Guest Blog: From Right to Left
by Evelyn Walker
On May 3rd, The Packing Plant played host to a pop-up group exhibition entitled From Right to Left. The show was conceived and collaboratively realized by the Sculpture BFA students of Indiana University’s Hope School of Fine Art. It was made possible by the leadership and local know-how of artist, professor, and Nashville native Mike Calway-Fagen and curator Veronica Kavass.
The Packing Plant, located on Hagen St. in the Wedgewood/Houston area, is a rough-hewn space: cement floors, cinderblocks, and jerry-rigged, chiaroscuro lighting give it a austere basement quality. It is, therefore, an oddly perfect location for a show that features the act of food preparation, with a dark twist.
From Right to Left is carefully orchestrated. Upon entering the performance space, one encounters the first of three rooms on one’s left. In it is a table of objects, over which two performing artists, dressed all in black and wearing aprons, puzzle and deliberate. They discuss at length which of the objects is “right” for cooking next. When the object has been chosen, it is carried with exigency down the central hallway to a back room. Cooking oil crackles on contact as one of the selected items—a rubber-duck, battered and breaded—is dunked into the deep fryer, which is staged centrally in the minimally lit room. Another performing artist quietly appears to collect the item, now crisp and dripping oil, and carry it to the final room, which mirrors the first room near the entrance. This room is lit generously with clamp lights, each trained on smooth, modern-looking shelves, where the freshly fried item is arranged amongst others of its kind, to be observed at length.
The performers have all been with the show since its inception. They work with a rhythmic focus that is almost ceremonious. They will tell you, if you ask, that each item arranged on the selection table, being considered for frying, is personally significant. All members of the group have contributed to the collection, submitting objects with both potent and half-remembered histories. The collection runs the gamut: a family portrait, a gavel, a Snickers bar, a songbird.
There is a bizarre humor around the idea of deep-frying any one of these items, which stems perhaps from it’s absurdity. There is even a danger to it. Underlying the humor, though, is something darker. The space is part catacomb, part fast food kitchen, pervaded by the smell of carnival food and the systematic murder of memories. There is something truly dysfunctional about the process: objects are pulled from obscurity by the story of life, then cherished as precious, then sent back into a kind of purgatory—albeit a mouthwatering one—where they can hardly be distinguished from one another.
Is the transformative act of food preparation about love? (As in philosopher Allan Watt’s “I love you so much I could eat you” from his ontological essay Murder in the Kitchen) Or is this a possessive and destructive lashing-out, which at once preserves, destroys, and homogenizes each significant item? The preparation of food for display rather than consumption has a precedent in the act of animal sacrifice. But if these are sacrifices or offerings, they are the McDonald’s version: quickly produced, seductive, and void of richness be it nutritional or spiritual. Under no other circumstances, this author is certain, has a plastic telephone receiver managed to trade it’s quotidian function to inspire such lusty hunger as on this night. “I didn’t get it until I saw the fried telephone and I wanted to eat it” one guest remarked.
The show is a gallimaufry of experiences as dual-tonal as the chiaroscuro lighting: attraction and repulsion, love and destruction, humor and gravity. One leaves perhaps having had the sui generis experience of having felt a sudden appetite for a golden-brown, piping hot panty-liner.
One wonders whether the love we feel towards the things in our lives is not more carnal than conscious.