Gasworks presents Mouthfeel, the first solo exhibition in London by Maryam Jafri. Comprising the newly commissioned short film of the same name and a new photo-text work entitled Product Recall: An Index of Innovation (both 2014), the exhibition explores the politics underpinning the industrial production of food, connecting themes as diverse as “big food”, flavour enhancement technology and overconsumption.
Encompassing moving image, text, photography and performance, Jafri’s research-based practice often merges fiction and documentary to explore how historical and economic constructs manifest in everyday gestures, manners and items such as clothes, food and textiles. Her video Avalon (2011), for instance, speculates on the end users of fetish clothing and accessories manufactured in a factory in an unnamed Asian country to explore the peculiar ways in which affect, labour and commodities intertwine. The related photo-text series Global Slum (2012), on the other hand, explores the interconnections between various sites for role-play, from S/M dungeons to store displays and film sets, underlining how global capitalism necessitates not-dissimilar forms of role-play and enactment. Using different strategies, these works emphasise the inherent perversity and performativity of capitalist production while also insisting on a form of artistic research in which facts are deliberately occluded.
At Gasworks the short film Mouthfeel (21:34 min, 2K HD video with sound) combines staged and found footage to unravel the politics surrounding the mass production of processed food. The staged scenes are based on an original script by the artist and focus on the conversations of a married couple who work for the same food multinational – a cross between Nestlé and Monsanto. Their exchange is inspired by theatre and television, where socio-political analysis is played out through everyday, familial dialogue with large doses of humour, hypocrisy and violence.
Set in the near future, the wife, a leading food technologist, and the husband, a senior brand manager, find themselves stuck in a chauffeur-driven stretch limo at a security checkpoint in an unspecified global city. The wife, played by Jafri, has uncovered a potential health problem with their new product, which her husband is determined to cover up. Along with excerpts of found footage sourced from different countries in the global south and which act as “commercial breaks”, these scenes address themes of convenience, good taste and the disparities between mass and artisanal forms of production.
Also on display, an excerpt of the photo-based work Product Recall: An Index of Innovation brings together “still life” product photography of unsuccessful food products from the private archive of an anonymous former brand consultant with related text and objects. These combine to recount an alternative cultural history of processed food in the 20th century that focuses on products that were either recalled or failed to find widespread consumer appeal. With reference to the vernacular language, imagery and iconography of advertising and display culture, this work reveals how agribusiness and the innovations of laboratory science are implicated in the mass circulation and consumption of everyday commodities.
This is the third exhibition of The Civilising Process, a yearlong programme of exhibitions and events at Gasworks inspired by German sociologist Norbert Elias’s eponymous 1939 book, which looks at the development of the tastes, manners and sensibilities of Western Europeans since the Middle Ages. Between October 2013 and November 2014 Gasworks is working with invited artists to tackle a wide range of issues raised by this book in an attempt to understand their relevance for contemporary debates and practices.
Mouthfeel is commissioned by Gasworks in partnership with steirischer herbst festival 2014, produced by Spike Film and Video and supported by the Danish Arts Foundation.
Maryam Jafri was also in residence at Delfina Foundation at the same time a Mouthfeel as part of The Politics of Food.