, while taking ownership of their indulgence, without much forethought or conscience. “Modaks” flew off the shelf regardless of their “likeability,” that is, whatever label of personality that identified it. It didn’t seem to matter as long as one’s curiosity and appetite were satisfied.
Two interesting observations about the exhibition’s aesthetic that seem to reinforce the above when it comes to the human condition and food. One, regardless of installation, no matter how or what one chose to eat, and what quality it may have represented, positively or negatively, the ingredients and recipe for each cracker, cupcake and dumpling were the same, so was the palette.
Of course, one’s palate response will be different, individual taste being what it is, but then that may also reinforce how differently we respond to the human personality traits and characteristics that accompany the above food choices, as well. In a politically charged environment, one presidential candidate’s brusqueness and bravado may appear to be a strength. Another’s caution and thoughtfulness a weakness.
You could sit down and have the same beer with each, but will it taste the same? We truly are what we eat, and drink, and with whom. A second factor that may have influenced even our willingness to participate and indulge opening night was presentation.
Items for the three “taste tests” were pleasingly and carefully displayed referencing respectively, a bakery (cupcakes), game room (crackers) or most effectively, museum display shelves (dumplings). The urge to sample and hold, let alone taste, was difficult to suppress.
Regardless of the outcome, we all initially responded in kind and Rangnekar couldn’t be happier with her first cultural solo outside the box.
“To me, my works provide a situation for people where they can see and share the commonness amidst others (known and unknown) from different cultures and geographies.
“What was overwhelming experience, was to see the various levels of engagement people were having on both the emotional and physical level,” she added. “Also, it was interesting to observe that people didn’t follow the rankings of the personality traits. Food overpowered that.”
posted at 06:11 pm
on Saturday, November 21st, 2015
Interview with Rajasthan-based Rangnekar.
By Raif Karerat
Self-described as a “conceptual artist working with a multidisciplinary approach for socially engaged art and research practices,” Indian artist Shilpa Rangnekar’s work takes observations from everyday life and uses an artistic lens to delve deeper into seemingly innocuous relationships. She is renowned for using food in her art and masterminding expressive, community oriented projects.
A native of Indore, Rangnekar lives and works in Jaipur with her husband, Lochan Upadhyay — who is a sculptor and also does Public art projects. Prior to settling in Jaipur, Rangnekar resided in Baroda, where she attended MS University of Baroda and earned her BFA in painting in 2005. Furthermore, she also received an MVA in painting from Hyderabad Central University in 2008. She is visiting the US for an exhibition of her works.
Excerpts of a phone interview with Rangnekar:
Can you tell me about your current work?
I am doing a residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha. It’s a residency program that invites local and international artists for a three-month period where we get a stipend and studio where we can work with other artists.
This time, we had a theme, the “Future of Food;” we are eight artists who work in the medium. I recently did an installation and a show at one of the local galleries. The residency ends on December 9th.
Tell us about the show Identify it. Share it. Eat it. Live it. exhibited at the Garden of the Zodiac Gallery, in Omaha…
The show actually started on October 29th — that was when it opened. But let me introduce you to my work a little bit so you get an idea about it. I’m more interested in the idea of every day and how one finds the creativity within that area. That’s how food comes into the picture.
Apart from food, I generally incorporate an approach that advocates socially engaged art and research practices. Sometimes the work comes out in the form of utilitarian objects, sometimes it’s food performances or a food installation, and sometimes it’s very expressive, engaging, community-oriented art projects.
This time around, while I’ve been here [in the U.S.], I was working on edible installations. I literally installed them in the gallery and people could come and eat them. That was a completely new idea for people over here.
For the show I actually had three edible installations and they dealt with the idea of sharing a meal. The food incorporated very obvious words that represented the viewers’ emotions and feelings. The idea was that the viewers had to make a choice of what they wanted to eat, but sometimes they could share, whereas sometimes they just consumed it.
Are there recurring themes you try to incorporate into your work?
I’m more interested in the idea of the connection between home and food, and how it gets associated with one’s identity and personality traits.
I also use words in my art so people can actually read their food. The idea is to connect home, food, identity, and emotions, and feelings, so most of the words I used were personality traits and desires.
What is Sandarbh? What sort of work do you coordinate with them?
Since 2010 I’ve also been associated with artists’ initiative called Sandarbh. We’re an India-based organization of Indian and international artists who come and work together in a new context which they otherwise wouldn’t get in a normal studio. We are based in and around a small town called Partapur, which is on the southern side of Rajasthan.
When artists come, they come with a notion of what art is and about, and it’s interesting to see how they negotiate with communities and explore the local resources.
I started in 2010 and now I’m coordinating residencies for them. Right now there’s a residency going on that is a collaboration with the Jaipur Art Summit.
My association with Sandarbh has also helped me in evolving my own art. One of my recent community art project Equilibrium in collaboration with Sandarbh, BLVS and Walpodenakademie and supported by Creative Encounters really helped me explore and understand the possibility of my own art-practice within the context of the community..
Who are some of the artists who have served as an inspiration to you, and who are your favorite contemporary artists?
Right now I am reading a book on Eva Hesse. I like works by several artists like Barbara Kruger, Anish Kapoor, Kate Ericson & Mel Ziegler and more recently I am also intrigued by projects like Conflict Kitchen and The Dharavi Biennale that perfectly demonstrates the Art of social practice.
