Emily Lawrence and I meet for our interview on a particularly summery-feeling afternoon. The heat is radiating from the sidewalk as we make our introductions. Soon, under a candy-blue sky, the meeting becomes an impromptu mini-picnic, complete with melting ice cream and sweating iced coffee on the Common.
It's fitting for the subject matter as Lawrence, a self-professed foodie, is in the process of explaining the power of a shared al fresco meal: "The power of breaking bread can never be underestimated," she says, smiling.
Lawrence is the summer program assistant at Eyelevel Gallery and the co-ordinator of the gallery's Food For Thoughts series. This summer, she's perfecting the idea of open-air dining in a three-pronged project that aims to get art back on the conversational menu for Haligonians.
"We're hoping that each tangent of the series can benefit the series in a different way, and based on those tones we'll create different conversations and different experiences," she explains. Each part of the project centres back to "casual conversations around food. We've designed the series to prompt discussions about art practice and presentation and artist-run culture and events."
Eyelevel will be hosting a gastronomic spin on galleries' traditional artist talks, offering a meal with the artist after they present the themes behind their work. Perhaps the events most literally bridging art and food, these meals will "correspond with the materials the artists work with," Lawrence says, sipping her iced coffee and squinting in the late afternoon sun.
As well, over the course of the summer, the gallery is hosting potluck picnics. "The conversations are pretty free-flowing, just hearing people's ideas around art, and sharing stories about food," Lawrence says. As the potlucks unfold, Eyelevel records them to create a podcast series, sharing the informal conversations about art with a larger audience, hoping to bring more people into the discussion. (Sound like your kind of party? The next picnic potluck will be on August 4 from 6-8pm. Check Eyelevel's tumblr for updates on location.)
And, for those without a penchant for potlucks or tables filled with new faces, Lawrence offers the gallery's picnic starter pack, rentable through the gallery's website. By taking a trial rental, you'll have access to a table cloth, napkins, dishes, snail- and frog-shaped salt and pepper shakers, and even a deck of cards, all packaged in a decidedly twee wicker basket. Most important of all, though, are the guest book and disposable camera tucked away in the basket's corners. "It's designed to allow a really good picnic for four but also let us document it in a way that's not too invasive," Lawrence explains.
Bringing art back into people's lives is "sort of the idea of the starter pack. We're putting out that proposition for people to think about these ideas in their own spaces," she says, adding people are welcome to add things to the picnic basket they think are missing from the dining experience.
And why use picnics and potlucks as a way to get these conversations started? "It makes a lot of sense to take the sort of conversations that people are having at artist's talks and exhibition receptions and bring them around a dinner table or, you know, a floral table cloth with a hunk of bread in the middle," says Lawrence, "for food to act as that gathering point."
Eyelevel Gallery’s Food For Thoughts
August 4, 6-8pm