Monday, 13 March 2017

IN MUSEUMS, FOOD IS EVERYWHERE AND NOWHERE

GREATEST HITS

BY: KATIE PAOLOZZA

One of the things I love about writing for Musings is the freedom we have to explore facets of the museum world that inspire us. When I write for Collections Corner I am able to research and explore items and thematic exhibitions from literally the entire world, physical or digital.

Here in Greatest Hits, the scope is widened (is that even possible?) because I get to peruse everyone else's interests. All of us chose our respective columns because we felt we had something unique to say on that particular subject. I love material culture, so naturally I gravitated towards Collections Corner. There are endless rabbit holes I can dive into when I think about the peculiar histories behind every collection, because every museum collection was assembled in its own strange way.


In Greatest Hits, I am essentially writing about writing. I explore what makes my colleagues tick, and quite frankly it's a ball. I think part of why we love museums so much in the first place is their transformative qualities. We get out of our own heads and into someone else's, whether it be an artist, a historical figure, a curator, or an everyperson.

Erika Robertson ventured even further outside of the box when she created the A Muse Bouche column. In her very first posting under that heading her blog entry mirrored this one: she explained the rationale behind her "experiment", which was her fascination with how food and museums intersect. She's right when she says that food and museums have a contentious relationship. There are very few things that risk a valuable collection more than exposure to food. Yet it's a necessity to have a solid meal when you plan to spend the day at a museum. They're exhausting enough without adding low blood sugar into the mix. Yet just because a museum is a world-class institution does not mean that it will have world-class dining facilities (I won't name names, but several prominent Canadian cultural centers come to mind).

What's so interesting about a column like A Muse Bouche is that it draws connections between food and other essential parts of the museum world that we wouldn't necessarily notice. Erika has traveled quite a bit, so she has found increasingly interesting ways to discuss food. When people visit a zoo (also under our large definition of museums) the highlights are watching the animals eat. There's something comforting when we see or imagine other beings enjoying a good meal. And empathy and imagination are key parts of a well-planned exhibition.

Erika made another great point when she wrote about how many of the artifacts we see in social history museums are directly related to food. Something like a soldier's canteen is linked to food culture. It seems obvious to point that out, but this is where the imagination component comes into play. I've forgotten many, many times when looking at a specifically curated collection unrelated to food that regardless of the context surrounding the artifact it undoubtedly has at least one direct link to our physical bodies and the process of digestion. We are mortal beings, and the majority of what we produce is related to our sustenance and survival. When you start to view collections through this lens, it's hard to wander a museum and not get hungry. Fun fact: I've yet to visit the tea/coffee/hot chocolate dowry cases at the Gardiner Museum and NOT want a large brunch afterwards.


So whether you prefer to pack a lunch, eat at a nice restaurant, or grab a quick bite from a museum cafe, I propose a game of sorts. Look at each item on your tray/table/blanket and try to find a corresponding item in the museum. If I'm correct, the game will be far too easy, and you'll have to think outside the lunch-box to spice it up.


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