SMU-in-London: Arts 2013

Students in the SMU-in-London: Arts spend five weeks in the city, becoming 21st-century explorers while taking two courses. Associate Theatre Professor Gretchen Smith in the Meadows School of the Arts teaches London theatre history from the era of Shakespeare to the present, while Dance Professor Shelley Berg teaches about London as a metropolis filled with myriad “performance” experiences – cultural, social, historical and political. The students have visited museums, palaces, food markets, theatres (for “formal performances” and backstage tours) and participated in multiple “scavenger hunts,” and walked and walked and walked!

Indulging the Performative at the Borough Market, London

Andrea, Traci, and Lexi created a PowerPoint for their final project in London about how food can be performative through many senses to create an understood language similar to their dance performances. The students used the Borough Market in London as the setting for their extravagant, sensory food adventure.

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Food As: Performanceborough market

“Food, and all that is associated with it, is already larger than life. It is already highly charged with meaning and affect it is

…ALIVE

…FUGITIVE

…SENSORY”

 

Food As: A Strong Visdessertual Effect

This opulent display of desserts attracted customers from across the market. Each dessert paid particular attention to detail—whether it was in the scripting of letters, the geometric cutting of each slice, or the swirling and sculptural topping of the meringue.

 

 

visual language

Emblems Used as Visual Language

This tea vendor used emblems by hanging flags that were indicative of Bengali culture, which is where Darjeeling Tea is from. These flags provided context clues regarding what was being sold and where the product was grown.

 

 

Food As: Visual Excevisual excessss

As Kirshenblatt-Gimblett says, “the eyes play a critical role in stimulating appetite.” When looking at this display, the eyes definitely are bigger than the stomach, which makes you want to buy more than you can eat.

Excess is defined as an amount that is beyond what is normal or sufficient. When looking at this display of British pies, that word immediately comes to mind. There were over ten different flavors—ranging from wild boar to chicken and apple — and it was very likely that were not going to sell them all that day. However, the visual effect of this outrageous number of pies attracted everyone passing by.

 

Food As: Performance Artperformance art

The exotic nature of drinking wheat grass was portrayed through the showing-doing of the juicing process. All other smoothies were made behind the counter, but the performance of making these grass shots was highlighted and framed for those passing by.

This demonstration can be equated to Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s concept of a “display kitchen.” According to her, the key to this form of culinary performance is “the exhibition value of labor that has been staged in a transparent workspace.” Since the work going into this drink was visible to the buyer, the experience of watching it be made was more valuable than the product itself.

 

sensory performanceFood As: Sensory Performance

Olfactory, the fish had a strong smell of the ocean that provided a sense of ‘authenticity’ and freshness. Visually, it was displayed in creative ways, such as a big fish with its mouth open wide with a small shrimp inside. Auditory, the yelling of the workers behind the counter emulated the atmosphere of fishermen coming in from a day at sea, ready to reel in their catch and sell their fish.

 

Food As: Showing-Doingshowing-doing

The butcher was clinging the knives together and changing his knife according to which section of meat he was cutting. As people passed by, he made eye contact with them and gave with a slight smile, indicating he was putting on a show as he cut the meat. He was aware of being observed, and he was showing-doing to attract potential customers through his art of cutting meat.

 

 

 

display

Incorporation of Additional Elements into the Display

The background information of the tea increased the value and integrity of the company selling the tea. By including the poster board and photos of natives picking the plants, this vendor seemed it add ‘authenticity’ to the purchase because it showed the country of origin and the organic nature in which it was grown.

 

 

 

Artisanal Food You Can Sampleartisanal

Artisan food embodies creativity and uses fresh ingredients for the satisfaction of the customer. This tortelloni used fresh pumpkin, which is not a typical ingredient for pasta fillings. The uniqueness and fresh preparation of the tortelloni classified it as artisan food that highlighted the craftsmanship and artistry of the preparer.

 

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History, culture and the Queen

An update from Professor Shelley Berg:

During our time in London, we’ve followed in the footsteps of Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace and climbed to “Henry’s Mound” on Richmond Hill, where legend says he watched for a rocket to be fired into the air at the Tower of London; a confirmation that Anne Boleyn was dead.  We have trailed through the streets of London’s fabled East End, through Brick Lane, Spitalfields Market and the eerie alleys frequented by the notorious Jack the Ripper. We watched a stunning performance of Shakespeare’s magical play, The Tempest, from the galleries of the historic Globe Theatre (and seen the principal actors in the coffee bar afterward!).

QUEEN2

Queen Elizabeth on the anniversary of her coronation

The students have visited six museums, attended four theatre and dance performances, investigated food as “performance” on a trip to the fantastical site of Borough Market, talked with street performers (known as “buskers” here), and seen HRH Queen Elizabeth on her way to service of Thanksgiving on the anniversary of her coronation at Westminster Abbey!

