Tsehai Johnson is my kind of ceramicist. I didn’t know I had a kind until I got wind of the exhibition she’s staging as part of her Biennial Residency at PlatteForum, but I guess I do:
Table Lessons is a dining performance exposing private food consumption to public exhibition. Tableware specifically designed for this performance will explore eating habits and the transmission of personal family and cultural values through the social act of food consumption.
Twenty-four participants will eat on tables in the plaza at the west base of Millennium Bridge. This is a convivial creative performance that will invite interaction between the diner-participants and the public. Signage and ushers will explain the event to the public.
Part of what they’ll be explaining, I assume, is the fact that the Johnson based her tableware designs on a survey she conducted, composed of the following questions:
1. What for you constitutes a meal? Must you sit at a table? Are there particular foods or combinations of foods you must have for it to be a “proper” meal?
2. Do you have any important foods that are unique to your family or ethnic/cultural group? Do you have particular foods or combination of foods that are essential to your identity more generally? Do you know the recipes and do you communicate or plan to communicate their importance to family and/or friends? Please feel free to share recipes or drawings of these foods….
3. How do you decide what to eat? Is this an important decision? Do you have any rules or particular habits of food consumption? Are there healthy foods or unhealthy foods you consider part of your identity?
4. Please describe an important meal to you. What foods would you include? Who would share the meal?
5. What is the difference between dining and eating?
6. Can you describe any memorable meals from your past?
7. What is most important about how and what you choose to eat? Is food an important component of your daily life or less so? Please take a week’s worth of meals and break down where you eat them (example: 10% in restaurant, 20% on couch, in car, outside, at dining table in house and so on).
8. What constitutes a well-balanced meal (example: 20% whole grains, 40% green vegetables, 20% meat and cheese)? Do you follow dietary guidelines such as the food pyramid?
9. Do you eat the same foods privately and in public? Do you have any food related secrets?
10. Who cooks your food?
11. Please share any food related beliefs or habits.
As Johnson describes her process, “I compiled the responses into various ideas and themes. Some I translated into charts that reflect a responder’s eating beliefs; some plates contain both text and images; and some of the text was so compelling alone that it was transferred directly to the plates.”