Food for Thought: A Video Art Sampler

October 31, 2006 - February 28, 2007

In these four videos from two generations of artists, food is a resource for memory, a way of connecting or disconnecting with family, and above all, a means of digesting one’s own identity. Works include Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975), Jessica Shokrian’s Ameh Jhan (2001), Boaz Arad’s Gefilte Fish (2005), and Laura Kronenberg’s 1973 video of Abbie Hoffman making gefilte fish in the Chelsea Hotel.

In these four videos from two generations of artists, food is a resource for memory, a way of connecting or disconnecting with family, and above all, a means of digesting one’s own identity. In Semiotics of the Kitchen, Martha Rosler parodies a cooking show in which, Rosler states, “An anti-Julia Child replaces the domesticated ‘meaning’ of tools with a lexicon of rage and frustration.” With deadpan delivery, Rosler inventories a collection of utensils and transforms them into absurd objects or violent weapons. According to art historian Lisa Bloom, Rosler “uses her own body and experiences as the subject, and in so doing starts from the notion of what it means to be both an embodied female and an intellectual ethnic woman.” Semiotics of the Kitchen is a critique of both the commodification of food and traditional women’s roles. The artist objected to those elements of her Orthodox upbringing which she saw as insisting that the only secure domain for a Jewish woman was the kitchen.

Jessica Shokrian has a radically different relationship to food and family as a post-feminist artist and as a woman of Iranian-Jewish descent. In 1998 Shokrian began documenting the life of her Aunt Aziz, a seventy-something woman living in “Tehrangeles” — the nickname for the California metropolis that holds the largest Persian population outside of Iran. In Ameh Jhan (“Dear Aunt”) Shokrian transforms a trip to the market and the preparation of koofteh (meatballs) into a melancholy portrait of the immigrant experience.

Boaz Arad approaches food and heritage with ironic humor and critical distance. His video Gefilte Fish (2005), a hybrid of documentary and performance, addresses Ashkenazi identity within a post-Holocaust multicultural Israeli society. The video includes an interview with his mother as she prepares fish in her kitchen, footage of Arad himself lip-synching to his mother’s voice as she responds to questions that range from the banal to the provocative, and a talking-head puppet resembling the artist who pronounces with great authority that gefilte fish may be the last link to Eastern European traditions in contemporary Israel. A pet bird, resting on Arad’s shoulder, ultimately subverts the artist’s attempt to parrot his mother and his critique of ethnic traditions.

The final work is an excerpt from Abbie Making Gefilte Fish (1973), a video produced by early video artists Laura Kronenberg (Cavastani), David Schweitzer, and Frank Cavastani. On Christmas Eve in the Chelsea Hotel, social and political activist Abbie Hoffman prepares homemade gefilte fish. He recounts the story of an awkward dinner hosted by Dr. Benjamin Spock to which Hoffman brought gefilte fish. Kronenberg initiated the idea to tape Hoffman for posterity in anticipation that he might disappear for evading drug charges. The video was exhibited as a component of The Fun House (1974), an installation at the New York Avant-Garde Festival produced by Charlotte Moorman at Shea Stadium. By this time Hoffman had indeed gone underground. At the Festival, Kronenberg recalls Hoffman’s young son sitting in front of the monitor, mesmerized by his absent father’s image.

Boaz Arad lives and works in Israel. His video Hebrew Lesson was exhibited at the Jewish Museum in Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art (2002). His work has been shown in the Venice Biennale, The Jerusalem Film Festival, and the Barbican Centre in London, and Art in General in New York. A solo exhibition opens at the Center for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv in February 2007.

Laura Kronenberg (Cavestani) lives and works in New York. As an early pioneer of video in the 1970s, Kronenberg collaborated with various collectives including TVTV and Videofreex, as well as with experimental filmmaker Shirley Clarke and the animator and film title designer Pablo Ferro. With Frank Cavestani, Kronenberg produced numerous documentaries, including the award-winning documentary Operation Last Patrol (1972). Her work has been exhibited at The Kitchen, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and The Museum of Modern Art in Caracas, Venezuela. She is currently writing and illustrating a series of books about a very sophisticated New York cat named Tallulah.

Martha Rosler lives and works in New York. Her videos, photo-texts, installations, and performances have been presented in documenta (Kassel, Germany), several Whitney Biennials, the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Dia Center for the Arts in New York. In 2000 a retrospective of her work was shown in five European cities and in New York at the New Museum of Contemporary Art and the International Center of Photography. In Fall 2006 she is participating in the Hannah Arendt Denkraum, an exhibition in Berlin commemorating the life and work of the German political theorist. Her work will also be on view at the 2007 Skulptur Projekte in Münster, Germany and at Saigon Open City, the first biennial in Vietnam.

Jessica Shokrian lives and works in Los Angeles. Her photography has been shown at The Contemporary Museum in Baltimore, the Center for Photography in Woodstock, and MAK Center for Art and Architecture L.A. Her videos were featured in the Jewish Museum’s traveling exhibition The Jewish Identity Project: New American Photography, currently on view at The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. At present Shokrian is developing a documentary about her son Hunter’s connection to Judaism as he prepares to become a bar mitzvah.

Martha Rosler (Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975, 6 min.)

Jessica Shokrian (Ameh Jhan, 2001, 11 min.)

Boaz Arad (Gefilte Fish, 2005, 11 min.)

Laura Kronenberg (Cavestani) (Abbie Making Gefilte Fish, 1973, 4 min. excerpt)

Total Running Time: 32 min.