HOW Art Museum announces “Interrupted Meals”opening on August 8


Poster of Interrupted Meal.jpg

The title of the exhibition "Interrupted Meals" comes from the book The Parasite, written by the French philosopher Michel Serres. In the book Serres sees human history as the "parasitic" history a relationship between humanity and nature as well as humans themselves. Serres provides us with a critique of anthropocentrism and the system of technological production its conceptual framework is based on. As the first group exhibition at HOW Art Museum since the outbreak of COVID-19, the exhibition attempts to re-examine the relationship between humanity and nature, reflecting on the crisis surrounding the existing systems of production and methods of connection during this “interrupted” period in time. 

But when we talk about "the relationship between humans and nature", it is immediately apparent that the phrase itself is problematic, namely: Are humans part of nature? Is nature still what we think it is today?

The necessity of the first question can well be understood in terms of a hypothetical answer to the second question. If human beings were part of nature, the binary construction of humanity and nature referred to for the question itself would no longer hold. Instead, the long history of unrestricted human intervention in nature and the arbitrary construction of nature has led to a particular relationship between humans and nature that is different from the relationship between other species and nature. Here we can refer to what Serres states in The Parasite:“History hides the fact that man is the universal parasite, that everything and everyone around him is a hospitable space. Plants and animals are always his hosts; man is always necessarily their guest. Always taking, never giving. He bends the logic of exchange and of giving in his favor when he is dealing with nature as a whole. When he is dealing with his kind, he continues to do so; he wants to be the parasite of man as well. And his kind want to be so too.” (Serres, 1980) Human intervention in nature has always been consistent with the logic of its own development. As such if we are to discuss the relationship between the two, we must first return to the discussion regarding systems of production and methods of connection that were invented by humans. Secondly, we must also ask questions of nature put forth with such a proposition: Is nature merely the object of instrumentalization which lacks any kind of subjectivity and requires humanity to protect it from climate change, pollution, reports of the killing of animals and subsequent extinction of species? It is not difficult to imagine especially in today's crisis-ridden world, a nature that would survive the extinction of the human species—a system capable of sustaining itself organically by regulating its own form and composition, yet we rarely learn from it.

Therefore, the nature discussed in this exhibition is neither separate nor opposed to the concept(s) of human/artificial, nor is it held hostage to vague and empty rhetoric compiled into a variety of arrogant grand narratives. Instead, it is a multitude of specific and sometimes minuscule objects with connections that collectively make up a self-sufficient subject. In the exhibition, this collection and subject are reified into “food”, embodying that which is simultaneously situated in the categories of human culture and nature, systems of production, and methods of connection.

Food and cooking was once the most intimate form of interaction between humans and nature that transformed the entire ecosystem into a form of daily life that brought people together. Since the industrialization of production, acquisition and digestion of food has gradually shifted away from the ecosystem that once connected all living things, and transformed into a spectacle of consumption and production both sophisticated in appearance and colossal in scale. They also play a significant role in the evolution of industrialization, colonial history, and globalization. Food has become an isolated unit of production, consumption, and desire in the capitalist system, and thus it hints at the fate of humanity itself. The exhibition "Interrupted Meals" is a dynamic site for reflecting on food and its associated perceptions, modes of production, circulation, fabrication, as well as table manners and cultural references.

The exhibition begins with Joseph Beuys's work Food for Thought (1977). Beuys believed that food was the basis for thought and power; in Food for Thought he included a lengthy list of foods and quoted an ancient Irish poem at the end of the list, viewing all things as brothers and sisters which nourish the body and mind. Food plays a key role in Beuys's work, linking together his reflections on nature and social relationships, but also serving as an important element of his social sculpture.

Joseph Beuys, Output 38, 1972-1978.jpg

Joseph Beuys, “Output 38”, 1972-1978

Inspired by the film, Amy Franceschini and Michael Swaine of Futurefarmers initiated the research project A Variation on Powers of Ten(2011-ongoing). The project invites researchers from across the scientific spectrum to a picnic where they are asked questions regarding the limits of human knowledge and unsolved mysteries. The exhibition will host a relaunch of the project after nine years, inviting scholars and scientists in China for picnics and setting up a movable and open shared space in the exhibition.

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Futurefarmers, “A Variation on Powers of Ten”,  2011-ongoingPhoto of a picnicCourtesy of the artist

Through the not entirely convincing words of the interviewees, Xu Tan's work Who talked to my mother when she was in forest (2015-2016) attempts to illustrate how people express their feelings towards nature in the context of East Asian societies, whose traditional cultures have been shaped by Western rational values, opening up an alternative perspective on nature which diverges from the approach implemented in modern science. It is this approach that has long been disdained in a way that is strikingly similar to the way nature has been neglected in recent times.

