This week some copies of the Reader’s print edition are served with a lagniappe. Tucked inside 2,700 copies of the paper is the premiere issue of the Chicago FoodCultura Clarion, the culmination of a collaboration between artist Antoni Miralda and University of Chicago anthropologist Stephan Palmié.
Miralda is a Barcelona-born multidisciplinary food artist who explores the role of food in culture. Since the 60s he’s built pillars of vegetables and walls of brightly colored bread, staged parades of giant steaks and ears of corn through Kansas City, and held a wedding between the Statue of Liberty and Barcelona’s Christopher Columbus statue with prenuptial documents written on dried codfish. Last May I wrote about The Magic Banquet, a Miami performance celebrating the international ubiquity of Maggi Seasoning. But Miralda, along with his partner, the Catalan chef Montse Guillen, might best be known for El Internacional, a Tribeca installation that was a fully operational tapas restaurant. In 1984 it was the country’s first (and one with an interesting Chicago connection I’ll explore at another time.)
Last fall Miralda and Palmié taught a course at the University of Chicago’s Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry called “Foodcultura: The Art and Anthropology of Cuisine,” during which students fanned out across the city conducting fieldwork on everything from live poultry shops to fried chicken; the connections between Roeser’s Bakery cakes and Bauhaus architecture (River City, Marina Towers) to comparisons between food choices in South Shore and Albany Park.
Their final projects, which took the form of papers, sculptures, videos, photography displays, and a few dinner parties, were meant to be featured, along with a Chicago-centric version of Miralda’s Sabores y Lenguas/Tastes and Tongues collage work, during a two-day symposium in October at the Chicago Cultural Center, but the pandemic put an end to that.
Instead Palmié and Miralda, along with an editorial team consisting of noted investigator of south-side culinary oddities Peter Engler, chef and founder of Roots & Culture Contemporary Arts Center Eric May, and food writer Paige Resnick, put together the Clarion, a 12-page folded insert of original Chicago food writing and artwork. There’s Engler on the origins of Chicago tamales; anthropologist Magnus Fiskesjö on the weird history of presidential turkey pardons; an essay on navigating the pandemic from the point of view of a restaurant by Phillip Foss, and from Miralda, a centerfold “Chicago Tongue,” portraying the culinary topography of Chicago.
May has a piece about 58-year-old Southwest Signs, a family business specializing in the hand-painted grocery store signs found on carnicerias, fast food joints, and car lot windows all over the city. The headlines of the Clarion are all set in this unique Chicago-style lettering.
The 2,700 copies will be distributed more or less randomly all over the Reader’s distribution area, with a slight concentration in Hyde Park. But if you don’t manage to snag one, you might get another chance when issues two and three publish next year. For those Miralda is soliciting contributions—photos, texts, ideas—for his next “Chicago Tongue” collages at firstname.lastname@example.org. v