Ok, I’ll admit it. After 8 years of a strict vegetarian diet, I have fallen off the wagon. And by doing so I’ve discovered that bacon is a gateway food. Its greasy, rich decadence has started a downward spiral from grilled chicken to marinated pork to slabs of beef.
In my former veggie days I was a subtler activist. I didn’t find it necessary to cram my opinions down other people’s throats. When asked why I had chosen to live a veggie friendly life I would usually respond by saying that I simply didn’t like the taste of meat. And most people left it at that. It was a response that easily ended the conversation, and kept my tree-hugging–veggie-loving-farmer’s-market shopping side in check. I wasn’t out to pick fights with people.
But I’ve now entered into a more complicated relationship with food. The dairy that I once consumed with great pleasure makes me ill. The wheat gluten that I ingested in the form of olive loafs and micro- brews make me break out in a rash. All of this has me thinking, “Why chose to eat one thing and not the other?” Why did I find it acceptable to eat dairy products but not meat? Both come from animals. The less than desirable relationship that I’ve come to have with food is much like a dance. I try my best to dodge the stares and eye rolls from friends and family when I order chicken tamales instead of my usual veggie choice. When asked why I’ve decided to stop my previous veggie ways I usually reply with an honest “It’s easier.” And despite how it may make me feel, it is. I’ve come to the point that I feel like I don’t need to micro manage my dietary restrictions and issues. People are curious about my strange habits, so I feel that I owe them an honest answer.
But deep down I still feel badly for my choices. I don’t really want to eat animals. The childhood me that wanted to save every injured and abandoned animal comes back to haunt me. I long for the days that the choices I made about what I put into my body were more black and white. I long for the days of my childhood when eating was easy. I ate what was put in front of me without question. I lived in a simple world unaware of the political and social ramifications of my decisions. I was also blessed with a steel gut that would happily digest what it now considers poison. My morality meter was in check and I was able to carry on with my carefree existence.
I wish the grown up me had it that easy…
The real problem is not the choice of what I put in my body, but rather that I find myself longing for what I cannot have; a simpler time filled with easy choices.
With these thoughts floating freely in my mind I begin to process the most recent show at Soo VAC featuring the artwork of two artists, Areca Roe and Samantha French. Both artists tackle themes like memory, confinement, longing and the desire for escape. These heavy themes are skillfully hidden behind shades of muddled blue and teal, with environments filled with sunny warm waters and the occasional fuzzy animal. As time passes and the viewer is able to peel away the sunny exterior, a more somber interior is revealed.
Animals. Glass. Concrete.
Areca’s photos may seem easy to digest on the surface, but upon more careful consideration have a dreary, even discouraging quality. They remind us about our most basic relationship with animals, and our instinct to dominate and control those smaller and weaker than we are. She forces us to confront images of animals hidden behind glass with dead stares set in dead surroundings. Something feels strange and unnerving when engaging with this type of carefully constructed experience. As I continue to digest the work it becomes clear that our relationship with the animal kingdom is more complex than simply our desire to control. Areca writes on her website, “Zoos serve as a clear manifestation of the state of our relationship to wild animals. They are a manufactured point of contact with the wild, and fulfill some need we have as humans to connect with nature, with wildness, and perhaps to have dominion and control over that wildness.” The issue of animal welfare is not as black and white as the younger me once thought. I find the answers difficult to come by.
Warm, blue water. Floating bodies. Summer sun.
Samantha’s paintings feature a contemporary take on the classic bather portrait, reminding me of long, hazy days spent at the lake, unaware of the passing hours and the freckles developing on my skin. Somehow life seems much less hectic when lounging on the beach staring out at the water. As my mind peels away outer layers, an interior filled with desires appears. I find myself remembering the unbearably long Minnesota winters of my childhood when I wanted nothing more than a moment of warmth and sun. I wanted to escape the long days and even longer nights. I dreamt of warm waters floating my seemingly weightless body out for miles to a place of unending summer. It’s easy to lose myself in the warm nostalgia of childhood, or a time when things were seemingly less complicated, but sooner or later I am forced back to reality. Even if only for a moment, I am grateful for the trip. Samantha writes on her website, “These paintings are a link to my home and continual search for the feeling of the sun on my face and warm summer days at the lake”. That connection to home runs deep.
What I’ve come to learn is that we all have desires- for happiness, a reprieve, focus, restraint, escape. We all want what we cannot have. At least not right now. But it’s fun to pretend.
Hopefully your greatest longing this week is to see this amazing work before it’s gone.
Thanks to our amazing intern Katie Parr for this blog post!