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Food as ‘performance’ at Borough Market

An update from Erica:

Walking through Borough Market was like nothing I had experienced before. Every stall had a beautiful display of food ranging from aged cheeses, olive oil, mustard varieties, sangria, baked bread, meats of all cuts, pastries, vegetables, to just about any other thing you could imagine. To make the situation even more wonderful, just about everywhere you went vendors were more than happy to share a free sample of their goods with you.

Exploring the area was like taking a walk through a multicultural culinary-based world’s fair where each new block has something entirely different to offer. After wandering around for a bit, we began to really interact with the different vendors. Instead of just sheepishly eating their food and walking away, we started conversations with each person and began to learn more about their culture and background.

I came to realize they weren’t just offering food, but a seemingly endless source of information. Each worker was fully versed in their unique product and was able to give any questioning soul an entire dissertation on any of the inventory. Two particular stalls come to mind when I think about my experience at Borough Market: one was worked by an adorable old man with homemade mustard and the other was an interesting encounter with jamon.

I thoroughly enjoyed both stalls, but if I had to choose my most memorable food experience I would probably choose trying jamon for the first time at “The Ginger Pig.” We wandered into a quaint little area with wood interior dressed up like a small country meat store. As we were meandering around the little shop looking rather lost, we began to watch the man behind the counter carefully slicing a raw chunk of meat.

After noticing me and my two friends intently watching his every move, the meat cutter began to interact with us. Not only was he very knowledgeable about how the meat had previously been prepared, but he also knew about every step of the process. He explained that their pigs are raised in a very natural environment and taught us how to read the tags on each piece of meat, even though they were written in Spanish. For example, the one he was currently working on said that the pig lived in the wild for the last 28 days of its life. He then went on to explain the process of how the ham was cured and finally cut.

Keep in mind he gave us all this information while concurrently delicately slicing the mass of meat and intricately laying each slice on a sheet of wax paper. He then gave each of us a free taste; I’m sure in hopes that we would buy some, but also just to share the experience. I had never tried raw meat before and was a bit suspicious of the idea. Much to my surprise, the jamon tasted quite good, at least in a wet beef jerky, bacon fat kind of way.

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The cultural river that is Brick Lane

An update from Thomas:

As I walked down Brick Lane, I felt the metaphor of “Brick Lane as a river” swirl around my ankles. The Sanskrit street signs, Jewish buildings, Christian churches, and curry restaurants proved that this was a very deep river. A river of cultures extending back through generations of relocated families, all of whom had carved their place in the terrain. I saw the sign for Katz’ string and bag wholesalers, an example given in Sinclair’s article, faded against its brick backdrop, the letters of the sign as permanent as the history of the Jewish people in the area. I saw Bengali restaurants and merchandise lining the streets — a more recent group to call Brick Lane their home. Finally, I met the descendent of a Huguenot in the Brick Lane chapel, trying to retrace his ancestral footsteps.

Exploring the area on a weekday afternoon, I didn’t notice an overwhelming amount of tourists. I did, however, get a sense of what life was like on a daily basis in the area. This was interesting because, in terms of the performative aspect of the street, I felt as if I was backstage or between shows. Since the area is such a popular place for commerce on the weekends, I felt as though I was experiencing more of an everyday environment than that of the highly performative commercialized weekends that occur when the area is crowded with customers. I also find it interesting that, by Kennedy’s definition, the term tourist applies to more than just foreigners. In this case, any Londoner who does not have cultural or geographic ties to Brick Lane becomes a tourist when they visit the site for its novelty or material presentation.

Given the highly diverse history of Brick Lane, it’s hard to spot a native as compared to a tourist or visitor. The natives who stood out most strongly were the members of the Bangladeshi population, as they were ethnically distinct and I often overheard them speaking Bengali. The various ethnic restaurants seemed to define the area. It seemed almost as if the ethnicities are marking their territory, when in reality, they are solely trying to market their culture the best way they know how — with traditional cuisine. The market in this area is so saturated with curry restaurants, I wonder how any one restaurant stays open in such a competitive environment. This points to a perhaps hidden connection between the Bengali citizens. There must be a strong sense of community in the area in which Bengali citizens help to support one another’s endeavors.

I finally came to the end of the river at Spitalfields market. The market had an interesting combination of merchandise. The covered area was a mesh of various privately owned stands that sold different products. I saw stands that were catering directly to foreign tourists with merchandise plastered with the British flag and “I Love London” slogans. I also saw stands that were for the London consumer, filled with clothing, hats, and accessories. Spitalfields was a prime example of performative consumerism. The antiquity of the stands made me, as the consumer, feel as though I had stepped backwards in time, or into an authentic ethnic marketplace. This clashed harshly with the modernism of much of the merchandise.

