Food Stories

Documentary shorts — unscripted — featuring farmers, artisans, and others

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Object Focus: The Bowl

When was the last time you thought about a bowl? Is there one that’s a favorite in your life? Did the advent of the bowl truly represent the dawn of human civilization?

These are just a few of the questions that museum curator Namita Gupta Wiggens of the Museum of Contemporary Craft began asking herself after her own encounter with a particular bowl. As Wiggens explains in the introductory first video, her deeper curiosity, and her extensive background in art history led her to create an interactive, multifaceted exhibit titled Object Focus: The Bowl.

The first part of the exhibit “Reflect + Respond” is an assembly of bowls drawn from private collections —170 bowls—from functional bowls to decorative art pieces put on display at the museum. As the museum notes on it’s website, brief written stories accompany the pieces, “the words of chefs, anthropologists, and poets will appear alongside those of critics, makers, and curators, all extolling on the art and craft of the bowl in its myriad incarnations.”

The second part of the exhibit “Engage + Use “investigates the processes of making, using, and living with bowls.” In one facet, artist and activist Michael Strand built a small wooden case, “a traveling trunk” that can be checked out of participating local libraries throughout the Portland area. On a tumblr blog, the public is invited to contribute their own stories via Tumblr about a bowl either from the exhibit, or from their own personal experience, and to collect enough personal stories to fill an average size novel, 50,000 words.

The exhibition aptly starts with a bowl that is representational of our ‘first’ bowl – two hands cupped together. As Wiggens explains, the ability to put food into a container, a bowl, allows us to share a meal with someone else.

The beginning of production ware can be traced back to the porcelain bowls produced in the Chinese region of Jingdezhen. Namita Wiggens shows us some of these early bowls that are part of this exhibit. and we see how the tea bowl has evolved through the centuries.

The working bowl is familiar to most of us – mix a batter, turn a dough, whip up some eggs. Here’s an example of some working bowls, some very old to some very new.

To share the entire mini-series in one player, please check out the Object Focus: The Bowl playlist to obtain the proper code.

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