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Jena Performing Local


My idea is to try to eat local for 30 days, or perhaps 60 (if Tehching Hsieh can go a whole year). The point is to attempt an experiment in living the beliefs I have been advocating. Beyond advocacy I am interested in "performing/participating" in this idea of local living, which has become so trendy in popular culture. I say "performing/participating" because I think that, on one hand, I am participating in the idealism of local living, but also performing this idea of "going green" that has been made so popular by commercial culture.

The above paragraph is by Jena Duncan, one of my students at AIB, in a response paper from an art history class about Performance Art. Her idea, to eat local as a art, has become "Jena Performing Local", an ongoing project that is her thesis.

On her website for the project, Jena has continued to explore her initial excitement around the ideas of performance art, ideology and food:

I'm an artist trying to walk the talk of local eating for 60 days. I am performing and living local simultaneously as my project seeps into every corner of my life. Experiencing while aesthetically translating. I'm having conversations and hoping to engage those around me - physically and virtually.

Posts on her blog include titles such as "Foods I Lusted After Today 3/4/10" and "Ketchup (can I make my own?)". Her earnestness, and willingness to meet the challenge in interesting ways, is what makes the project fun and worth following.

I haven't written about her project before, impressed as I am, because of my proximity to the artist and her ideas. Thankfully, artist and philosopher (and Big RED contributor) Margot Kelley has written about the project on her blog. Kelley addresses many of the key issues that have come up around the work with intelligence and wit. She drives straight toward the "that's not art, it's just a lifestyle" argument and, while not finding answers, points to how complex the question is.

Kelley's post is worth a full read, but this paragraph stuck out for me:

I’m really interested in what happens when well-fed, economically safe folk are able to realize that eating is primal. When we go from abstractly knowing it to deeply knowing it, for such an understanding is potentially life changing. In the U.S., about 50 million people are considered "food insecure," many of them children. For we lucky folks who are not hungry, learning this primalness in adulthood can change us not only in culinary ways, but also spiritually, politically,environmentally. It may prompt us to change jobs, grow vegetables, volunteer more.

For a young artist making work in a world where Michael Pollan, Supersize Me and the eat local movements exist alongside Performance artists like Rirkrit Tiravanija and The National Bitter Melon Council, "Jena Performing Local" makes complete sense to me. I find it inspiring.

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About Author

Matthew Nash is the founder of Big Red & Shiny. He is Associate Professor of Photography and New Media at the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University and was the 2011-12 Chair of the University Faculty Assembly. Nash is half of the artist collaborative Harvey Loves Harvey, who are currently represented by Gallery Kayafas in Boston and have exhibited in numerous venues since 1992.

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