This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.
Close Up

Food is focus of artist’s work

Stefani Bardin believes more artists should make food a topic of their work. Photo: DOUGLAS LEVERE

  • “People should be angry about food and talk about it—loudly.”

    Stefani Bardin
    Adjunct Instructor, Department of Media Study
Published: March 4, 2010

“Food is the new black,” says adjunct media study instructor Stefani Bardin. And she should know. With national movements focusing on local food, slow food, organic food and non-genetically modified food under way, Bardin is attempting to further the public dialogue with food as the primary subject of her artwork and curriculum.

Bardin, a former food writer, teaches “Food and Emerging Media,” a new class offered this semester at UB. She initially came to UB in 2005 to earn her MFA—on the advice of poet and UB faculty member Robert Creeley—after earning her MA in poetics from the University of Maine. “I didn’t have a production background, I was always a writer,” she explains. When Bardin came into the MFA program, she brought with her two carryover projects from her poetics studies: one was about the cultural critic Walter Benjamin and the other was the beginning of her current focus on food, technology and science. The latter project, “Chemical Proust: Remembrance of Things Pastiche,” she explains, dealt with the role of technology on food, our phenomenological relationship to food and how we remember it.

Now, Bardin spends most of her time thinking about food and wants to see more work that addresses the problems. “People should be angry about food and talk about it—loudly. Artists make work about the problems with politics, gender oppression, health care and all these things that are really important. Food is up there with these issues and artists are still making dresses out of meat as a response to these concerns,” she says.

Her art deals with the role of artificial flavors, colors, industrial farming and the attempt to reinterpret the overabundance of public information in a way that makes sense and is interesting. One such piece of Bardin’s was on display in Buffalo’s CEPA gallery until this past December. The work, titled “marketplace,” was an investigation into the erosion of everyday community interactions within capitalist societies. She collaborated with Nina Leo to bring the smells and sounds of a Montreal food market into the gallery space (the former location of an open air food market) to reinvigorate and revisit a market culture that no longer exists due to urban sprawl and technology.

Bardin currently is working on two controversial multimedia pieces. The first, called “Meat Your Makers,” is a three-channel, multimedia installation (video, sound and artificial smells) juxtaposing industrial slaughters with smaller-scale, family-farm-based slaughters and an investigation into the destination of the end products. The other project, “Amaizing Grains,” examines the pervasive nature of corn products in our food system through a myriad of images. “Out of 10,000 items found in most grocery stores, 2,500 are made out of corn. It lurks in so many products and it’s become obscured through language,” she says. “I want to reveal what is hidden.”

She’s also the curator of this semester’s Food and Emerging Media Speaker Series designed to examine the ways sustainability, social networking and emerging technologies influence our tightly veiled, food-production systems. The six-week speaker series, which is free and open to the public, sheds light on artists, farmers, architects, curators and historians whose work and research focus on how technology has mediated our relationship with food.

A New Jersey native, Bardin says she’s always had a healthy relationship with food. She lives a mostly vegetarian lifestyle and tries to eat as locally as possible. Although she likes to cook, she admittedly has a brown thumb when it comes to growing her own vegetables. A self-described food enthusiast, she says she’ll drive 45 minutes for the right peppercorn.

Bardin, who also teaches a film history class, credits the freedom in her teaching as one of the best things about working at UB. “I wake up every day and am so happy to be able to do this. This is the only dedicated class in a media department in the country—that I’ve been able to find—that’s looking at food and emerging media,” she says. “To be in a department that’s so progressive and allowing that to happen is pretty great.”