Curatorial and publication process & reflections on project by Emily Elizabeth Thomas




In collaboration with Deborah Boardman’s Curatorial Practice course my curatorial partner, Ariel Fang, and I dedicated a semester to programming, curating and facilitating the creation of Constant Consumer, a student-curated show in the LeRoy Neiman Center. Constant Consumer is an exhibition concerned with the various ways in which modern consumption affects the lives of the consumer.


In our section of the show we showcased the work of the following talented artists:

David Kim, BFA 2013
Elizabeth Merritt Kong, BFA 2013
Bhagya Ajikumar, MFA 2004
Amy Deneselya, BFA 2013
Jennifer Kaplan, BFA 2014
Nancy Sayavong, BFA 2014
Jason Guo, BFA 2014
Nicole Kaufman, BFA 2014
Christine Lai, BFA 2013
SunMi Park, BFA 2014
Stephania Dulowski, BFA 2014
Sky White, BFA 2014
Therese Harrah, BFA 2014

 We received images, statements and dimensions of each proposed work from the individual artists through an open call that was sent out to the SAIC community.



Constant Consumer Open Call
Posted to Facebook on October 26th

 The Curatorial Practice course, with Deborah Boardman, in conjunction with SUGs Project spaces is looking for cup forms that are created to facilitate daily consumption. The cups can be made from any material – ceramic, wood, fabric, plastic – but needs to suggest utility beyond a single use.

 The selected pieces will be curated into a larger exhibition titled “The Constant Consumer”, focusing on dilemmas and evolution of contemporary production and consumption. The works will be exhibited specifically in the storefront window space in the LeRoy Neiman Center, 37 S. Wabash, from November 18 through December 9.

 Please send a 2-3 sentence artist statement, a resume or cv, and 1-5 images to with the subject heading “The Constant Consumer Open Call” by 10/31 @ 11pm.



 After the installation of Constant Consumer Ariel and I, in collaboration with student graphic designers Sky White and Therese Harrah, began the extensive process of creating a publication showcasing both the curatorial process of Constant Consumer and additional research, starting a conversation that runs parallel to the exhibition.

 The publication Eating Prosthetics: methods of daily consumption became our way of commemorating the exhibition, and beginning a discussion on the historical weight and allegorical meaning of the prosthetics we use for eating, the human eating prosthetic.

 It became our goal to provide a moment of reflection for the consumer in which they are presented with the opportunity to think differently about their own consumption, to think differently about the fork they hold in their hand.


Selections from Eating Prosthetics



 This book came about through a series of curatorial projects and events, starting with a focus on coffee. At the Storefront’s Blend: Discourse by the Cup local coffee was disguised and served to visitors while viewing coffee related documentaries. Conversation on both the healing attributes of coffee culture, and the faulted morality of foreign coffee production, and the space between these opposing views, led to a larger conversation about the physical act of coffee-drinking and its affect on the consumer, all filtered through the coffee-mug-vessel that facilitates the consumption of the dark brew. Our interest in eating and drinking vessels lead to some interesting interpretations of the significance of the coffee mug- even when an individual is not necessarily drinking coffee the moment of consumption continues in the process of holding, picking up, and even washing the cup.

The seemingly endless cycle of human interpretation of use and value – the constant consumer – was what interested us.

An open call was sent out to the SAIC community asking for student and artist participation in an exhibition centered around objects that implied more than one use, more than one purpose of physical consumption. The Constant Consumer showed works that flatten the hierarchy between utensil and art object, works that commented on the complications of daily consumption, and works that reflect a portion of the artists’ character.   

This interest in how these contingent prosthetics of eating informs the consumer’s conception of value led to a parallel conversation around the historical weight of the utensils themselves. Eating Prosthetics is the result of this interest, explored further from a historical standpoint.

Instead of creating a strictly academic publication on the history of utensils we decided it would be beneficial to exhibit how knowledge of items that facilitate eating can be reinterpreted into design that facilitates understanding. There is a hope that in some way this book would be an object consumed in order to affect viewer’s perception of consumption and in turn possibly change their understanding of their own production.

It is our hope that although we are constant-consumers, we may offer assistance in creating a conscious-constant-consum 



Ben Kinmont & Antinomian Press 


On Social Sculpture
and its significance to ongoing collaborative project:

 In creating social meaning, in defining what it is that we place significance and belief in, we create a Third Sculpture, the “thinking sculpture”. 

We have chosen, as two artists and curators, to craft meaning through experience, to re define what an object means and to give it meaning outside of its utility. We presented artists, designers, illustrators, and sculptors with information on modern consumption and eating vessels, we then urged them to re interpret that basic knowledge, add to it, to transform it, and produce something that could contribute to our exhibition.

We have communally worked to add meaning to method- through all of our conversation on a vast array of modern consumption dilemmas over the course of one semester, through programming and scheduling, through interaction with many artists and creatives, through the study of anthropological and historical fact, we have attempted to redefine the meaning of a coffee mug, of an eating prosthetic.

