Tomorrow We Will Feast Again on What We Catch is a display of photography and performance that will culminate in an urban hunter-gatherer feast, taking place this summer at Allegra La Viola Gallery in New York City. The brainchild of artist and urban survivalist Laura Ginn, guests will be invited to pull up a handmade leather stool to table crafted from street-side salvaged materials and feast on one of the city's most sustainable meat source: rats. Yup. You read that correctly. Rats! Now read on to see what Laura has to say about the art of survival, pushing your boundaries, and fine dining cuisine. You might be surprised.
What sparked your interest in self-sufficiency, specifically in an urban environment? Is the urban nature of the environment a crucial component?
I became interested in self-sufficiency while living in D.C. I began reading blogs by post-peak oil adherents and survivalists. I was interested in the idea of preparing for a future that may or may not happen, and in the intersection of technology and communication with survivalist skills and lifestyles. When I moved back to Michigan (where I’d grown up) for graduate school the idea of self-reliance became more pressing. Detroit and the surrounding area were in such a bad state. Foreclosure, people out of work – being able to do things for one’s self suddenly seemed very important. I began to build a cabin by hand and discovered how empowering it was to learn new skills. Self-sufficiency is a great way to alleviate anxiety.
The urban environment became important to me when I relocated to New York City. My work changed a lot. I didn’t have a place to work outdoors. My indoor space was a lot more restricted. My parent’s had always grown fresh vegetables on their property, in New York City that wasn’t as easy to do. I started thinking about what resources were available in the city, what kinds of wildlife – which were of course squirrel, pigeon and rats. I’ve been focused on rats because to me they are emblematic of the urban environment.
What kind of experiments have you conducted thus far? Do you feel like they've been successful (and why or why not)?
Some of my experiments have included building a small cabin by hand, learning bow hunting, building traps and snares, learning the traditional brain tanning method for making buckskin and most recently, adapting those skills to the urban environment.
The cabin and leather making were successful. I learned a lot from both and had a good product at the end, which was rewarding. The hunting didn’t go as well. I had a skilled bow hunter who volunteered to teach me and we sat in a deer blind on several VERY cold winter mornings as the sun came up. I didn’t have any luck. I will need a lot more practice to become a skilled hunter. All I caught in my traps (live-traps) were baby opossums. I had decided to eat the first thing I killed (I had been a vegetarian for 16 years at this point) and I couldn’t bring myself to kill or eat those adorable little critters.
You mention pushing boundaries a lot throughout this project. What's essential about pushing boundaries to you, especially in regards to your latest performance piece?
I was a good student, good at learning from books and from teachers. But when I built the cabin it was the first time I learned something purely by doing it. I had never built anything before, and here I was, out in the snow, in the woods, hammering, sawing and making something. Something I could walk inside of, with a door, windows, shelves. I had always taken these things for granted. But by pushing my own boundaries and doing something I had never tried before a whole new way of looking at the world opened up to me.
I think a lot of boundaries are formed by anxiety, habit or a lack of imagination. If we always stay in our comfort zone, we never question those boundaries. Pushing boundaries is how we grow as people and gain new perspectives. Life is dynamic and our boundaries should be too.
When I started making leather I was amazed at how I could just pick up something (an animal) from the world (I was collecting a lot of road kill) and transform it into something useful (leather). I didn’t have to go to the store and buy it, it wasn’t a virtual experience — I was having a direct interaction with the natural world. In terms of Tomorrow We Will Feast Again on What We Catch I hope to give the diners a taste (no pun intended) of that type of experience. I hope that by working to overcome disgust and fear participants will be very aware of the act of eating – what they are eating, how they are integrating part of the world with their bodies and their own physical selves. I want people to have a very concrete experience of the physical world
Would LOVE to hear about people's reactions to the idea of eating rat. I am guessing they are pretty varied.
Indeed. I have had a lot of different reactions to my work. Some folks are very into it, others find it interesting but don’t have the stomach for it, and some people think it’s awful. I have been surprised at how many people are excited to eat rats though. I think most people are naturally curious. I’ve eaten rats and I’m still standing. Other people want to try them too.
In some places eating rats is not all that unusual. There was a New Yorker article a few years back by Peter Hessler about his visit to restaurants in the Guangdong Province in China with many rat dishes on the menu.
How do you hope this dinner will affect people? What would you like them to wake up the next day thinking?
I hope they aren’t thinking their stomachs hurt!
When I’m making my photographs and doing performances, I am thinking a lot about the economy, resources and how we interact with the world. What skills we have for survival and the ways in which our cultural conditioning can limit how we think. That’s a lot to consider over dinner. I always aim to make work with different layers, work that people can enjoy intellectually, aesthetically or experientially. With this dinner my main objective is to offer people an experience. If it changes the way they look at the world a tiny bit, that’s awesome.
At the end of the summer I am moving to North Carolina where I’ve accepted a teaching position. I’m never sure exactly what’s next. My projects tend to grow out of each other, with one leading to the next in ways I don’t always anticipate. In NC I’ll be living in a rural area on a river, maybe it’s time to build a boat.
Also for this summer: I’m in a great show this summer at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center in Atlanta, GA called Deliverance, which focuses on performance work. I’ll be giving an artist talk about performance with Clifford Owens and Anya Liftig, two very cool artists, and hosting a skinning workshop, which is open to the public.
Of course, Tomorrow We Will Feast Again on What We Catch will take place in New York City on July 25th at Allegra La Viola Gallery. Tickets will be available by the end of this week. I’ll post the link on my Kickstarter page when it’s up.