Honors Colloquium explores food systems in new Greenhouse exhibit

Featured art pieces from “Some Food We Could Not Eat.” PHOTO CREDIT: Hannah Charron | Staff Photographer

Located inside of the University of Rhode Island’s Greenhouse, the “Some Food We Could Not Eat” exhibit features different forms of art media in order to provide perspective on the impact of food systems.

The Main Gallery exhibition is running in conjunction with the 2022 Honors Colloquium titled “Just Good Food,” which focuses on problems such as food insecurity and food justice. 

Sponsored by the URI College of the Environment and Life Sciences and located at Greenhouse 106, 6 Greenhouse Road, the exhibition will run until 6 p.m. on Dec. 13.

This year’s Honors Colloquium Exhibition features artwork from three artists who all utilize different art mediums: Kamari Carter, who primarily works with audio recordings and found objects, Jennie Maydew, a textile-based artist, and Zoe Scruggs, a musician and multidisciplinary artist. 

As the curator of the Main Gallery in URI’s Fine Arts Center, Rebecca Levitan hopes that the exhibition’s contemporary and experimental nature will “expand the notion of what art can be.”

The 2022 Honors Colloquium organizers, according to Levitan, were very receptive to collaborating with the arts. Levitan explained how the organizers gave her free reign over choosing featured artists, in addition to the gallery’s overall organization and implementation. Levitan used this “given creativity” to look at the issues presented in the colloquium in a “new” and “substantive” way.

Levitan noted that URI’s standing as a university– not an art school – was an important factor in the exhibition’s creation. A main goal of the Main Gallery is to develop and strengthen the overlap between art and other disciplines, according to Levitan. This semester, that requires combining art and food systems.

“I had to find artists who were working with issues of food and food justice in different ways,” Levitan said. “Different perspectives, different media… different ideas.”

During the gallery’s creation, Levitan went on the URI’s bike path and foraged for materials that became part of the exhibition. Despite taking charge of gallery promotion and working with risk management, Levitan stated that she was also able to cook some of the food at the gallery’s opening. According Levitan, her job as gallery director covers “everything from soap to nuts.”

After working hands-on with materials, Levitan views this semester’s exhibition as more than an art gallery: “ [it] is a celebration and advertisement of [URI’s] art department.”

In addition to advertising the art department as a whole, Levitan believes that a goal of the gallery is providing a learning experience for all students– not just art majors.

Students gain knowledge about gallery curation and arrangement through physical experience with art, according to Levitan. However, the gallery director stated her future plans to further involve students in these processes, such as including URI undergraduates in writing press releases and curating shows.

“A lot of students, even though it’s not that far away, have never really spent time at the RISD Museum, or have never gone to Boston or New York, and haven’t seen that much art in person,” Levitan said. “This gallery is a teaching tool on campus.”

A main part of an art student, according to Levitan, is looking at and experimenting with different art forms. Therefore, Levitan stated that she organized the exhibition with the intent of emphasizing interaction. In doing so, she hopes that the gallery will foster a “thoughtful” and “unique” experience for students.

“The gallery is… a very physical experience,” Levitan said. “You can’t understand the art unless you see the architecture, feel the smells of the space and see the light that comes through.” 

Maydew, a featured artist in this semester’s Honors Colloquium gallery, explained that she foraged for weeds and plants throughout her Bushwick neighborhood– searching for potential art material in her local grocery store circulars and own kitchen in Brooklyn, New York. 

In addition to her drawings titled “Conglomerate Chemical Nature Center” and “Sky is Falling,” featured artist Scruggs discussed systemic issues in a print copy of “DuPonts the Musical,” according to the artist statement on display in the gallery. The statement said that most of Scrugg’s visual and sonic work is focused on race-based traumatic stress. 

Featured in the exhibition, installation artist and sound designer Carter believes that his work, in combination with Maydew and Scruggs, will generate conversation around “things we should be conversing on.” Like Levitan, his goals for the student experience are centered around education, but focus more on the “internal experience.”

Carter’s installation is a clear cube encasing 304 packets-worth of grape Kool-Aid powder, and is accompanied by a sound recording. According to the artist statement, Carter’s piece, titled “I know I’ve hurt you, I’m sorry,” is a representation of the lasting effects of the infamous “Jonestown” cult. 

In the gallery piece, the Kool-Aid packets are meant to represent the loss of each child to mass suicide, according to the artist statement. The statement also explained the installation’s auditory component, which is meant to simulate the cries and screams of the cult members. Carter noted how Jim Jones himself was not included in the recording, in order to emphasize the “treacherous situation.”

Carter wanted this installation to be “at first, arguably pleasant, until [students] get through a couple of layers the intention behind the piece.” With the hope of increasing conversation about difficult topics, as well as creating an opportunity for students to hone their conscientiousness, Carter encouraged students to understand and be aware of contemporary issues.

Topics such as mental health, the black body and the housing crisis are represented through art with the intention of continuing a dialogue, according to Carter. “We should be talking about these things… and show [their] underbellies… even if it’s not fun to do so,” Carter said.

By creating this dialogue in his artwork, Carter believes that the “Some Food We Could Not Eat” gallery creates a community through contemporary art, with an emphasis on education and understanding.

“It’s so easy to find yourself stuck in an echo chamber of ideas,” Carter said. “We want people to think about themselves in the grand scheme of others.”

This semester’s Honors Colloquium gallery will allow students to “stumble upon, experience [and] confront art in a different way,” according to Levitan. As the gallery concludes Dec. 13, Levitan hopes that the “conversation of contemporary issues at URI” continues to grow through a multitude of mediums.