As a community we shape our lives through communication with others



Western Eating Utensil Encyclopedia:


The knife is the oldest eating utensil, originally made from sharp stones used as fighting tools and food processing. With the advancement of the Neolithic age, basic stone knives were developed with crude wooden or animal hide handles. In the Bronze age (3000-700 BC) metalworkers were able to forge rough versions of metal knives from copper and bronze.

 With the development of iron and steel in the Western world knives became commonplace among every class of people. It was common practice for everyone to carry their own eating knives during this time. These knives were sharp tipped, useful for both eating and fighting. Eventually, during the 17th century King Louis XIV of France banned the use of sharp tipped knives and the new ground-down point knives became commonplace at the table. 



A spoon can be used to consume both solid and liquid foods. Due to its multi-use in the process of consumption, our Paleolithic ancestors most often used simple bowl shaped utensils that looked a lot like the modern day spoon. Most often, seashells were connected to wooden sticks in order to properly serve larger amounts of food, as well as easily consume individual portions. With the arrival of the Middle Ages in Europe wooden and metal spoons became commonplace. The Anglo-Saxon word spon, meaning a chip or splinter of wood, points toward widespread use of this material for Northern European spoons.



Although knives and spoons have been in use for tens of thousands of years, forks became commonplace only 1,000 years ago. An Englishman named Thomas Coryate brought the first forks to England after seeing them in Italy during his travels in 1608. The English ridiculed forks as being unnecessary. “Why should a person need a fork when God had given him hands?” they asked. Slowly, however, forks came to be adopted by the wealthy. They were prized possessions made of expensive materials intended to impress guests. By the mid 1600s, eating with forks was considered fashionable among wealthy British. Forks used solely for dining were luxuries; they quickly became markers of social status and sophistication among nobles



Before our ancestors ever discovered how to work metal, they first discovered the utility of ceramic. This enabled them to make a very rough sketch of the modern day mug. Although these mugs had a handle on the side similar to modern-day coffee mugs, these older versions were made with all kinds of materials ranging from skulls, clay, wood and metal. However, these versions of mugs were difficult when used for hot beverages as they would leak, break or even contaminate the liquid held inside. It was not until around 600 A.D. when porcelain was invented in China that the production of the sealed and coated mugs we know today became possible.


Goblet, Chalice

After the discovery of metals the material possibility of drinking vessels became much greater than before. With advancement in metalworking the chalice and the goblet were created. Goblets are featured prominently in multiple artworks dating back thousands of years ago. One of them most common types of goblets is the chalice. Chalices are so old that they have been dated back to the early beginnings of the Roman Catholic Church originally used during Holy Communions to carry Communion Wine. Chalices were a form of goblet made of precious metals such as gold and silver and often accessorized and encrusted with jewels, designed mostly for ceremonial purposes.



The earliest form of the plate were made from been large leaves, gourd halves or seashells which would be used as simple bowls for holding food. Food items would be placed on larger leaves and would be consumed communally by all members of a tribe, family or group.

The “trencher” was the next form that the plate took. The most popular substance used for creating trenchers was bread, a technique that lasted well into the 16th century. Very coarse flour would be used to make the bread, it would then be left to sit and harden for several days before being sliced and used as an eating utensil. During a particular elaborate meal, several trenchers would be carved for each diner. After the meal was finished the trenchers would be discarded to the dogs.


Curatorial Reflection


My experience and involvement in the curatorial process over the course of this semester has been multi-dimensional and vast.  Above is my portion of the research conducted, in collaboration with Ariel, for our Eating Prosthetics publication (to be finished by December 16th).  This research and publication will serve as additional artistic agency for redefining the meaning of an eating vessel. We have taken great inspiration from Joseph Grigley’s Exhibition Prosthetics and Ben Kinmont’s various publications on art and social life through Antinomian Press. It was our curatorial goal to bring together works of art across many disciplines to close the gap between eating utensil and art object, to offer assistance in creating a conscious-constant-consumer and to define an eating vessel outside of its position on a place mat, to define it as a vehicle of consumption, and as platform for conversation about modern consumption dilemmas.

Through the experience at the Storefront, the experience of curating and facilitating the installation of Constant Consumer, the collaborative effort of our on going publication project, and countless curator-artist interactions I have gained some real experience as an art facilitator and curator. I have realized the importance of a communal effort in the face of a complicated modern question, the vast impact a group of artists and creative types can make by even beginning to find solutions to these dilemmas, and the significance and allegorical meaning of a single cup of coffee.

 Most importantly I can now add some curatorial tools to my artistic repertoire including- vinyl install, research and production, artistic negotiation and compromise, art handling, communal conceptualizing, exhibition install, event programming, proposal presentation, publication design, and experience in commissioning exhibition-specific work.

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