Interviews

Jennifer Rubell Talks Art, Food and Social Occasion

Jennifer Rubell with Prince William sculpture from the exhibition "Engagement" (Photo detail courtesy Jennier Rubell)

Jennifer Rubell studied food to become an artist. After receiving a BA from Harvard University in Fine Arts, she attended the Culinary Institute of America. Prior to beginning her artistic practice, she wrote about food for over a decade during which time she published Real Life Entertaining.

For the past few years Rubell has created a “Breakfast Project” in the courtyard of the Rubell Family Collection in Miami during Art Basel Miami Beach that is consumed by the collection visitors. In the spirit of Hyperallergic’s food art coverage for Turkey Day, I hopped on a call with Rubell to learn about her practice, find out her Thanksgiving secrets and get a sneak preview to this year’s Breakfast Project.

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Claire Breukel: You come from a family very much involved in the arts, so how did you first discover your personal affinity to food?

Jennifer Rubell: I was more interested in the social interaction around food within the art world — the dinners that happen and the way art spaces serve at openings. This got me interested in food. The serving and the eating of food, and how it is incorporated in to a social occasion, is as interesting as the food itself. And as you know my mother always cooked as well.

CB: For many years you wrote about food and the food experience as a newspaper columnist and also published your own book. How would you describe your stance or viewpoint on the subject?

JR: I haven’t written about food for a few years. The food I like to eat doesn’t have much to do with the way I work with food. The food I like to eat is natural food. I enjoy the taste of food itself — a carrot that is most carroty, etc.

As a medium I explore the functionality of food, including the material constraints of food. For five years I spent every day working on recipes which gave me an understanding of chicken for example through focused trial and error, and this culinary experience is true of every possible type of food. My understanding of food is however inside of art. I believe in the durable object and so it is puzzling how food can exist as a medium inside of visual art— which is a medium dominated by the physical object.

American Morning, Breakfast Project 2008 (Photo courtesy Jennifer Rubell)

CB: Your work appears to blend the boundaries between artist and chef? How do you see yourself in relation to these two titles?

JR: I don’t consider myself a chef at all and I have never made food for my work except for very early on, or occasionally, when I want to get in to it. I don’t see myself as a chef but I have spent a lot of time learning about food. I went to culinary school to learn about the materiality of food and specifically to understand food as a medium. Too many chefs are mythological creatures and I could never be this [laughs]. Artists are too, but more than this art is a place where you can take what you do and translate it in a physical form — art exists in a critical space and everything about it is intentional.

CB: As an artist you are known for using food as an integral medium — what are the freedoms of this medium and what are the limitations?

JR: Food is the single most difficult medium for art making. It is perishable, and its gets consumed which could be potentially poisonous. There are also incredible rules and regulations around it, for example it is difficult to legally ship wine from one country to another. I enjoy those constraints and couldn’t imagine making work without the constraints inherent to the medium. In fact, so much of my work has to do with the physical constraints of the specific food I have chosen.

CB: What would a Jennifer Rubell Thankgiving meal consist of?

JR: I hate Turkey, but I make it on Thanksgiving. I am a stuffing freak, I make great stuffing so I often just eat that. I make very good cranberry sauce too so I would stick to those two things. Very un-American of me … sorry [laughs]

CB: Any sneak peak hints as to what to expect at this year’s Breakfast Project at the Rubell Family Collection?

JR: Sure, it is a piece called “Incubation,” and it’s pulling together three ideas around creation: the creation of life, the creation of art and the creation of food. I’m incubating yoghurt from milk that, in this environment, is an evocation of a hospital nursery. People are invited to take the yoghurt, and as an enunciation component, allow honey dripping from the ceiling to drizzle on the yoghurt. Typically this is associated with the “feminine” side of creation, which has to do with waiting and receiving. Incubation is a part of creation for everyone, men and women — all humans — often not portrayed within a heavy paint-flinging act. It is evocative of everything you don’t control, beyond your grasp and not of your doing.

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Jennifer Rubell’s 11th annual breakfast installation, “Incubation,” will take place during the Miami art fairs next week at the Rubell Family Collection (95 NW 29th Street, Miami, Florida). It starts Wednesday, November 30 from 9 am to noon and continues every morning through Sunday, December 4.

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