Monday, May 28, 2007

Live Dining, Nicole Fournier

Live Dining (second event) Nicole Fournier Video Still: Tagny Duff

Live Dining is a two-part performance facilitated by Nicole Fournier inviting participants to create polyculture ecosystems in the city. Polycultural agricultural systems, which feature diverse types of plants and ecosystems, have become a rarity within the rapid growth of monoculture systems that yield larger crops returns. Live Dining raises issues around the growing presence of mono-agriculture production, a mode of food production conducted in rural areas and urban sprawl that can have devastating impact on the balance of the natural environmental habitat. (This has been noted as one potential causes of the disappearance of honey bees and is discussed further in Lori Weidenhammer's work). In this work, Fournier, gallery staff, festival artists and participants work together to both harvest natural food sources in the city and create a polycultural agriculture system with both cultivated and wild plants. In both works, the ritualistic practice of eating food is performed.

The first Live Dining event takes place in a parking lot. We meet at the gallery and pick up various objects –like chairs, eating utensils, and cultivated plants for seeding. Then we walk in a procession to the parking lot a few blocks away. Nicole instructs us where to set up the table, chairs and planters. Then she shows us the different kinds of eatable plants in the parking lot, which we begin to harvest. Soon we have a pile of green eatable “weeds” on the table. Nicole invites us too cut, chop and cook the various plants and food items from the natural and cultivated plants on an electric stovetop.

We occupy the parking lot (a private space) while we cook and eat. As part of the ritual of dining we also drink wine- another illegal form of conduct. A police officer drives up to the group and asks, “what is going on”? Juliana tells him that this is part of an art festival and invites him to join us for dinner. Many of us strike up a conversation with the police officer for about 20 minutes and we talk about the current housing crisis in Edmonton—which he says is media hype. The cop soon realizes that we are not trouble, asks us to stop drinking and then drives away. We keep eating (and drinking) until everyone is full and then return to the gallery.

The second action conducted for Live Dining takes place in a vacant grassy lot located in residential neighborhood. When we arrive at the site, Nicole is there planting corn and squash according to an early Mayan polyculture design. We all help dig and plant the garden. People driving in cars and walking by stop and ask us what we doing. When we tell them we are planting a garden, they seem fine with it- even though this is obviously not our property. Nicole forages for Burdock which grows in abundance on the lot while some of us start cutting food for dinner. Again, we have set up the dining room with the electric stove to cook vegetables.

Live Dining (second event), Nicole Fournier Video Still: Tagny Duff

Both these actions conducted as part of Live Dining speak to and create sustainable agricultural practices in the urban landscape. The piece enacts guerrilla gardening and utilizes an interventionist strategy employing direct action to create green spaces and food sources in unexpected and often illegal spaces in the city. These kind of guerrilla actions seek to generate and sustain polyculture ecosystems in areas that have been neglected or perhaps mis, or under used.

Live Dining (second event) Nicole Fournier Video Still Tagny Duff

As with other guerrilla gardening innitiatives Live Dining employs a grassroots community sensibility. The gallery staff has laboured to find suitable spaces for the events, and gather the plants, materials and items needed for the event. The festival artists have harvested, planted, cut and cooked the food. The staff at Latitude and another local artist, Lance, has offered to watch the garden over time after Nicole leaves. In order to generate Live Dining and the polyculture systems it creates and comments upon, the social network system used to deploy the piece becomes an extension of the “performance”. In other words, the event of foraging, cooking and eating—is as important as the relations created in the planning and actualization of the work.

In the art context, the enactment of guerrilla gardening references earlier land art movements and, in this case, earlier Fluxus works that often employed the ritual of eating and food. All these works explicitly use collaborative working networks in order to create the work. However, the collaborative frame of this kind of community based artwork is not always fully rendered in art practices today. Conventions around accreditation that demand noting authorship (often single) often continue to be perpetuated in the context of performance art. This pretense can impede the intention of a work—particularly works that are not meant to be performances by one artists, but in fact, is created through many facilitators/enablers and participants. This is important to note. Live Dining raises questions about the role of multiple participants and their own sense of accountability to not just the “art” but to the practice of eating in everyday life.

As we know, the concept of sustainability is fore grounded in many contemporary debates regarding the state of the global environment. The Kyoto Accord emphasized the need to reduce green house emissions by 55 % from the developing countries years ago. The accord was drafted in 1997 and just started being reinforced in 2005. Many of the goals of the accord are not being met. Perhaps guerrilla gardening in inner cities is one way to prompt immediate, albeit small change to the environmental practices in cities. Nicole’s Live Dining is an attempt to bring these ideas to light though aesthetics of care- one that seeks to foster life systems. The shift in the way such environmental conscious practices are enacted also calls for a rethinking of systems of artistic collaboration and the value placed on such relations.


lori w said...

Looks like you had a good time. Did you get the dessert I left with Todd? I think what interests me in this piece is also the link between art and activisim, and our role as artist/advocates. I think Canadians are too complacent about our food security and we really need to investigate and question how are food is being produced. I am a member of a 100 mile community kitchen in Vancouver and we are trying to make clear political choices about what we eat, creating a responsible food culture over a convenience-based food culture.

Todd said...


thank you for the gift. we all ate from the honey comb and there us still a little left to eat. It was sweet and chewy and wonderful.

A few times during the gardening there was one or two large bees that came around and blessed us. they looked as if they were sleeping all winter long and that they were awakened by our Live Dining Edmonton. It was like you were with us and a nice reference to the symbiotic of the works within the Festival. There were also mosquitoes and I tried to remember that they are pollinators as well.

lori w said...

Sweet! For a gourmet treat try eating honeycomb with a brie or blue cheese. Symbiotic--now that's a delicious word!

Word is there are some producers in Alta. starting to make honey wine or mead--guaranteed to seduce anyone on your Christmas list. ;) If it's good mead that is, some of it is absolute crap.

All Blog Spots said...

nice blog

coralina said...

This project sounds amazing, and right up the alley of a show I'm curating in September. I'd like to include Nicole in the show. Could you please email me with her contact information? Please visit for some background on the show.