Breaking Bread reflects upon eating in many forms, exploring the linkages between consumption, history and memory. Collectively, the works interrogate a series of oppositions: eater and eaten, self and world, inner and outer space. Ranging from the suppressed histories of food producers to ‘edible’ bodies, from digestion to expulsion, the exhibition shows how we consume narratives and how they, in turn, consume us.
Our hunger reminds us that we are reliant on the world around us for our survival, a dependence that has often been idealised. Anna Skladmann’s work examines the idea of forbidden fruit. Riffing on the story from Genesis, she traces the contradictory poles of desire, reflecting on edibility and inedibility, nourishment and danger. Desire is complicated. We see this in the work of Anna Chrystal Stephens. She highlights our contemporary yearning to get back to nature, our love of the simple life (providing we have a state of the art fire pit and enough data). Importantly, her work retrieves ancient survival practices from obscurity, staging a dialogue between conflicting methods of consumption- those of the present and the past.
Just as we must eat to stay alive, so must we consume the past in order to make sense of the present. For Lauren-Marie Haywood, eating is used to celebrate the transmission of knowledge within the different communities of the global African diaspora. As in the work of Richard Mark Rawlins, eating contains a threat of violence, registering how these communities have been cannibalised by the dominant western culture. Richard uses consumption to expose the colonial logic that scaffolds Englishness, an identity epitomised in the sugar-laden cup of tea, an idea first posited by Professor Stuart Hall in his seminal essay ‘Old and New Identities, Old and New Ethnicities’ 1991. Min Carter’s piece also pivots on the historical amnesia surrounding sugar plantations, examining Indian indentured labour and its omission from contemporary memory. Taken together, these works use consumption to re-engage us with these violent pasts, filling the gaps in history that we suppress, silence, and find difficult to swallow.
Eating is inherently violent; it affirms the power of the eater, who swallows and assimilates another being. Mindy Lee’s work occupies the liminal space between eater and eaten, inner and outer worlds, flickering between incorporation and expulsion to generate ghostly reimaginings of the Anatomical Venus. Fragmented bodies also emerge in the work of Paul Westcombe, where dreamlike narratives spiral around drained coffee cups in dizzying ouroboric loops. Out of these eerie images of the body, Lee and Westcombe spin circular narratives that teeter on the brink of cannibalism.