One New York-based "food installation artist" named Jennifer Rubell is coming to the Dallas Contemporary with two different exhibits, one a performance piece about food labor this Thursday, September 22, and the other an interactive exhibit where museum patrons will crack nuts with nude female mannequin legs. Interested? We were too, which is why we interviewed Rubell to find out why Texas, why food labor, and especially why naked lady doll nut-cracking.
Per the official press release, Made In Texas is intended to "bring behind the scenes elements of domestic production to center stage as local laborers prepare Texas cuisine in a hybrid of performance art, installation, and happening." Performer-laborers will include the Mozzarella Company and Moises Silguero, a first-place salsa winner at the Texas State Fair, who's now doing a line of salsa with the Renfro folks. Then, from September 25 to December 4, Rubell's Nutcrackers exhibit's "interactive sculptures" will "embody the two polar stereotypes of female power; the idealized, sexualized nude female form and the too-powerful, nut-busting uberwoman."
On the inspiration for Made In Texas: "All the work I do has all been very site specific, not only to the particular location but to the region and area. I went down to Dallas and I just asked the museum to show me around to some of the places where food is made. That's a standard starting point for me. Factories where food is made, places where people produce food. Something I was struck by in the places I went to was this very artisanal quality to the food being made in family-owned factory settings. I kept thinking, at the Mozzarella Company, thinking to myself, if you went to France and you saw this going on you'd say, 'Ooooh, the artisanal cheese making!' Meanwhile, you're in Dallas, and it's a group of Mexican-American women making cheese with a really high degree of artisanal attention.
On memorable moments in Dallas: "If there's one moment in particular, there was a woman working [at the Mozzarella Company] for 13 years. Another woman brought over piece of mozzarella, this woman with 13 years rolled it between her fingers and nodded to the other woman. It was this kind of master teaching a pupil. I was really struck by that. I found it in cheese making, tamale making, tortilla making, really in every, literally every single place that I visited. So I wanted to that artisanal food-making that's going on, that is invisible to the public almost all the time. I simply wanted to put that process on a pedestal in an environment where the people interacting with it would normally be interacting with static art objects. I wanted that to give people the opportunity to question their relationship to what is on the pedestal, which is a function that art serves."
On what patrons will experience: "There's going to be seven pedestals, with the actual equipment taken from factory to museum placed on the pedestal. Actual workers in actual uniforms, in hair nets and galoshes. They'll be making exactly what they make every day. They'll be placing it so that participants can eat it. Of course, it causes us to question our relationship to all this labor that goes into the food we eat. Whether we put that labor on a pedastal enough. In the end there are tamales, tres leches cakes, a non-performative ton of tortilla chips that people can take. The winner of last year's Texas State Fair salsa competition, Moises Silguero, will be there. We introduced him tot he Renfro family who owns Renfro Salsa. They're going to be doing a line of salsas with him and he's going to be on one of the pedestals with the Renfro team. It was fun to dig deep into the food culture."
And on to the lady nutcracking: The piece starts a conversation. That isn't a specific position. You could see it as the woman requires the other to complete her, or it can be seen as these women, mannequins who are not real women, who are a caricature of women, require the other to complete her, which is different from an actual human female. They're really fun and at the same time, it's just kind of a very intensely loaded object. The place where you crack pecans is an egg shaped indentation with these teeth in it that are actually used in a pecan cracker, but the effect is this vagina dentata form. In making them, my intentions were really, purely about the functional nutcracker for pecans. I didn't start off with an idea that I wanted. The most functional form comes out as a kind of gender-loaded form. They're not fragile, but they feel fragile. As you're pushing down these legs to crack them you're having this interaction. It's such an obscene interaction with an art object. It feels so wrong when you're cracking it.
On Texas and iconography, specifically, pecan being the state tree.: It's no accident.
I don't like working in a vacuum. Going to Texas and looking at what's going on down there was the beginning of my thought. It happened to stay with pecans. I could have ended up with something that wasn't a nutcracker at all. But I find Texas an incredibly bright place for inspiration, and I'm not even interested in the iconic."
Rubell's nutcracker. [Photo: Adam Reich]