Banquet for America is not a feel good slogan for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Banquet for America is the name of a utopian village inside Flux Factory’s 1,500-square-foot project space. The exhibition will be on view to February 12, 2012. I encourage the public to visit.
The show, according to the exhibition statement, “will explore food as a way of gaining a deeper awareness of oneself within a larger community, beyond sustenance.” To address these issues, Alison Ward and Georgia Muenster, the curators of the project, selected 17 conceptual and performance-based artists to construct and inhabit the gallery for the duration of show. To construct the village, participants have been working round the clock since January 24, give or take a few days. As I write, artist are breaking bread, bartering services, working and hanging out.
At first, I approached it with a certain amount of skepticism and fear. A utopian village that specializes in communal dining is my definition of hell on earth. If I want to feel uncomfortable eating around a bunch of strangers, I will visit my family for Christmas dinner at the Jersey shore.
What is ideal to one person is a trip to panic attack city for me. People living side-by-side, and in some cases, on top of each another, is too close for comfort. Despite living in cities for more than half of my life, I am still a product of the suburbs: I need space. That being said, I had a good time. Banquet for America extracted this oyster from its shell.
Banquet for America is the result of two different ideas that were pitched to Flux Factory’s annual review for show ideas. The first idea, titled “Anthem for America by Ward,” aimed to build a town inside the gallery that would be inhabited by artists. The second idea, titled “Banquet by Muenster,” aimed to facilitate a series of banquets inside the gallery. I applaud Flux Factory’s decision to combine the pitches. Why? The fit is seamless, and the project epitomizes the American spirit of independence, ingenuity and industriousness.
What the village lacks in sophistication it more than makes up in energy, charm, and spirit. The centerpiece of the village is 37-foot-long table, which was built by Adrian Owen, Ian Montgomery, Jason Eppink and Chess Venis. The other participating artists built storefronts and domiciles from odds and ends found in and around the immediate vicinity of Long Island City.
The nature of the makeshift structures recalled the days when my friends and I would troll construction sites for scrap wood to build launch ramps and quarter pipes to skateboard. We’d transform a dead end street in nowheresville into a skate park, and I never wanted those days to end.
The look and feel of the town is Candy Land meets Occupy Wall Street encampment. The layout is conducive to the types of social interactions I generally tend to shy away from: freewheeling, spontaneous and impromptu.
Banquet for America recalled PBS’s Frontier House television series. Like the aforementioned show, Banquet invited artists to build their own home, prepare food and tend to their domicile. It also brought to mind NBC’sAmerica’s Got Talent, but in a good way. Like AGT, Banquet for America uses a variety format to showcase artists from across the spectrum, which features bakers, jewelers, barbers, puppeteers and smørrebrød-makers! They hail from Washington Heights, California, Toronto and Texas, among other places. The heart of the show is creativity, know-how and zeal.
Banquet for America must-see list:
- Angela Washko karaoke booth festooned in breasts. Guests get to choose and sing a feminist anthem, which she downloaded from YouTube.
- Kerry Cox baked homemade Brazilian birthday sweets. I gobbled up a round chocolate ball that was sprinkled in coconut flakes. Swoon.
- Andy Ralph constructed a revolving signpost-cum-oil tower at the entrance of the gallery. It’s the perfect location for either the kissing couple or Charlie Whitman, or both.
- Veronica Dougherty is running the barber shop hair salon. Be warned: if you want your toenails clipped, you must clip the toenails of a neighbor.
- Puppeteer Adam Ende created a puppet theater, with overhead “loft” space for sleeping quarters that he is sharing with his son.
- Georgia Muenster is churning out homemade donuts, which were yummy. I go nuts for donuts.
With disparate people coming together to live in a confined space for nine days, I imagine the village could resemble a holding cell at the county jail. The cynic in me wants to condemn the altruism and sense of togetherness inherent in the project as manufactured or make believe. But what am I threatened by?
Sure, clipping a stranger’s toenails will not make ends meet, but it’s silly and it may encourage a conversation or two. And I would be lying if I did not admit that I not only enjoyed my opportunity to sing Pat Benater’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” in the karaoke booth, but also relished it as well.
Banquet for America runs until this Sunday, February 12 at Flux Factory (39-31 29th Street, Long Island City, Queens). The show is open every day from 10am to 10 pm, and the closing Banquet is Sunday, February 12, 6-9 pm. You can also visit Flux Factory’s complete Flickr set with photos from the evolving installation.