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As the curator of the art exhibition Best Before, I invited Aboriginal artists KC Adams, Keesic Douglas, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Peter Morin, and Suzanne Morrissette to enter into a  conversation about food memories by making artwork.

It was the soup and scone special that started the discussion of how our Granny made the best scone. This was last winter and we were having a family breakfast at the restaurant attached to the gas station in Shawanaga, a reserve three hours north of Toronto. My sister explained that her own scone always came out hard as a rock. Our Uncle Sonny piped up, “I know how to make scone.” He started listing off measurements. The conversation continued with stories of scone making, fried bologna, and the unresolved controversy of whether a beaver tail could be cooked up like bacon or if it was just used to sharpen knives.

Memories and stories like these confirm that food connects people with places, history, and a sense of identity. As the curator of the art exhibition Best Before, I invited Aboriginal artists KC Adams, Keesic Douglas, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Peter Morin, and Suzanne Morrissette to enter into a similar conversation about food memories by making artwork that responded to a recipe of their choice. Their use of food engaged the politics of place in relation to colonial history and their lived experience.

Best Before offered a feast of artworks. As the artists reminisced about picking tea, making pancakes, assembling sandwiches, cooking with Spam, and making bannock, they engaged in, and with, the meaning of food. Much like my breakfast in Shawanaga, everyone has something to say about food and this exhibition stimulated a food conversation that anyone could savour.

biwiisinin, let’s eat!

The Gift that Keeps on Giving, KC Adams

KC Adams’ artwork, titled The Gift that Keeps on Giving (2011), considered some of the processed ingredients in her family recipe for pancakes. Adams’ use of white flour, white sugar, lard, salt, and milk as the main ingredients in her installation speaks to her experience with the prevalence of diabetes in Aboriginal communities and in her own family. Rather than demonizing these foods, Adams cradles them in conical ceramic pots delicately balanced between rocks on the gallery floor. She leaves her pots unfired, fragile, porous, and permeable, susceptible to the saturation of milk, the rendered oils of lard, and the curing of salt, referencing the intake of food in the human body.

4 Reservation Food Groups, Keesic Douglas

Keesic Douglas’ 4 Reservation Food Groups (2010) includes four photos; a cheese whiz and KAM sandwich with Kool-aid; and an audio recording of his father, Mark Douglas, telling his KAM story. In the winter of 1954 on Rama Reserve, the Canadian government dropped off cases of the WWII surplus canned meat product, KAM. Mark Douglas humorously conveys the conflicted relationship he and his community, which was in need at that time, had with the product. He comes to realize, through a recurring dream, that KAM will always be a part of his life and he wakes with an understanding that the first letter of his three son’s names Keesic, Andrew and Matthew, spell K-A-M.

NDNSPAM Cookbook: Celebrity Edition, Cheryl L’Hirondelle

Cheryl L’Hirondelle’s art installation for Best Before includes the online NDNSPAM Cookbook: Celebrity Edition (2011), which embraces Spam as a catalyst for storytelling in the form of recipes. It invites viewers to stand at the stove and enjoy recipes from thirteen celebrities and ten commissioned Spam art projects by Aboriginal artists. Fitted with an NDNSPAM iMac cozy, the computer kiosk sits on a kitchen table. An NDNSPAM emblazoned cup, and a crochet-topped tea towel are on display nearby. L’Hirondelle re-appropriates the commodity food item and in a demonstration of making the best use of what resources are present, uses the online NDNSPAM Cookbook as an email listserv. NDNSPAM Cookbook

Salmon and Bannock, Peter Morin

Peter Morin’s work in Best Before, titled Salmon and Bannock (2005-2010), projects the video documentation of Morin’s performance/event, Team Diversity: World’s Largest Bannock Attempt (2005), onto a configuration of salmon prints on paper envelopes. The salmon envelopes suggest sending something home, as they appear to be swimming upstream to their spawning waters. By creating a bannock cook-off performance in downtown Vancouver that fed over 300 people, Morin drew media attention to an Elder led sit-in at the band offices in Telegraph Creek (1000 km north of Vancouver). Through combining the preparation and eating of bannock in an urban centre with the environmental protection of land for food sources in this home community in Tahltan Territory, Morin highlights the interdependent relationship between humans, land, and water.

solve for spur to bum area, for some, Suzanne Morrissette

For Best Before Suzanne Morrissette’s installation solve for spur to bum area, for some (2011), includes two large drawings behind a large pot filled with tea sitting on a camp stove among an assemblage of electric stove burners, a wire grid, and mugs of tea. One drawing is a rhythmic leaf shaped potato print and the other, a pencil drawing that depicts the visual interpretation of the details encoded in the mathematical formula/recipe. This formula contains the details of her family’s yearly tea gathering outings. Morrissette’s work emphasizes relationships and learning the practices, preparations, and ways of gathering medicine rather than simply following a written recipe.

1. The NDNSPAM Cookbook was commissioned by Tribe Inc. Centre for Evolving Aboriginal Media, Visual and Performing Arts, located in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
2. Originally produced to feed soldiers during World War II, Spam is an affordable food item with a long shelf life that has gained global popularity.

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About The Author

Lisa Myers

Lisa Myers is an independent curator, artist, chef and musician of Ojibway Heritage. Her writing has been published in C Magazine, Fuse, and Senses and Society. Lisa Myers lives and works between Toronto and Port Severn, Ontario.

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