On June 4th, 2015, The Power Plant will celebrate another great year of contemporary art by hosting their annual charity event, Power Ball, themed “Appetite for Excess”, which investigates the fine line between decadence and debauchery through visual art, music, fashion and food. To pull this art evening together, The Power Plant welcomes renowned American artist, Jennifer Rubell, who sat down with Vv Magazine’s Vicki Hogarth to discuss the installation she will be creating for the evening.
“The food scene in Toronto is insane,” says native New Yorker Jennifer Rubell, one of the best known “food artists” of the 21st century. “There’s so much here that we don’t have in New York.”
Perhaps even a decade ago, the idea of Toronto’s culinary offerings impressing anyone from New York, the world’s epicentre of art and culture, would have come across as a sarcastic remark at best. New York has always been a measure by which the rest of us judge ourselves, a litmus test of cultural progress. It’s the reason why you’ll still hear “we’re a world-class city” peppered into any given conversation in Toronto, often coming across defensive and insecure rather than a confident high-five between two locals. New York never says it’s a world-class city; it’s New York. It sets the bar for the rest of us who aspire to be invited to the “world class” table, and think we meet both the economic and artistic requirements, one of the most important ones being food and how it defines our social lives and economy.
“Most of the energy that we put into our thinking about food, I realized, isn’t about food; it’s about anxiety,” says Rubell. At 10am on a sunny April morning, she’s here at The Power Plant with the directors, making arrangements for her exhibit, So Sorry, a name inspired by the word Canadians seem to love best. She doesn’t have any pieces in mind to map on the walls; in fact, the exhibit is the work of art, in the sense that it involves employing the audience throughout the first two-hours of this year’s annual charity event, Power Ball XVII. It’s an experience more so than an exhibit, a moment rather than a snapshot.
Rubell has been planning it meticulously nonetheless, having spent the winter and spring as a frequent flyer between the two cities as she curated a group of local tastemakers, people she believes approach their craft like art and represent the current vibe of the city. She might be a New Yorker, but maybe that makes her the better critic of Canadian culture. After all, Canadians often make the best critics of American culture, since we share the same language, art and cultural interests, and geography. We get the American Dream, we just can’t have it without a green card. We’re not used to America then turning the gaze on us. Rubell’s exhibit will do just that. If there was a time for Torontonians to argue for their “world-class city” status, this would be it.
“As an outsider, you’re able to create a portrait of a place because you’re able to see the whole thing from the outside, but from the inside that’s difficult to see,” insists Rubell.
“As an outsider, you’re able to create a portrait of a place because you’re able to see the whole thing from the outside, but from the inside that’s difficult to see,” insists Rubell. “My starting point was thinking about Toronto. The title of the performance piece is So Sorry, which was inspired by my first experiences visiting here and the elevated sense of politeness I noticed. People were constantly paying attention to my feelings, my space, my existence as a person — that’s vastly different than my experiences of New York.”
On the actual night of the Power Ball on June 4th, guests will arrive to a secret installation where Chef Grant Van Gameren of Bar Isabel and Bar Raval, Sam James of Sam James Coffee Bar, Bertrand Alépée from The Tempered Chef and Winsome Brown will be performing what’s become their personal stamp on the culinary scene. The actual happenings of the evening are top secret and will only be unveiled during So Sorry, which Rubell says is a portrait of Toronto that also functions as a self-portrait in the sense that the audience is implicit in its existence. “I create these happenings or installations or whatever you want to call them,” explains Rubell casually. “The viewers need to transgress the boundary between themselves and the object, which in this case is food. The biggest thing I’m bringing is a frame.”
“Food makes us anxious. The infinite range of choices and possible self-expressions mean that there are so many ways to go wrong,” says the artist, who admits to flying to different cities based on her appetite.
While the topic of food is both trendy and politically charged in 2015, food might also be the purest way a person or a city expresses personality, from beliefs and values to its sense of adventure and level of sophistication. “Food makes us anxious. The infinite range of choices and possible self-expressions mean that there are so many ways to go wrong,” says the artist, who admits to flying to different cities based on her appetite. “You can make people ill, and you can make yourself look absurd. People feel judged by their food choices, and they are right to feel that, because they are.”
After years of depressing postmodernist theories of “everything’s been done” in an age where numb is the new feeling and skepticism a way of life, food as a medium for artistic expression opened up new avenues for creativity. The term “foodie” arose, a label anyone with a self-proclaimed refined palate and well-traveled tastebuds could assume. “There seems to be a deeper and more integrated International food scene in Toronto than New York,” says Rubell. “I feel like the average person living in Toronto, if you looked at this person’s entire catalogue of meals over the course of a year, would have more ethnic diversity than a person living in New York City. You have the ethnic diversity based on the population but the average consumer isn’t as adventurous and sophisticated an eater.”
Still, there’s a point of pride for us Torontonians to have an artist such as Rubell — who grew up in the “it” world of contemporary art — not only acknowledge our existence as a city, but appreciate it, and paint it. Well, not paint exactly. Growing up immersed in the art world as her parents Don and Mera Rubell, two of New York’s most renowned contemporary-art collectors, often played host to artists, collectors, and critics at their home on the Upper East Side where her uncle, Steve Rubell, a founder of Studio 54 and a good friend of Andy Warhol, was one of the guest list regulars.
“I really enjoy creating a moment in time,” says Rubell, who took a lot of inspiration from her uncle’s ability to curate the perfect evening therefore making a memory as opposed to physical art. “Sometimes you can create something that is four hours that occupies a space that is infinite. I hope to mark a moment in time for the people who are at the Power Ball.“
“As an artist in any medium, you don’t make good work until you completely accept who you are, and I think the same is true for a city,” says Rubell, on the topic of Toronto. “The moment you feel that exactly who you are is valid, everything cracks open.”
As it turns out, not everything has been done in art. Using food as a medium is still a fairly new phenomenon, as is the notion of the artist-audience collaboration. “As an artist in any medium, you don’t make good work until you completely accept who you are, and I think the same is true for a city,” says Rubell, on the topic of Toronto. “The moment you feel that exactly who you are is valid, everything cracks open.”
Power Ball XVII will be held at The Power Plant on June 4th, 2015 and tickets are still available.
What are your thoughts on Jennifer Rubell’s artistic involvement with this year’s Power Ball? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.