A Conversation With Amanda McDonald Crowley

Photo by Vera Mercer.
Photo by Vera Mercer.

By Mara Certic

Curator Amanda McDonald Crowley spoke to us about her upcoming talk at the Parrish Art Museum this Friday, and why she continues to explore the overlap between art, technology and the food we eat.

How did you first get involved in this very specific field?

Andrea Grover is a dear colleague of mine; I moved here to America about 10 years ago to work at Eyebeam in Chelsea—but for the past four years I’ve been focused a little more on my curatorial practice. My background in technology was an accident—I found myself working at a video festival in the 1980s. I was hanging out with friends who had an online gallery—before the internet was really a thing—I found myself in a network of artists specializing in technology. My interest in art and technology as a curator comes from the fact that I’m not really a museum curator—I run residency programs and like coming up with ways of bringing art and audiences together. I like working with artists on research-based stuff. I’ve been working a lot on social practice, and working to bring audiences into the active. I’ve had a long interest in food, going back to when I worked in a family restaurant as a teen. Because of my interest in food, it became more important to look at food production systems. And here, the food production system is completely broken and so the interrogation of it became essential.

So what sorts of projects and artwork are you going to be discussing on Friday?

Well, so one artist, for example, is Stefani Bardin who did a lot of work with a gastroenterologist. She went to a conference, and got to thinking about how real food travels through the body versus how processed food moves through our digestive tract. And although there’s technology to look at it—no gastroenterologist had ever looked at how our food works—they always emptied the tract before they would look inside it. So she composed a hilarious menu, working with nutritionists, because she wanted to make the comparison of like to like. So for both meals it was Gatorade, ramen and Gummy Bears. One of them was the highly processed version – and the other was made by hand: the “Gatorade” was made out of a hibiscus tea, which has similar properties, and the ramen was made from scratch. Even the scientists were shocked to see how differently the food broke down—the ones made by hand were able to be digested. She developed a beautiful installation, and what has happened is that the gastroenterologist has continued conducting the research. The idea that an artist would influence a scientist is pretty cool.

Then there’s Matthew Moore, who I met through creative capital. He’s a fourth generation farmer, and still works as both a farmer and an artist. He took stop-motion footage of food stuff growing, and the whole idea was to help people understand where food comes from. He did a big, beautiful installation of watching kale grow. When artists are researchers, it brings you lots of different conversations to bear.

What sort of thing would you like to see technology do for us, and do for our food?

Sometimes we’re talking really low tech, for example fermenting food to explain gut bacteria. I’m not sure I want technology to do anything for us—I don’t think it’s for us, I think it’s with us. What I’m interested in is that artists are interrogating these practices and they’re opening knowledge up. I’m interested in opening up knowledge systems. I want the greater public and society at large to better understand the practices we use. We don’t all need to be experts, but I’d like to see us share amateur knowledge.

Amanda McDonald Crowley will present ArtFoodTech on Friday, November 6, at 6 p.m. at the Parrish Art Museum. The event costs $10, and is free for members. For more information visit parrishart.org.