Xu Tan, Who talked to my mother when she was in forest (Sihui, Guangdong), 2015.jpg

Xu Tan, “Who talked to my mother when she was in forest (Sihui, Guangdong)”, 2015,


Courtesy of the artist

Xu Tan, I felt it that day (San Francisco), 2016.jpg

Xu Tan, “I felt it that day (San Francisco)”, 2016

Video Courtesy of the artist

In Zheng Bo's work Survival manual I (Hand-Copied 1961 “Shanghai’s Wild Edible Plants”) (2015), the wild plants are very different from those found in today's food system, yet they were once recognized as food during a given period in history. This hints at the relationship between the political crises and weeds—the importance of nature is highlighted only in times of crisis.

Zheng Bo, Survival Manual I (Hand-Copied 1961 %22Shanghai’s Wild Edible Plants%22),2015-1.jpg

Zheng Bo, Survival Manual I (Hand-Copied 1961 %22Shanghai’s Wild Edible Plants%22),2015-2.jpg

Zheng Bo, Survival Manual I (Hand-Copied 1961 "Shanghai’s Wild Edible Plants"),2015Ink on paper,72 sheetsCourtesy of the artist,Edouard Malingue Gallery and Mr. Bao Yifeng

Design for an Overpopulated Planet: Foragers (2009) is a work by Dunne & Raby (Anthony Dunne and Finona Raby). It proposes a bottom-up solution to address future food shortages. The Foragers as urban marginals learn from the digestive systems of other animals and establish functional equipment as an external digestive system to extract nutrients from non-human foods.

Dunne & Raby, Designs For An Overpopulated Planet- Foragers, 2009.jpg

Dunne & Raby, “Designs For An Overpopulated Planet: Foragers”, 2009

Conceptual Film

Commissioned by Design Indaba as part of Protofarm 2050 for the ICSID World Design Congress in Singapore.

Courtesy of the artist 

Elia Nurvista's long-term project Hunger, Inc. (2015-ongoing) brings the topic of hunger back into the discussion. Elia Nurvista draws on rice, a staple food in Southeast and East Asia, to discuss the relationship between food and economics, politics, and social class in the context of urbanization within Indonesia. In this work, the artist reactivates the real-life experiences of the performers by juxtaposing a performance about riots with television news images of conflict in reaction to a corruption scandal, where a rice subsidy program distributed spoiled food to low-income groups.

Elia Nurvista, Hunger, Inc, 2015-ongoing.jpg

Elia Nurvista, “Hunger”, Inc, 2015-ongoing

Installation, Video with sound, Performance and Events.

Courtesy of the artist and Ji Woon Yoon

Levi- Strauss points out in Mythologiques: The Origin of Table Manners, “we can hope to discover how, in any particular society, cooking is a language through which that society unconsciously reveals its structure”. Tang Han and Zhou Xiaopeng's work Shape of Appetite (2017) presents the other end of the spectrum regarding food and its social languages: food sculpture. Through interviews with food and catering practitioners, the artists discuss how the catering industry is affected by policy, demographics, market changes, and how the aesthetics of plate arrangement responds to the influence of Western catering culture throughout the process of globalization and how they use this way to approach and understand the aesthetic forms of consumption.

Tang Han and Zhou Xiaopeng, Shape of Appetite, 2017.png

Tang Han and Zhou Xiaopeng, “Shape of Appetite”, 2017

Single-channel video

Courtesy of the artist

Shi Qing's new work Dreams of Sugar (2020) and Yuichiro Tamura’s Suzuki Knife, Social cooking (2014) each cropped out a fragment in history related to food and cooking. Dreams of Sugar is a multi-act drama set against the backdrop of the invention of white sugar during the Jiajing period. The form unveils the realities and dreams of globalized trade, material consumption, recipes, southern opera, and the intersection of radical thoughts.

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“The Return of Soul at the Peony Pavilion”, Qi Feng Thatched Cottage edition

Image provided by Shi Qing

Suzuki Knife, Social Cooking is a parallel narrative of the assassination of a Joseon diplomat during the Edo era of 18th-century in Japan. The case then became a Kabuki play, the earliest performance of which was titled "Social Cooking". Suzuki is here both the surname of the murderer and the murder weapon “Suzuki knife” which became the name of the Kabuki show, while the word for cutting fish, “Sabaku”, is a homophone for the word “trial" in Japanese and has the same etymology, meaning to cut and to judge right or wrong. The artist points out that in today's increasingly complex world, judgment will become more difficult, and the constant repetition of the process of cutting fish and building knives in the work seems to have reached the point of being inevitability constant. Conscious or unconscious judgments, decisions, and even trials are all part of this process even though it does not always go to court.

