Tonia Di Risio's video installation Feed began as a practical approach to problem solving. She wanted to collect some of her grandmother's traditional Italian recipes, but it wasn't as simple as making a phone call or sending an email: "My grandmother's not the type who writes down a recipe. English is not her first language and she cooks from memory," Di Risio explains. Already adept with a video camera from her multimedia practice, she had the idea to record her grandmother as she cooked in Toronto. In 2006, Di Risio travelled to Madonna dei Miracoli, a small, rural town in Abruzzo, Italy, and brought her cameras into the homes of her relatives there. The resulting footage would become Feed.
The upper room at the Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery is dark, but an array of video screens flicker with colourful scenes of cooking and food preparation. On the far wall, 16 different videos arranged in a grid play simultaneously. Their sounds mingle together: church bells ringing; a dog barking; women chatting in Italian. A few pieces of old-fashioned furniture placed in the room display single screens. Pull out a drawer and you're looking down into a bubbling pot.
During filming, Di Risio set up her equipment to be as unobtrusive as possible, using one stationary camera for a wide shot of the kitchen, and a second hand-held to shadow the cooks as they worked. She used natural light and didn't direct anything. Some of the videos document an entire recipe from start to finish, while others highlight smaller moments or processes---peeling potatoes, plucking the eyes from a monkfish, using scissors to cut squares of pizza. The scenes are so vivid that a viewer can almost smell and feel the spices and textures. "Editing was challenging because I got hungry, watching these over and over again!" Di Risio says.
Most of the families in Madonna dei Miracoli make olive oil or wine, and the use of local ingredients goes without saying. "I was there in July," Di Risio says, "and tomatoes were in season---the cooking is very seasonal. People would go to the market and buy fresh produce each morning, or they would make runs down to the vegetable trucks that drive down the streets." The region also has its own specialties, like pasta alla chitarra, which is wide linguine noodles sliced with the wires of a guitar-like instrument. The videos capture many cultural nuances.
The grid presentation of the videos emphasizes a sense of community, and also continuity: "As I was editing, I was thinking about about the fact that this is going on every day, over and over. This is a very natural occurrence...between 11 and one o'clock every day, all of these women are doing something in their kitchens at the same time." Di Risio herself continues the process of sharing recipes and feeding people by adding another aspect to her exhibit: a pasta-making workshop (interested participants can sign up with the gallery) followed by a free pasta supper, open to the public.
Whether a viewer chooses to focus on one video at a time or tries to take them all in at once, the gestures of slicing, kneading and stirring have an almost hypnotic quality. "These women have been doing this for 20, 30, maybe 40 years of their lives, and there's a rhythm to how they work and move in the kitchen," Di Risio says. "There's no hesitation. When someone is confident at something they do it's always, I think, mesmerizing to watch."
To October 2, MSVU Art Gallery, 166 Bedford Highway, Pasta workshop: Sunday, September 25, 3:30pm at Rockingham United Church, 12 Flamingo Drive. Free pasta supper, 7pm and 8pm
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