Food Community

Knots, Knives & Kombucha

One of the constant challenges of a blog is finding writing topics. Usually this involves planning where to eat out, finding time on the schedule for food events, or choosing which book to read. Every once in a while though, there is a serendipitous occurrence where material falls into your lap. Such an occurrence happened last night, when I attend an art show opening entitled: A Thread, a Thought, a Knot put on by a friend of mine, Chantel Mierau. The show was held at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery on the campus of Canadian Mennonite University.

Knots work on display
One of the works in the Knots part of the exhibition.
Broadway Beat - Will Ferrell, '...
Broadway Beat - Will Ferrell, 'SHAOLIN', The Fantasticks & TOMMY

In the Mierau exhibit two works stood out for me. One features a brain made out of fabric. The brain is on a stick, and is attached by fabric to a tall piece of material that is laced up to about 2/3s of it’s height. There is a metal plate where the fabric from the brain connects. There is a metal plate at the back, and above it several undone eyelets. Were the upper eyelets to be laced up, there would undoubtedly be strain put on the fabric cord as well as the brain. I could almost sense a potential tension headache.
The other piece is a video work. Here the narrator recounts a story of the death of a grandfather, and how the community comes around the grandmother with food in the aftermath of the death. Yet here the food is a barrier put up to allow them to avoid dealing with the company of the grandmother in her grief. Throughout the video there is an arm with string being wound around it. In the early part of the video it resemble a boxer taping her hands before a fight, but by the end, it is more like a cast, one that renders the arm useless. Much like the casseroles, the string creates a barrier in the end. This is my take on it, you might think differently if you saw it yourself.

From Knots to Knives:

At the time Ms. Mierau’s show was on, Jodi Hildebrand, another Winnipeg artist was also opening a show. Ms. Hildebrand’s show is entitled: Women Wielding Knives: Exploring Power in Domesticity. Ms. Hildebrand’s show is curated by Jaimie Isaac, and along with the artists paintings includes a number of entries from the Heritage Centre’s archives that depict examples of domestic life in the history of the Mennonites who settled in this part of the world.

Knots and knives
A farmer preparing to some knife work.

The topic of power in domesticity is one that I have little working knowledge of. Although it does feature prominently in Writing in the Kitchen one of my book reviews from the last few months. I’ll include the opening paragraph from the Mennonite Heritage Center Gallery’s PDF on the exhibit.

In Women Wielding Knives, Jodi Hildebrand addresses
contemporary issues of domestic duty, gender roles, consumerism, and the food economy through a feminist perspective. It is more relevant than ever to address women’s roles and value in society given the current unrest, the baby boomlet, food security and sustainability across the globe. Many people are striving to (re)turn to self-reliance, consider political anecological acts that seek balance and health within the home. In consideration that home and hearth were traditionally associated with a woman’s domain, the exhibition focuses on women’s relationships to food production and preparation. There is an increasing awareness and participation in thi sgenre of discourse. “Food revolution” is expressed through various theoretical frameworks from feminist, environmental, health & wellness, economical and cultural standpoints, some of which take action via art-based methods. Jodi uncovers many levels of access in this area of discussion in her work; food is not only celebrated but also critiqued. The exhibition will also explore the Canadian Mennonite Heritage Centre’s archives as an intervention and connection to a historical dialogue.

One of the more interesting pieces to me, is the one of the women walking out to the pasture. There is a big and two cows. She carries with her a meat cleaver. As you look closer there is a blood red line on the cleaver. Clearly domesticity is not for the faint of heart.
At the same time, there are pictures from the archives depicting the day of slaughter of animals. It is noticeable that it is being done by hand and there are several people gathered around as the butchering is about to begin. In both of the photos, the knives are held by the men. Hildebrand’s painting serves to remind us that women were also often the ones who did the necessary butchering.
Another picture shows a collection of shopping carts in a field. Along with this is a sign showing what was the famine diet of the Mennonites in their latter years in Russia and the Ukraine. It reminds the viewer that our modern desire for convenience and choice comes at the price of forgetting our food skills. At the same time the famine diet reminds us that the loss of convenience and choice sometimes has unwelcome consequences also.

Knots and slaughter
Animals in the field, but the presence of the farmer’s wife reminds us of their fate.

Thinking about Knots

On the surface these two shows may not seem to hold much in common. The paintings in the one exhibit are large, bright and bold. By contrast the most of the works in the other are smaller, fine and, delicate. As well black and white are the dominant colour patterns. Yet, the idea of knots explicit in Mierau’s show, is also implicit in Hildebrand’s.
One thing that is constantly brought home to me as I write and read about food is that food is a complicated subject. Trying to talk about food is often like trying to undo a knotted shoelace. Just as you think you have one piece of the knot loosened another one tightens. Sometimes this happens so much that the only choice is cut the shoelace, leaving it useless.
In her opening remarks, Ms. Mierau talked about the knots of relationships along with the physical knots that figure in her works. If you go back and read the introductory paragraph to Ms. Hildebrand’s you can see the same sorts of relationship knots as you observe her work.  These are interesting thoughts to carry as you work your way through both exhibits. I would like to suggest that you take more than one trip through each, interlaciing them much like the fabric in the the brain piece of Ms. Mierau.

Domestic Talent on Display:

There were refreshments served. These were prepared by Ms. Hildebrand and Ms. Isaac, and in keeping with the theme of the show, were almost entirely homemade.

Along with the food, there were beverages for sale from Edible Alchemy. Natalie, one of the partners in Edible Alchemy was on hand to not only serve the drinks but to provide information on the processes used. One of the drinks was a Hibiscus-Lime Kombucha. Kombucha is a fermented beverage. One of its uses is as a digestive aid. You can find out more about Kombucha and fermentation at the Facebook page, and some of here other food related work at the Urban Eatin website.
Throughout the evening, the atmosphere was enhanced by the musical stylings of DJ Mama Cutsworth. A fixture on the Winnipeg music scene DJ Mama Cutsworth always brings up the level of any event. I really like her tendency to include music from the 40s and 50s in her sets. On top of all that she has a great food blog as well.
Both shows run through until January 17, 2015. This gives you plenty of time to get out and see both of them. I highly recommend that you take the time to do so. Also, after you’ve gone through your many holiday parties, maybe try some Edible Alchemy beverages to aid your post party digestion.

By Donald McKenzie

Anglican priest, and food blogger. This blog is focused on Food. It will feature reviews of places to eat books, and the odd recipe. I also write about what it means to gather together around food.