November 19, 2019

A Confluence of Food and Art in Los Angeles

Photo courtesy of Current: LA Food

The citywide monthlong current: LA Food triennial is here, with more than 75 free events and 15 commissioned installations in public parks in 15 Los Angeles City Council districts.

Produced and curated by the L.A. Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA), ICA LA Lead Curator/Director of Learning and Engagement Asuka Hisa calls the event “a confluence of food and art.”

Hisa spoke with the Journal recently at Pershing Square while artist Nancy Lupo added finishing touches to “Open Mouth” — a collection of scaled-down benches arranged in the shape of a jaw. 

Each Current: LA Food site features an original piece by a contemporary artist, as well as a public programming element. They all share a sense of what Hisa called “simpatico. People are enjoying the food richness of L.A., and the diversity and the culinary excellence that’s coming to town,” she said, “but it’s really not about that with this project. It’s looking at issues. You stand to learn from the art in a big way, because there’s already an access point where you connect to it.”

The roster is a mix of local and international artists who approach food as an inspiration and jumping off point. The results showcase diverse perspectives, concepts and materials. Despite the wide geographical territory covered, Current: LA Food is feasibly mapped out for participants who want to see as many of the 15 installations as possible.

“People are enjoying the food richness of L.A., and the diversity and the culinary excellence that’s coming to town, but it’s really about … looking at issues.” — Asuka Hisa

Emily Marchand’s “A Thousand Lunches” events welcomes participants to help prepare meals to be distributed to the homeless at Roger Jessup Park in Pacoima. 

The multimedia installation “Mussel Beach” by Cooking Sessions is at the Venice Beach Recreation Center, while Adrià Julià’s “A Very White Flower” is at the L.A. State Historic Park in Chinatown, and Torolab’s Watts Cookbook project is located at Ted Watkins Memorial Park in Watts.

Meanwhile, at Pan Pacific Park, Chicago-based artist Michael Rakowitz explores the historical relationship with Iraq and that region’s history and date production in “Beneath the Date Palms.” His recent exhibition, “Dispute Between the Tamarisk and the Date Palm,” was held at Redcat. 

The three temporary structures that comprise “Beneath the Date Palms” reconstruct Room F of the Northwest Palace of Nimrud destroyed by the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2015. 

The predominance of missing panels in Rakowitz’s piece creates a conspicuous absence, and the artist traces the artifacts’ fates. Rakowitz uses repurposed materials including newspapers and food wrappers to construct the panels.

The Coachella Valley’s prolific date production lends a natural tie between Southern California and Iraq. California-grown dates will be featured in Rakowitz’s events, including a Sukkot dinner co-presented with IfNotNow on Oct. 13. A second dinner, titled “A House with a Date Palm Will Never Starve,” will be hosted in collaboration with Iraqi American chef Sara Ahmad on Nov. 2.

For the complementary programming component at Pan Pacific Park, curator and activist Leyna Lightman has planned at least four bread-baking gatherings focused on different international regions, including Ethiopia and Armenia, using a dedicated adobe oven.   

With other newly opened food-centric art exhibitions on view in L.A. — Consume: Handcrafting L.A. Restaurant Design at the Craft in America Center on West Third Street and Supershow by art collective Fallen Fruit at the Pacific Design Center’s PDC Design Gallery in West Hollywood — the original concept for Current: LA Food proposed about five years ago has proved prescient. 

The undertaking is more topical today, given ongoing crises related to hunger and homelessness  in L.A. and beyond. 

“It’s in the news, and here you are experiencing it through art and the art lens, which is incredible,” Hisa said. “I know for a fact that the artists are learning as much about their city as the city is standing to learn from these works.”


Jessica Ritz is a freelance journalist whose writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, C Magazine, Sunset, Coastal Living, Tablet and ArchitecturalDigest.com.