Jeni Hansen Gard
The Common Table Dishes
Wheel thrown and altered Lizella clay, slip, underglaze, screen printed pattern, glaze
The Common Table brought together a group of twenty-two women that share the physical space on the Wesleyan College campus. The building walls, division of majors, age, and many other factors can create a barrier that prevent students, faculty, and staff who enter the campus each day from ever encountering each other. This project aimed to encourage a diverse group of students, faculty, and staff to build community through a series of events and a shared meal that took place within the gallery and resulted in The Common Table exhibition. An effort was made to select participants who did not already know each other well from different majors, organizations, and offices across campus.
On November 10, 2017, the group shared a meal together in the gallery. The dishes were handmade for the event and belong to the participants who first ate from them. They were designed to be reflective of campus and are covered with a pattern of the driving and walking paths on campus as well as shapes that reference the architectural archways. The ingredients used to create the meal were determined by an algorithm that used the food preferences and aversions of the participants. Each participant contributed twenty-two preferred foods and after eliminating any allergies or disliked foods the remaining list was used in the algorithm. The sounds of the meal were recorded and the audio was played on a continuous loop in the gallery throughout the exhibition allowing visitors to hear the meal taking place.
The Common Table was designed to help those participating and those who view it to reconsider the space that is shared, our relationship to that space, and with each other. Thank you to the many wonderful people at Wesleyan College and beyond that made this project possible.
Jeni Hansen Gard grew up in a small bed and breakfast in Grand Haven, Michigan. She received her MFA from The Ohio State University, MA in Art Education from the University of Florida, and BA in Art Education from Hope College. Jeni was the recipient of the 2015 MJ Wood- DO GOOD Residency at Red Lodge Clay Center, recently completed residencies at the Archie Bray Foundation and Denison University, and is a current resident artist and visiting professor at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. She is a founding member of the Socially Engaged Craft Collective, a craft and social practice organization. She is using craft as an avenue to pursue her research interest in ethnobotany (the human plant relationship) and exploring the ceramic vessel as a form of social art practice. Jeni and her husband, fellow ceramicist Forrest Sincoff Gard, run Gard Clay Studios, in their home studio, where they make a line of functional, well-crafted ceramics and have a small artist residency program.
The Common Table was originally designed as my master’s thesis at The Ohio State University. The exhibition space, Urban Art Space, was located on the ground floor of the Lazarus Building. An Iconic building in downtown Columbus, Ohio that was formerly the Lazarus department store. At the time of my exhibition the building had 14 different businesses using its space. I designed the basic structure of this project to bring together one person from each of the entities within the building. People who shared the space, walked the same walkways, used the same restrooms, and parked in the same parking garage and yet did not know each other.
I was unable to complete the project because of a contract with the company who provided food for the university. This contract stated that no outside food could be served at a university sponsored event. Although this is understandable it should not limit the research and creative production of artists exhibiting in the universities gallery. How would artists—like Alison Knowle, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Felix Gonzalez Torres, Thester Gates, Marina Abramovic, Barbara T. Smith, Fallen Fruit, and Sonja Alhäuse—to name a few have had the opportunity to create if they had been restricted in such a way. Why can food not be considered art? Why are socially engaged practices valued less than object focused ones?
Hence the idea had some time to percolate over the next few years and found its purpose at Wesleyan College. The Common Table brought together a group of twenty-two women to build community through a series of events including a meal shared in Porter East Gallery. I started my residency in August by embedding myself in the community and recruiting participants. In early October, the group gathered for the first time for a meet and greet where we did the human knot and shared openly about ourselves. I paired the participants in groups of two and asked them to meet with their partner during the upcoming month before the meal. I also met with each person individually to take their portrait, in the location of their choosing, and have a conversation. I met almost everyone at the fountain with my camera over my shoulder and we walked together to their portrait location.
On November 10, 2017, The Common Table women shared the meal together in the gallery. I made each of the dishes for the event twenty-two cups, bowls, plates, and serving vessels. These now belong to the participants who contributed their time and energy to growing in community with each other. The dishes were designed to be reflective of campus and are covered with a pattern of the driving and walking paths on campus as well as shapes that reference the architectural archways. The ingredients used to create the meal were determined by an algorithm that used the food preferences and aversions of the participants. Each participant contributed twenty-two preferred foods and after eliminating any allergies or disliked foods the remaining list was used in the algorithm. The meal was prepared by Chef Forrest Sincoff Gard and Pastry Chef Tyler Schwaller.
Together with the women of Wesleyan we created a book with the portraits and statements from each participant.
For this project, like many others, I was interested in community, relationships, and food, and the intersection of ceramics and food in bringing people together to share meals. My interest in food comes from a diagnosis at age 25 of an autoimmune disease that for a time took away my ability to walk. The disease was triggered by eating food contaminated with salmonella. This life-altering experience caused me to look differently at the foods I ate, how they were produced, and I gradually became interested in the relationships that form around sharing food. I am grateful for the opportunity to be included in this show with so many other incredible and brave people.