In September and October of 2016, Spatula&Barcode were artists-in-residence at the Bubbler space in the central branch of the Madison Public Library. Our primary goal here was to engage the general public in discussions about how they understand food systems as personal, social, and global.
To this end, we could be found on site up to twenty hours a week engaged in a number of different kinds of activities: cooking, eating, conversing, playing games, diagramming, reading, looking things up, sorting ingredients and re-arranging the space.
We called our space and project Community Research Kitchen in order to emphasize that the collaborative nature of the learning we hoped to do about foodways together with our community.
We adapted the flexible but rather generic Bubbler space to have more of the warm qualities we associated with our work by adding gingham tablecloths throughout and installing the contents of our pantry.
Then we devised a series of surveys/questionnaires to help move from the broad definition above to understandings of food systems that are more local and personal. Each week, we took on a different system: shopping, residential, security, waste, migration, elitism, service, safety, and media. These functioned as conversation starters whether or not were we were on site.
You can view all the questionnaires in this slide show.
Some of the meals featured invited experts including Sarah Kahn (following her lecture on the Queens Migrant Kitchens project), Michelle Miller (Associate Director for the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems), and Bryan Johnson (Recycling Coordinator for the City of Madison). But for the most part, we held fast to our conviction that we are all expert about some facet of a food system.
Sometimes, we hosted special groups, including two visits from Bike the Art groups. Working with Jesse Vieau, we cooked breakfast for teens in temporary shelters. For the first few weeks of our residency, we share the space with our guests Adriana Rodriguez and Inaki Alvarez of the Barcelona-based art collective Nyamnyam, who hosted three events of their own.
During the Book Festival, we were bumped out of our residency space and created Bubbler in Exile. Michael baked over 1,000 letterpress sugar cookies and we distributed these around the library together with this survey about food books.
On the final weekend, we staged COMMUNITY RESEARCH KITCHEN PLAYGROUND and invited our friends to help us create a fair of playful events. Guest hosts included Heath Langreck, Carlee Latimer, Mallory Shotwell, Maggie Snyder, Marin Laufenberg and Alec Schumacher.
Being at the library changed the way we see Madison. Our experience of the city prior to this was centered at the University where are world is made up of professors, staff and students. At the library, we saw families with small children and much of Madison’s homeless population throughout the day. The Madison that uses the library is much more diverse (ethnically and economically) than the University of Wisconsin campus.
Four people were key to making this residency happen. They are:
Sigrid Peterson was our collaborator throughout. Her incredible capacity to make anyone feel welcome and to explain (over and over again) what the project was about was the single most important ingredient in the success of this project.
We are also grateful to the many other library staff members who lent us their supplies, tolerated our chaos, explained our work in our absence, and ate our leftovers. Special recognition goes to Dan Kutz who worked behind the scenes to print our menus each week.
And most of all, we want to thank the hundreds of people who dropped by and shared their professional and vernacular knowledges of food systems with us.