The term “mouthfeel” is used to describe the reaction that food has in the mouth such as smoothness, dryness, gumminess, etc. It is a technical term used by experts who test food and beverage products. The word, which is the heading of a recent film production by contemporary artist Maryam Jafri, has become the title of the first show in London dedicated to the artist who works and experiments with video installations and photography.
The exhibition is hosted by the contemporary art organisation Gasworks, based in South London, and will be open this spring between the 21st of March and the 18th of May. Besides being the first exhibition entirely dedicated to Maryam Jafri in the UK, Mouthfeel will display for the first time two new works of the artist from this year. The first one is the above mentioned film from which the exhibition borrows the title – a 20 minute HD video with sound – realised during the artist’s residency at Delfina Foundation as part of a series of events called The Politics of Food. The second one instead, titled Product Recall: An Index of Innovation, is inspired by the same range of topics but is realised in the format of a photo-text work. The show is also part of a yearlong exhibitions programme launched by Gasworks, The Civilizing Process.
As the title of the show and of the two recent pieces on display reveal, the two works showcased investigate the politics behind food production and consumption, especially in relation to mass production of processed foods. The art pieces also emphasise how food consumption constructs subjectivity. As the artist uncovered with previous works such as Avalon(2011) and Global Slum(2012), the relationship (as well as disconnection) between how commodities are produced and the way they are advertised and consumed is often an undiscovered and appealing territory of research. Jafri’s art production – borderline between fine arts and documentary video and photography – aims at unveiling several social, political and economic mechanisms, typical of the globalised world, which are either too evident or too subtle to be recognised.
Often throughout the comparison and mix of photographic and video material of both real and staged scenes, the artist overlaps different geographical places and historical times. For instance in one of her previous works, Independent Day 1936-1967 (2009) she used an archive of historical pictures of political celebrations from different countries to address the western notion of nation state and its appropriation in non-western countries.
Mouthfeel, written and interpreted by the artist herself, is set in a Limo interior where the two characters, a couple who works for the same food multinational company, engage in a conversation about a “faulty” new product. Set in a generic global city, the film presents inserts of documentary images from third world countries which acts as commercial breaks. Using the language and references of theatre and television the film assembles fiction and reality (and plays on the inversion of those two with the alternation of documentary images), references to the global vs. the local markets as well as to the north and south of the world. In this behind-the-scenes of food industry episode, the artist opens a provocative discourse around truth and simulation behind corporations, advertising and the media. Differently from cult movie precedents that have tackled similar subjects such as the famous Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance (1982), Jafri’s film brings together the macrocosm of industrial production and corporation power with the microcosm of everyday life, revealing the impact of the former on the latter.
The second work on display, Product Recall: An Index of Innovation, still constructed around the controversial subjects of food processing, is realised with a series of still life pictures of products recalled from the market because they challenged to meet consumers’ expectations and taste. Through the language of advertising the artist unveils the intricate net that links the logic behind processes of productions – such as biotechnologies – to the everyday life of ordinary people in the role of consumers.
How does the show encourage the public to reflect on the politics of production and consumption?