The Social Dynamics of the Cafeteria

Brandon University's Harvest Hall. (Credit: Ashlyn Pearce)

Have you ever thought about the dynamics of sharing a meal with friends? The experience you’re having when you’re chomping away at that day’s cafeteria special? Brandon University Visual Arts Professor Lisa Wood and Elvira Finnigan have. And to explore the recording and remembrance of these themes, they’ve collaborated in a project titled “Cafeteria II”.

In 2016, the pair transformed Gallery 1C03 of the University of Winnipeg campus into a temporary dining hall and captured time-lapse photographs of cafeteria behavior. Now they are using the photographs for an artistic examination of meal time dynamics. Wood and Finnigan have reworked the small drawings and paintings from Cafeteria I, into three large, double-sided oil paintings.

The pair have distinct specializations in which they express the communal dining experience; Wood uses portraiture to depict meal time mingling, and Finnigan works with still life. Wood’s paintings suspended in the gallery portray the physical features and mannerisms of each individual, layering subjects who did not necessarily eat together – amplifying gestures, mannerisms, and interactions. In essence, time and space is condensed to reflect the commotion of meals; expressing the vibrant social engagement of the campus cafeteria. Finnigan’s still life interpretations are made from the remains of last year’s project as well. Leftovers, dishes and tabletops were saturated with a salt brine solution that gradually evaporated, leaving the remains encrusted with salt crystals. Finnigan positions these remnants in new contexts, evoking a sense of expanded time and space. Table tops are now more akin to constellations of the night sky, and salt covered leftovers parallel archaeological artifacts excavated from a bygone era. The exhibit is a thorough investigation of the ritual of sustenance and the ephemeral nature of life.

Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 107, Issue 28, April 4th, 2017.