Yuichiro Tamura, Suzuki Knife, Social Cooking, 2014-1.jpg

Yuichiro Tamura, Suzuki Knife, Social Cooking, 2014-2.jpg

Yuichiro Tamura, Suzuki Knife, “Social Cooking”, 2014

Mixed media Installation

Courtesy of the artist

If we examine the history of food, it is apparent that the history of mankind is entangled with nature, a history filled with stories of progress, achievement and the passing on of fire, while on the reverse side it is a history filled with indulgence, theft and murder, but trials that do not always occur on time. Law as a technical tool plays an ambiguous role in these sensational stories, especially when it confronts nature: the law provides legitimacy for our actions to transform nature, but this is not convincing because we never seriously enter into a contract with nature. Charles Lim Yi Yong discusses in his works SEASTATE 7 (2015)and SEASTATE 9 (2018)the ways in which Singapore's various sources of sand were transported and filled in by state decree to increase the size of its coasts and remote islands. These mounds were declared land, reflecting imagined evolutions of states, modes of governance, and geological formations, while at the same time referring to sand, which was thought to be endless and without history.

Charles Lim Yi Yong , SEASTATE 7- Sandwich, 2015.jpg

Charles Lim Yi Yong , “SEASTATE 7: Sandwich”, 2015


Courtesy of the artist 

Charles Lim Yi Yong, SEASTATE 9- Drag, Drop, Pour, 2018.jpg

Charles Lim Yi Yong, “SEASTATE 9: Drag, Drop, Pour”, 2018

3 videos

Courtesy of the artist

In her work Crawl(2018-2019), Tong Wenmin connects dried branches to his limbs and crawls through different public spaces, including both urban spaces built by humans and the periphery of abandoned territories due to pollution. Pollution and construction are both ways in which humans occupy nature. These occupied lands and biological networks in turn occupy abandoned sites or urban cracks where a form of resistance survives. By connecting plants, which live forms pre-date human existence and the crawling gestures, Tong Wenmin accomplishes an instance of time, space as well as association and transformation of resistance forms.

Tong Wenmin, Crawl, 2018-2019.jpg

Tong Wenmin, “Crawl”, 2018-2019

Video of performance,Japan, Germany, Italy, China

Courtesy of the artist

Yu Ji’s new work Moving Banquet (2020), a site-specific installation for the exhibition, refers to the human condition. The sculptures are transformed into both bodies and materials in Yuji's creations. It is both a sampling of real-life and a temporal accumulation as a theatrical flow of rhetoric. The sliced up flesh is drawn into the ruins of buildings, and the carriers that carry it hint at an impending displacement. As powerful collectives of human beings, the way in which these isolated units are cut up, transported, and encroached when they are considered individuals by the production system, becomes the language of social cooking itself.

Yu Ji at the working site.jpg

Yu Ji at the working site

Yu Ji, Flesh in stone-ghost No. 3, detail, 2018.jpg

Yu Ji, “Flesh in stone-ghost No. 3”, detail, 2018

Courtesy of the artist

Lo Lai Lai Natalie's new work See-saw (2020) transforms her lived experiences in farming and culinary practices into a space for thought, perceiving the process of fermentation and exploring the bonds and symbiotic relationships between seemingly isolated things. In her work, Lo connects “mouth” as an organ that coordinates the relationship of “in” and “out”, and the process of the growth, harvesting and fermentation of food. Through the mobilization of images, texts and sounds, the artist wanders through the semantic field formed by the relationships between eating and speaking, exhaling and inhaling, raw and cooked, in an attempt to touch upon a certain kind of conflict, negotiation, and symbiosis.

Lo Lai Lai Natalie, See-saw, 2020.jpg

Lo Lai Lai Natalie, “See-saw”, 2020

Two-channel Video

Courtesy of the artist

It is noteworthy that the food in the works of the exhibition does not exist as a "medium" for art production or a "third party" that bridges the gap between art and the public, but rather as a collection of subjects that point to an “a set of relations whose network unifies the whole earth” (Serres, 1990), which is itself an intervention and interruption of the existing systems of production and attempts to suggest the possibility of alternative connections and symbiosis.

By Curator/Fu Liaoliao 

About the curator

Fu Liaoliao is a curator based in Shanghai. Her curatorial research and practice involve the critiques in the context of socio-economic system, live-based works and the function of public space and its borders. Her curatorial works include Serious Games (2019), Precariats’ Meeting (2017) etc. She also curated solo shows for artists such as Li Binyuan (2019), Thomas Hirschhorn (2018) and Ho Tzu Nyen (2018).

Wang Ziyao is the assistant curator of HOW Art Museum. She graduated in 2018 with a master's degree in visual arts and curatorial studies from the New Academy of Fine Arts (NABA) in Milan. She currently works in Shanghai.

About the exhibition

Duration: 2020/08/08- 2020/10/31

Artists: Joseph Beuys, Dunne & Raby, Futurefarmers, Charles Lim Yi Yong, Lo Lai Lai Natalie, Elia Nurvista, Shi Qing, Yuichiro Tamura, Tang Han & Zhou Xiaopeng, Xu Tan, Yu Ji, Zheng Bo

Curator: Fu Liaoliao

Assistant Curator: Wang Ziyao

Venue: 3F, HOW Art Museum, No 1, Lane 2277, Zuchongzhi Road, Shanghai

Courtesy of How Art Museum