From Feast to Feast: Potluck, Critical Encounters, and motiroti

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In the fall semester, I documented the journey of the Potluck:Chicago group formed by UK-based art duo motiroti and Critical Encounters: Rights, Radicals, and Revolutions. A new wave of participants joined the fold this semester, kicking off another series of potlucks, interventions, and art-making in the Chicago area.[flickr id=”6915381953″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]

First thing’s first, though. These new participants had to learn how to function within the Potluck:Chicago group, both in project goals and partner skills. Ali Zaidi and Amy Mooney, from motiroti and Critical Encounters respectively, led the freshly commingled group in several team-building exercises. One of these exercises is the personal timeline. As partners, each participant sketches a symbolic timeline of their life, recording the ups and downs of their individual experiences. Once drawn, they explain their life-drawing to their partner, who will eventually present it to the group. This intimate exercise builds trust, familiarity, and camaraderie within the collective, preparing them for the rigorous week ahead.

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Of all the activity, I want to highlight two main events in this blog. One is the opening of Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art and Potluck:Chicago’s presence in the gallery as installation and performance. The exhibition opened at the Smart Museum on the campus of University of Chicago, showcasing past and present work with food, performance, and installation. In one corner of the gallery, Potluck:Chicago installed a large-scale stylized map of the CTA train lines. Clusters of images populated this map– images of En Las Tablas, Dorchester Projects, the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, and the Stone Soup Event at Columbia College Chicago from last semester. Participants also populated the space, adorned with aprons and invitations disguised as empty plates to be given to gallery-goers for another staged potluck.

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The other interactive component to the Feast installation was for those gallery-goers. Red and orange sticky notes sat on a shelf where viewers could write down their comfort foods and post them to the Potluck map. The diversity of the crowd garnered an equally diverse palette of dishes: Indian cuisine mixed with macaroni and cheese, sweet breads with tart deserts, soul food with suburban staples, all spread out across the rendering of Chicago. The installation was a success in inviting and informing newcomers of the project, allowing them to participate in even this small, fun way. There are many comfort foods, and it takes a mapping of them to realize just how much cultural breadth lies within Chicago.

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And what of the plate invitations passed out at the opening? Those same plates were also passed out on the various CTA lines by tireless potluckers, drumming up attendance at the concluding potluck at Inspiration Kitchen site in Garfield Park. Inspiration offers the homeless and impoverished a chance to learn culinary skills and etiquette as a means of employment, confidence building, and professional development. This site was a perfect match with the Potluck:Chicago mission statement of everyone bringing something to the table and creating community.

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Community. It is a word to which I keep returning, trying to exactly pinpoint a definition. It is a question I ask every participant as I video document for the Potluck:Chicago group. Like comfort food, there is an infinite array of definitions. Who is your community? How do you join others? Is there a system to the process, or is it happenstance? Is it a combination of the two? If anything, the potluck experience raises finer versions of these broad questions even as we attempt to answer them ourselves with interventions, dinners, and installations.

What I do know is that Potluck:Chicago is continuing its momentum. Momentum to keep exploring the possibilities that food unlocks in bringing those of different backgrounds together to discuss the social and political issues of the city–how to nourish hunger in our bodies and in fellowship. It has been an amazing ride so far, and I feel like we’re gearing up for even bigger things in the future.

For now, I raise my glass to The Potluck, and for another fulfilling week. Hear, hear.

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