January 20, 2019

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Opinion

Table manners

Two local artists document the shared intimacy and stilted moments of the lunch room

SUPPLIED</p><p>Elvira Finnigan’s salt-encrusted work is part of Cafeteria.</p>

SUPPLIED

Elvira Finnigan’s salt-encrusted work is part of Cafeteria.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/3/2016 (1025 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For all the rewards of good food and good company, sharing a meal can still be kind of stressful. (Apologies in advance to anyone still recovering from a traumatic Easter dinner with the family.)

We let our guard down when we eat, and that vulnerability fosters intimacy, which can either be affirming or awkward. Besides breathing, we handle most of our other “necessities” in private (most of the time, anyway), yet here we all are, shoving things in our faces and mashing them around with our tongues, potentially letting a rude noise or thoughtless comment slip along the way.

Shared vulnerability and intimacy are at the heart of customs from table manners to dietary taboos, which helps explain why food is so crucial for solidifying ethnic, religious and family ties. If everyone’s hungry and the food is good, though, we can usually look past our differences.

In the lunchroom, everyone’s culinary quirks and shibboleths are on full display, and the setting, at once intimate and institutional, creates a unique social dynamic. Staff and students bump trays, classmates and co-workers negotiate friendships and allegiances, strangers flirt and others try to go unnoticed so they can eat their lunch in peace.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/3/2016 (1025 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For all the rewards of good food and good company, sharing a meal can still be kind of stressful. (Apologies in advance to anyone still recovering from a traumatic Easter dinner with the family.)

We let our guard down when we eat, and that vulnerability fosters intimacy, which can either be affirming or awkward. Besides breathing, we handle most of our other "necessities" in private (most of the time, anyway), yet here we all are, shoving things in our faces and mashing them around with our tongues, potentially letting a rude noise or thoughtless comment slip along the way.

Shared vulnerability and intimacy are at the heart of customs from table manners to dietary taboos, which helps explain why food is so crucial for solidifying ethnic, religious and family ties. If everyone’s hungry and the food is good, though, we can usually look past our differences.

In the lunchroom, everyone’s culinary quirks and shibboleths are on full display, and the setting, at once intimate and institutional, creates a unique social dynamic. Staff and students bump trays, classmates and co-workers negotiate friendships and allegiances, strangers flirt and others try to go unnoticed so they can eat their lunch in peace.

Cafeteria</p>

Cafeteria

The cafeteria also provides setting and subject matter for an ongoing exhibition by Elvira Finnigan and Lisa Wood. Though they work very differently, for years both Winnipeg artists have tried to document and preserve fleeting experiences of shared meals. The collaboration makes so much sense, it’s a wonder it didn’t happen sooner.

They began March 2 by inviting anyone who wished to join them for a free lunch at the University of Winnipeg’s Gallery 1C03. Documented with an array of still cameras on timed release, this "relational happening" was a temporary work of art in its own right, while the leftovers provided material for other, more durable pieces that continue to appear in the space.

As soon as lunch was over, Finnigan returned to bathe the remnants — trash, trays and all — in a super-saturated brine. As it dries, the solution coats each surface with unruly blooms and crusts of crystalline salt. A continuation of her long-term Saltwatch project, the gesture is one of both preservation and destruction (salt cures, but it also corrodes). It recalls everything from pickling to geology to alchemy to rites of washing and anointing the dead, and the heavier elements contrast nicely with the mildly gross and comical arrangements of soda bottles and half-eaten french fries.

Wood, a painter who matches playful brushwork with a keen eye and confident hand, combs the photo-documentation for telling moments. Like past works that depict unfolding scenes of birthday dinners, wakes and weddings, Wood’s panoramic digital collages and paintings on frosted Mylar show the same figures at multiple points in time, highlighting easily overlooked gestures and subtle shifts in expression. Prints of the original photos are arranged in a fluctuating soundwave on the wall, visualizing lulls and peaks in conversations long gone silent. In the drawings and paintings, the translucent support falls away, leaving only loose pencil marks and daubs of paint that seem to hover somewhere off the page. The effect is immediate; we feel like we’re "in the moment," but we never forget that the moment is past.

Wood and Finnigan’s heroic efforts to preserve and document can’t stop time, of course. Affirming, awkward and more than a bit wistful, their work gently reminds us to put aside our hang-ups, clean our plates and enjoy the conversation while it lasts. Cafeteria will continue to grow and change until the show closes April 9.

 

 

Steven Leyden Cochrane had a perfectly lovely Easter dinner with the family, for what it’s worth.

 

SUPPLIED</p><p>Work by Lisa Wood, part of Gallery 1C03’s Cafeteria.</p>

SUPPLIED

Work by Lisa Wood, part of Gallery 1C03’s Cafeteria.

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