Are there notable similarities or differences between the artistic landscape of India and that of the U.S.?
I haven’t yet explored too much of the U.S. since I’ve mainly been in Omaha, but I think in both the U.S. and India younger artists are becoming more privy to newer mediums such as performances, socially engaged art practice, new media, and even food.
I’m also planning on visiting New York and San Francisco, so I think that’s when I’ll see more of the diversity in the art world that the U.S. offers.
Do you believe the Indian government is heavy handed with its censorship policy?
I’ve run into incidents when I was studying at art college, and there have some after, and they have been at regular intervals. Yes, there are occasional issues of censorship being faced by artists, but I think every time there is a censure artists come together and find creative strategies to address them.
Do you believe there is enough of a focus on expanding artistic horizons within the educational systems of India and the U.S. respectively?
In the U.S. my observations on educational programs have only been through the internet and listening experiences of fellow artists.
In India, it’s different. Many institutes have now started introducing a more open approach for students to explore while they are studying. Also, there are many organizations/events coming up like Kochi Muziris Student Biennale and FICA that involves students to get experience and expose to the many aspects of art. So Situation is rapidly changing.
At the same time it is difficult for artists to survive through the government programs that are offered. But there are these private organizations that are coming up, for example, the Indian Foundation for Arts in Bangalore and they are doing an exceptional job of providing resources for artists. They help artists develop their projects and in the future there is the hope that more organizations like that will come up.
and I think compared to India there are many more options where artists can be supported by their local city or the state. I think there are many more ways to get support from the government in the U.S.
But, I’d also like to say that we don’t have many exchange programs between India and America. When I was trying to come here I was trying to figure out a way to get a travel grant but it was very, very difficult. I had to end up financing my own travel. This is pretty shocking because I think when it comes to art, mobility is something that a lot of passionate organizations are working on and it’s something that America and India should work on, too.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m here until January and I’ll be visiting museums and trying to meet new people in San Francisco and New York while figuring out if I’ll have the opportunity to exhibit my work — specifically the edible installations — over there.
My husband is also an artist and he is also associated with Sandarbh. We live in Jaipur and have opened up a new space under the Sandarbh name that will be a shifting studio for us and other artists and host creative events such as art talks, film screenings and performances. It’ll provide an interesting situation for local artists, who will be able to get acquainted from art from outside, as well — we have plans to have artists from Delhi, Bangalore, Bombay, and other places come and show their work there. I’m certainly looking forward to that.
(This interview was updated on November 20, 2015.)
UNIVERSITY OF OMAHA, COLLEGE OF COMMUNICATION, FINE ARTS AND MEDIA
Wilson Memorial Lecture series in the Art Department at University of Omaha, Nebraska for students from Studio Art, Art education, Art history and from Freshman to senior BFA students.
Shilpa Rangnekar (Bemis Resident)
November 18, 2015 | UNO ART Gallery | Noon
For more details visit the UNO website
THE MOVING GALLERY, OLD OMAHA ASSOCIATION
The Moving Gallery is pleased to announce the first U.S. presentation of conceptual artist Shilpa Rangnekar. With her particular interest in understanding and revealing the intersection of creativity and the everyday, Rangnekar adopts a multidisciplinary approach to her socially engaged art. She will design a special food performance for the opening night on October 29; the exhibit will also include photographs from past and current projects.
Shilpa Rangnekar: Identify It. Share It. Eat It. Live It. opens on the evening of October 29 and runs through November 29, 2015, in the Garden of the Zodiac Gallery, 1042 Howard Street. The gallery is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from noon to 8:00pm and on Sundays from noon to 6:00pm. For further information, please contact 402.517.8719 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Moving Gallery, Old Omaha Association, Omaha, Nebraska.
Find Garden of the Zodiac Gallery page on Facebook.
Come celebrate “Future of Food,” the Bemis Center’s first-ever residency for artists who are working with themes of food production and consumption.
Join us for a series of short panel discussions moderated by local food leaders. Take advantage of the rare chance to visit the studios of our artists-in-residence.
Food + Art + Industry
Artists Ting-Tong Chang and Rob Carter discuss how their work reflects or responds to our industrialized food system. Moderated by Brent Lubbert, artist-in-residence and co-founder of Big Muddy Urban Farm, Omaha, NE.
Food + Art + Gender
Artists Shilpa Rangnekar and Lauren Karle discuss how art might help us to redefine—or reject—the perceived roles of women in relationship to food. Moderated by Nancy Williams, Co-Founder, No More Empty Pots, Omaha, NE.
Food + Art + Hospitality
Artists Leah Rosenberg and Sarah Beadle discuss the challenges of using food as a medium, and the role of generosity in their work. Moderated by Brian O’Malley, Executive Director, The Institute for the Culinary Arts at Metropolitan Community College, Omaha, NE.
Open Studios | 2pm–4pm
Sarah Beadle, Los Angeles, CA
Big Muddy Urban Farms, Omaha, NE
Rob Carter, Brooklyn, NY
Ting-Tong Chang, London, UK
Lauren Karle, Watrous, NM
Shilpa Rangnekar, Jaipur, India
Leah Rosenberg, San Francisco, CA
Gabriel Martinez, Houston, TX
Mark Vennegoor, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Brad Kahlhamer, New York, NY