The Chicago FoodCultura Clarion
If anthropology and contemporary art have one thing in common, it is the goal to deliberately de-familiarize taken-for-granted ways of being in the world. Anthropologists do so by means of ethnographic comparison, artists by means aesthetic provocation. Both aim to open up new forms of understanding of the complexities and diversity of human social life, and to encourage critique of the complacency with which many of us take our own lifeways for the way things simply are, or ought to be. Both art and anthropology seek to provide food for thought.
With this in mind, the Barcelona/Miami based multidisciplinary artist Antoni Miralda and the University of Chicago anthropologist Stephan Palmié have been collaborating since 2016. In 2019, the two of us received a generous Mellon Foundation grant from the University of Chicago’s Gray Center for Art and Inquiry to conduct a joint project centered on an experimental undergraduate course entitled “The Art and Anthropology of Food and Cuisine.” In the course of the autumn quarter of that year, groups of our students fanned out to do ethnographic research on Chicago’s fascinatingly diverse culinary worlds to eventually present collective projects straddling the divide between the arts and the social sciences.
We had planned to present the results at a symposium/pop-up show at the Chicago Cultural Center in the spring of 2020, but then the pandemic intervened. Miralda and I had always wanted our project to reach out beyond the confines of an elite institution like the University of Chicago, and so we decided to retool our project towards the venerable institution of the Chicago Reader. It’s publisher, Tracy Baim, kindly agreed to let us run some 3000 copies of The Chicago Foodcultura Clarion as an insert every now and again, and Miralda and I found ready and enthusiastic collaborators in Peter Engler, Eric May, and Paige Resnick. Besides the student projects, the three issues published so far include contributions from anthropologists, artists, chefs, historians, restaurant critics, and a motley crew of multidisciplinary Chicago food scholars and enthusiasts.
Since our Mellon grant ran out after three issues, the department of anthropology has kindly agreed to give the Clarion a new temporary home with a generous Lichtstern grant. The work continues!