Eat This – Berkshire Eagle Interview

Nick Arena from the Berkshire Eagle asked me a few questions about the “EAT THIS” exhibit for an article in the Berkshire Eagle (you can view it here). This is the full interview.

Nick Arena: Hi Alex, I’m writing up a story about the Eat This! exhibit and would really like the perspective of some of the students working on it.

Alex Jamal: Here’s a bit of info about myself and the exhibit to get started.
The EAT THIS food-art exhibit is curated by MCLA students and our Professor Laura Thompson, in collaboration with MCLA Gallery 51. The photography by Jon Feinstein, Barbara Ciurej & Lindsay Lochman gives viewers a lot to discover and think about, and wonder
whether the food is delicious or repulsive. Humans have a complex relationship with food.
I’m an art major at MCLA, and I’ll be graduating this spring. I helped with the poster, some of the design, and edited the “Video Supplement” which re-purposes old food advertisements into a hypnotic sort of experience.

N: Thanks for the preliminary info.
First, tell me a little bit about how the class developed the idea for the gallery. I know it was a fantasy presentation from one of last year’s students, but how did you all evolve it into such a detailed exhibit?
Also, there seems to be a great deal of focus on junk foods (at least from what I have learned so far). Is there any particular reason you all chose to focus more on fast and processed foods, than healthy foods? Or are there other parts to the exhibit that have more to do with healthier foods?
Also tell me a bit more about your video. What inspired it and why old food advertisements?
Thanks again!

Developing the idea: Well, Laura had already made plans with Jon Feinstein, Barbara Ciurej & Lindsay Lochman, so we already knew there would be something in the exhibit. What our class (Advanced Museum Studies) did was figure out layout–where and how the art would be arranged,
as well as how to fill the space. We also had to stay within budget. Some of the projects involved setting up displays in the windows, makings brochures, posters and labels, as well a food packaging mural. It went very well I think.

Focus on junk foods: Lochman and Ciurej said that most of the food they used for their “landscapes” were from dollar stores, commercial food that people recognize, and I think this makes it relate to a lot of Americans. They used mostly junk food like Cheetos and white bread. Feinstein
focuses on fast food, so they naturally work together well. Just about the only healthy foods in the exhibit are the refreshments.
The original plan was to represent college eating habits, which are often bad. It eventually expanded to include other people, since these products are eaten by many others outside of that demographic.

The video: I like re-purposing old materials, and I remembered seeing Wendy’s training videos from the 80’s on YouTube. When Laura suggested that someone do a video, I basically jumped at the chance and the ideas came pretty quickly. I actually looked for stock footage
as well, but these ads were much more interesting. They show some delicious food, some that aren’t delicious, and the characters are silly and creepy. That’s how I would describe it.

N: Thanks for all of the info, that is great. If you don’t mind, I have a couple of follow-up questions for you!
As a college student, or in general for that matter, how do you relate to the topic?
And can you tell me a bit about the discussion around the topic that the class had? Professor Thompson told me that there was a lot more discussion about the topic this semester than there was last semester so I would love to hear more of the student perspective about the issue of food.

A: Well I can’t speak for last semester obviously, but this semester we spent a lot of time fleshing out ideas, and brainstorming for the exhibit. We discussed as many as possible. I think the general opinion is that on-campus food isn’t great and sometimes bad, and we talked about why certain foods are better than others , as well as how we perceive it visually.
Later on, one of the things we looked at was how fast food isn’t as economical as it seems, and that it doesn’t actually cost less than making food yourself. What makes it so addictive and inviting is the standardization–the experience is the same every time. Supposedly this allows the eater to focus on other things, rather than adapt to a new environment. It’s very intriguing, and can be both good and bad for people, I think.
As a college student, its difficult to eat well, and sometimes “bad” food seems tastier, more interesting, and less of a hassle–but not always.

N: I have one quick question that I completely forgot to ask: what is your academic year?

A: 2015.


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