I discovered a monument in the Christ Church. It was a statue erected in the memory of Robert Ladbroke, the president of Chirst’s Hospital. He was a “greatly esteemed” individual to the community. The monument’s presentation in the church gives a holy connotation. It was placed in the front of the room, just feet from the altar. This demonstrates the inclusiveness of the community at Brick Lane. In other London neighborhoods, it might be extremely difficult to have a monument erected in a church, especially at the altar, but the citizens of Brick Lane exhibit such a pride in their constituents, they wanted to honor one in a spiritual environment, where he might be remembered every Sunday. Perhaps this close-knit community was a byproduct of the Lane serving as a sort of refuge for outcasts. The Huguenots cast out of France, the Irish and the Jews, and most recently, the Bengalis from the Greater Sylhet region, have come to form their own neighborhoods here, which is why it is dismissive, as noted by Sinclair, to refer to the area by its common name Banglatown.

I noticed that Brick Lane was home to a very unique performative style, as is any neighborhood in a major city. One example of “showing doing” I noticed was the presentation of the Bengali food in the restaurants down the lane. In an area dominated by Middle Eastern cuisine, presentation is key in catching the curiosity and attention of consumers. I noticed in certain shops, they would prepare the food right in front of you, carving from rows of large roast chickens. This performance generates a sense of authenticity and allows you to see and smell the food from the street. It also indicates a certain freshness about the food you can consume there. The performance was enhanced by the ethnic music and decor that aided in the authentication of the experience for the consumer, or audience.

Showing doing was prevalent in the Spitalfields Market as well. A man owning a hat stand, sported a fedora that was similar in style to the very hats he sold. Truman’s Pub across the street, which was originally a brewery, lacked air conditioning and refrigeration, and maintained its original wood flooring and tables in an attempt to appeal to the historical aesthetic of the tourist looking for an authentic experience.

The ever-shifting liminal norm was something that was strongly present at Brick Lane. The observation that jumped out at me was that of the graffiti artwork adorning the brick walls. The bright colors and hip hop imagery clashed with the traditional ethnic decor and antiquated stone buildings. Upon speaking to the artist, he informed me that the artwork is commissioned by a town board. The artists must appeal to the board and request a space and time to paint. Then, upon presentation of a portfolio, the artist might be selected to legally practice his art. This is an interesting concept, as the legal oversight and safe environment provided for the graffiti artists produce brilliant and interesting cultural murals. A stand in the market that stood out to me was a record and t-shirt stand. Amidst the maze of stands selling Bengali scarves and London swag, was a stand selling records and t-shirts with pop culture themes. This became prevalent amongst the traditional backdrop of the market, a mark of modern consumerism in an “authentic” area.

Overall, the deep cultural environment that Brick Lane represents is simultaneously overwhelming and awe-inspiring. The cultural river flows daily, changing course over time, leaving layers of history, landmarks, stories, and memories as it shifts. It is a true example of the international power of London, and a testimony to the vast diversity of the city. It is an area that has fought its way through time, supporting the downtrodden, and has found its place as a tourist attraction, a shrine, and a milestone in the history of the people of London.

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British Museum Scavenger Hunt

An update from Lexi on some of her discoveries during the class scavenger hunt at the British Museum:

lexi11. Elgin Marbles as “metonyms” for the Parthenon:

This picture left of one of the remnants can be seen as a metonym for the people’s observance of rituals and for the importance of ceremonies. In this sculpture, the women are carrying incense for sacrifices, showing their respect and admiration for the Greek gods as they pay homage to them.lexi2

This depiction right can be seen as a metonym for the valor and bravery of men in combat. It could also symbolize the superiority of men (such as defeating beasts or figures of “the Other”), and it shows how the Greeks valued strength and power.

2. Objects from the “World of Sutton Hoo”

lexi3Everyday object: “This iron lamp formed by a round bowl on a tripped foot was found in the burial. It is now corroded but still contains remains of beeswax. No trace of a wick survived.”lexi4

Ritual/ceremonial object: “This rare and unusual axe-hammer would have been a formidable weapon, but recently scholars have suggested that it might also have had a ceremonial use. Similar long-handled axes were probably used to slaughter sacrificial animals.”

lexi53. Defaced Suffragette Penny of 1903: The year that this penny was defaced is significant because it is the year when the Women’s Social and Political Union was founded. The members were later nicknamed suffragettes, but the establishment of this union marked a change in tactics by female campaigners to more extreme measures of civil disobedience.

4. Sevres Porcelain of Pygmalion and Galatea: Pygmalion and Galatea are two figures in classical Greek mythology. Pygmalion was a sculptor who had given up on finding a woman and vowed to never be hurt by one again. He saw them as “flawed” creatures. Thus, he created a sculpture of the perfect woman, which he named Galatea. Ironically, he ended up falling in love with Galatea. When Aphrodite (goddess of love) saw Pygmalion’s unconditional and pure love for Galatea, Aphrodite brought Galatea to life. The Pygmalion fell in love and were wed. lexi6

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