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Art review: Food conveys myriad of ideas in group show ‘Gut Feelings’

We feel a lot through our guts: hunger, satisfaction, sadness, intuition. The Zuckerman Museum of Art’s group show “Gut Feelings” is centered on the multifold properties of our gut and how it guides us, both literally and figuratively.

Appetite, of a ravenous sort, is front and center in the Marilyn Minter video “Green Pink Caviar,” which features a ravenous, roving mouth pulsating like a sea creature devouring an array of substances in frightening close-up. Gross, lewd and audacious, the video makes no bones about the power of appetite.

Food is also central in the artful tablescape created by Atlanta-based artist Michi Meko. The artist’s atmospheric dining table, set up in the gallery space, is a symbolic, ad hoc supper indebted to Southern history and African-American experience. Meko’s ornate, Gothic dinner table is festooned with cotton bolls and dried okra stems and seeds, testifying to the influence of slaves and African foodways on our own Southern tables. Food is loaded with history and with meaning in such instances. It’s the way we connect, to each other and to the past.

But hunger also takes on more metaphorical tones in “Gut Feelings,” expressing an array of other states of mind, from sexual desire to anarchical rage.

Related: Art review: Food innovators offer plenty of food for thought at MODA

Curated by Sarah Higgins, “Gut Feelings”’s most consistent and powerful theme is how interconnected food and food preparation can be with expressing both female agency and female frustration. Top-heavy with powerhouse female artists, “Gut Feelings” is at its best when examining how food and female desire intersect.

In the darkly comic 1975 video from feminist art pioneer Martha Rosler, “Semiotics of the Kitchen,” the artist is shown performing an A-B-C alphabet rundown of kitchen implements from apron and bowl to chopper and dish. As the demonstration of these various tools of domesticity continues, the artist’s gestures become increasingly violent, her knives and ice picks suddenly wielded with furious intensity, plunged like a killer’s murder weapon into the air. The video conveys the suppressed rage of women being forced to express their creativity and life’s purpose in the limited realms of home and hearth, reduced to a domestic appliance themselves.

In a similarly amusing riposte to that kitchen-as-jail theme, “Cooking With the Erotic” by Ilana Harris-Babou, the artist gleefully mocks the conventions of a TV cooking show, linking creativity in the kitchen with creativity in the artist’s studio. Manipulating margarine and eggs, potatoes and cherry tomatoes like clay or pigment, two women turn their kitchen into a delightfully expressive, nutty playground where childlike impulses to squish and squeeze and poke and mess become part of an anarchical creative process.

Taking the act of kitchen creativity to a whole new level, the uproarious, laugh-out-loud funny Australian YouTube video series “How to Basic” pretends to offer online cooking instructionals, with an unseen chef assembling recipes on-camera.

They begin like so many lifestyle how-tos, with peppy music and a cheery step-by-step of how to make a cake or a cheeseburger, but quickly devolve into destructive melees as our increasingly unhinged chef tosses eggs, slabs of raw meat, flour, chocolate, food dye and anything else he can get his hands on into a riot of pure, cathartic destruction, grunting and wailing and snorting like a madman all the way. Making a crude link between food and its end result, the videos are obsessed with bodily functions but make a hilarious point about how conventionalized and aestheticized food prep instructionals can be. Like much of the work in “Gut Feelings,” this video series illustrates how we so often hide all of the messiness of life as it is really lived.

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