Food, art and conversation

When Rosemary Liss ’11 was at Wheaton one of her favorite courses was “The Rituals of Dinner,” which explores food-related traditions and the meaning of meals, taught by Professor of Religion Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus.

“It was extremely formative in how my interests evolved through my studies and beyond,” said Liss, who majored in studio art and now is an artist currently focusing on aesthetics and food in her creative work.

She hopes to similarly inspire other students when she returns to campus to reconnect with her professor and talk about food and art as a guest of the Wheaton Institute for the Interdisciplinary Humanities (WIIH), which is co-directed by Brumberg-Kraus and Professor of English and Playwright-In-Residence Charlotte Meehan.

On November 13, Liss will participate in a master class with Brumberg-Kraus as part of his current “Rituals of Dinner” First-Year Seminar, in which she will share her artistic journey with students. That evening at 7:30 p.m. in Kresge Experimental Theatre, she will present “The Gastronomic Object,” an informal discussion with the professor. On November 14 at 7:30 p.m., in Kresge Experimental Theatre, Liss will present “Save It with Food,” an interactive installation that will be the culminating project for the FYS class.

“I want to have a conversation with the students about how we quantify art in all of its forms,” Liss said. “If after my visit these students think differently about what it means to see and feel and taste and make a thing in the world, I’ll be happy.”

Liss, whose visit is funded by the Evelyn Danzig Haas ’39 Visiting Artists Program, is one of several guest speakers invited to campus as part of the institute. Other guests include James Scruggs, a New York City-based writer, performer and producer of theatrical works that explore race, racism and gender politics, and his director Mark Rayment. They will present the lecture and workshop “Making Personal, Historical and Topical Occurrences Into Impactful Theater” on Tuesday, October 3, at 5 p.m., in Ellison Lecture Hall. MacArthur genius award recipient Guillermo Gomez-Pena, an artist, writer and activist, is also scheduled to perform and teach a workshop in March.

The Wheaton Institute was established in 2013 by professors Touba Ghadessi and Gen Liang to offer students opportunities to explore the humanities as they apply in a wide variety of professional contexts. Today, the WIIH continues to invite scholars, artists and other distinguished guests based on an annual theme that connects the humanities to other fields of study.

The theme of the institute this year is “Interpretation and Its Expressive Modes: Challenging Hegemony,” which will focus on the intersections of art—interpretations of all kinds, but mainly religious and literary—and social justice.

“Our ideas for this theme are tied to civility, social progress, art making and audience participation in its culmination and interpretation (on many levels) as crucial to the health and well-being of human interaction,” Meehan said. “We believe that active involvement in the arts engenders more compassionate, empathetic people, and we value these qualities as paramount not only to professional success but to personal fulfillment and, on a grander scale, a better world.”

Liss’s efforts to engage in expanding the interpretation of what art is by viewing it through a culinary lens and leading community discussion around the concept perfectly fit the theme. Since graduating from Wheaton, food has been an important vehicle of expression and exploration, as the artist has created an adventurous path that she said fulfills her personally and professionally.

“I am in extreme freelance hustle mode,” she said. “It can be stressful, but it allows me to do the projects I want and travel for research and artist residencies, including in Copenhagen and Berlin. This past year I’ve done everything from walk dogs, work the line at a busy brunch spot, wait tables at an oyster bar, assist a food designer in New York City, orchestrate a meal in a living museum and do art for film and commercial shoots. I’m still figuring out what to call myself—maybe digestion choreographer.”