Will Work With Food
By Kevin West
Printed in December Issue
Posted on December 08, 2017
…Dana Sherwood stretches food-based identity to its furthest limit—as the defining activity of the species Homo sapiens—and keeps going. Inspired by 19th-century illustrated cooking encyclopedias, 1960s Jell-O molds, and the writing of Claude Levi-Strauss, the New York–based artist creates feasts not intended for human consumption. Instead, Sherwood composes her outdoor banquets, turns on a nighttime infrared surveillance camera, and heads inside. Nature does the rest. Her black-and-white videos show raccoons, fox, mice, baboons, and an ocelot (in Brasilia) enacting scenes that feel like demented outtakes from Alice in Wonderland, as filmed by early French documentarian Jean Painlevé. Sherwood, an experienced dressage rider, works with animal species that live near human development, at the literal and figurative edge between nature and culture. As the artist, her role is to manage the aesthetics—to cook and set the table. The consumers’ roles as collaborators is unpredictable.
“It really is up to nature to determine how the piece ends up,” says Sherwood. “In the Anthropocene, there’s no ‘pure nature.’ It’s a fantasy, a nostalgia. Still, nature is going to behave the way nature is going to behave. I love the poetics of that.”
Sherwood would seem to accept the premise that cooking separates us from the animals and constructs our human identity—“food as acculturation,” in the anthropologist’s gloss. The twist is that after she turns nature into culture, “funneling it through the gaze of the human,” she gives it back to nature. Her “Feral Cakes” (2017) was the necessary prologue to a shared intraspecies performance. Food becomes a common occasion, perhaps even a common language. Just as it does in human intercourse. “Food,” Sherwood says wryly, “is how you make friends.”…