Melissa Farris' "Happy Cannibals" at Material


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While on our annual wedding anniversary trip to Grayton Beach, Florida, I decided, after four shots of tequila, three coconut mojitos, and two dozen oysters, that I was never going to eat beef, pork, or lamb again. It is easy to make such a decision when you are surrounded by a never-ending supply of succulent blue crab, mouth-watering shrimp, buttery-flakey mackerel, and plump oysters. That was in October and I still have not tasted the flesh of those land-locked animals. I have also gained five pounds since then. Oh well.

I believe that I would have viewed Melissa Farris’ exhibition "Happy Cannibals," at Material through December 29th, differently had I seen it before I gave up on the delicious flesh of cows, pigs, and sheep. According to her exhibition statement, Farris grew up in a family “infixed with mid-century ideals.” And seeing the reminders of her families past, she is “struck by the pervasive influence of mid-century corporate America.” This influence had a disjointed relationship with reality and this exhibition is a “warm-hearted celebration of that failure.”

Material consists of three similarly-sized white walls. Farris has dedicated a different animal on each wall, lamb, pork, and beef, respectively. The pieces are either a butcher’s how-to guide on the proper slaughtering method of each animal or a humorously depicted suggested serving size and preparation. The pieces remind me of the animations of popcorn and soda played during the intermission at the drive-in on Summer Ave.

  • Shorn

Tea for Two
  • Tea for Two

May Bell
  • May Bell

  • Hamlett

What makes these pieces work is the color palette of the frames the artist has chose to use. The avocado, mint, and strawberry colors are taken from the 1950s decor of her grandparents' home. (Similar to Kehinde Wiley’s nod to Neo-Classicism with his use of opulent gold gilded frames.)

Examining corporate America’s disjointed relationship with reality is an interesting sentiment and reason to make a body of work. These mid-century ideals never really made it to rural Arkansas where I was born and raised. I remember being surrounded by the motifs of the depression. The happy pieces that Farris exhibits here would be a welcome change, especially in the context of the meat and potato eaters of DeWitt, Arkansas, of which, I am no longer a part.
Images by Dwayne Butcher

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