Project: Market Price

Some great things can happen when artists focus on a shared issue. For this group, the issue of food pathways became their sculptural topic. 

To get started, we first discussed what we initially knew about food pathways, systems, and food access

Discussed contemporary social practice strategies, including IDEO and Appreciative Inquiry, cultural creatives and TED talks, Project M and Human-centered Design, and specifically Edward de Bono and Divergent Thinking (the thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions).

{C}·      {C}Identified clichés, habits, and trendy topics to know and avoid

{C}·      {C}Every student left with an assignment to research an issue more thoroughly and ideate a creative method of communication for it (budget, time, and resources were not limited in this, as it was based on Appreciative Inquiry)

{C}·      {C}Every student was also given a secret word, ostensibly specific to each student, that should be part of their research (based on Project M)—unbeknownst to them, every one received the German phrase, “etwas besonderes,” (translated, something unusual). The idea behind this was to discourage linear ideation and encourage divergent thinking, and the students admitted that they were challenged and provoked by its inclusion.

Refining ideas (Discussion # 2A): We met for the first half of class in the sculpture studio to discuss their research and interests, putting each on a card and putting it up on the critique wall (essentially, this was a charrette). There was a great variety in the issues, including genetically modified organisms, food miles and transportation, egalitarian approaches to food distribution, organic foods, the slow food movement, Food Inc. and similar documentaries, cooperative markets, FDA regulations, government support of crops, food crops grown for fuel, factory farms and Monsanto, localvorism, nutrition, soup kitchens, and food deserts.  We were able to narrow the focus down to value systems of food and exchange. 



Furthering the thoughts (Discussion #2B): We met for the second part of class over coffee at the Quarterbarrel (outside of our usual meeting place) to discuss ideas for communication/exhibiton. We also brainstormed more research opportunities to better understand the concept of the market’s relationship to food and perceptions of the value of food. We used the coffee we were drinking as an example, allowing discussions on: reasons to consume, fashion considerations, food safety expectations, access, quality, how much it costs, marketing, and the actual stuff of the exchange (mugs, coffee, patrons, cream, equipment, transportation, and environment of consumption). Most ideas for cummunication/exhibition, as they were generated without limits, were exciting yet challenging regarding practicality, however they provided the base for a proposal. From the research, questions about variations in food value and access prevailed, so I offered to set two field trips, back to back, to MOON Co-op and Kroger Food Store.

Field Trip: We met with the manager of MOON Co-op to discuss their strategy, price structure, strengths, and challenges. Topics included the ability to connect to farmers, organic certification vs. organic processes, pricing, trends, local foods, food quality, and the demographics of customers.


We met immediately afterwards next doo at Kroger with the charge of comparing the offerings of each store. We searched items individually and then met for coffee in the café area to discuss the differences in each and finally decide on a course of action for communication. All involved decided that the complexity of this information would require:

{C}·      {C}a one-on-one discussion with the viewers/participants

{C}·      {C}an actual exchange of goods

{C}·      {C}turning the passive viewer into an active, contributing participant

{C}·      {C}an understanding of the demographic of the viewer/participant

{C}·      {C}a discussion with a diverse viewership/participation

{C}·      {C}the extension of generosity to build trust

{C}·      {C}a way to document the interaction


Instructor presentation (Discussion #3): Based on the above seven suggestions of best practices of communication gleaned from the field trips, I presented work by artists who work in a dialogical, participatory, and relational aesthetic mode and focused on their strategies. I also discussed the terms dialogical and relational aesthetics. The contemporary artists discussed included Mildred Lane, Futurefarmers, Nance Klehm, SPURSE, WochenKlausur, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Mark Dion, and Critical Art Ensemble. After further discussion, the students decided create and host an exchange and exhibition of the documentation of the exchange.


Development (Discussion #4): the group listed their ideal participants by type (the general student body and business students), contacted the deans and administrators at the Shriver Student Center and the Farmer School of Business, divided into teams to make the items and equipment for exchange, decided on a items to exchange (inclusive of hot food regulations), researched the exchange sites, researched the exhibition site, began the build-out of the vehicles (shopping carts) of exchange, and secured video and photography equipment


Event #1 (Exchange): During this two-hour event, students loaded up two customized shopping carts (complete with partitions for food items offered, an area to contain the bartered items given in exchange, chalk-board panels for listing the items that are offered, and lists for documentation) and headed to the Shriver Center and the School of Business. Each team of six students engaged passers-by with the offer to exchange a food-related item for anything that could be considered as having value. The items that were offered included:

{C}·      Homemade dry soup mixes in bags, ready to reconstitute in a bowl in a microwave

{C}·      Homemade dry soup mixes in jars, ready to reconstitute by adding boiling water

{C}·      Recipes for easy, nutritious meals

{C}·      Hand-made paper containing seeds for planting (the vegetable type was print-embossed into the paper

{C}·      Locally sourced apples

{C}·      Home-made “puppy-chow” snack mix

{C}·      Recipe laden gift-wrap paper

Along with each team there was a videographer (documenting the entire event), a photographer (documenting each exchange), and an accountant (documenting what was exchanged for what). Each person participating in the exchange was also given an invitation to the exhibition (see below).


Items that were given in return included:

{C}·      Many pens, pencils, markers, compasses

{C}·      Poetry

{C}·      Songs

{C}·      A back-flip

{C}·      Garbage that was on its way to the receptacle

{C}·      The chicken dance

{C}·      Thumb-drives

{C}·      A latte

{C}·      Toys

{C}·      Combs/brushes

{C}·      A leaf from a plant touched by George Clooney

Event #2 (Exhibition): two days after the event, the group installed an exhibition, entitled Market Price, featuring:

{C}·      The modified shopping carts

{C}·      An example of each item offered, presented on a pedestal

{C}·      Some music that had been offered as an exchange

{C}·      A display of ALL items exchanged, pinned to the wall

{C}·      A tangible connection:  items offered and those bartered for them in were connected by a single string—this created a vast network of strings running from wall to pedestals (the list was used t create this)

{C}·      A pair of running videos (edited) that offered highlights of the exchange event


De-Brief/Critique: after the exhibition, we discussed the outcomes as they compared to the process. It was decided that the event was more akin to contemporary art and social practice in its dialog-based method and broke from traditional, isolated, item-based work of the past. We reviewed the process that took us to the event, mapped it, and observed that it was anything but linear. The map was too complicated to assist anyone if they would ever want to create a similar work, it was only appropriate to see where we had come from, and each path taken was due to unscripted events based on the individual gifts of the group and offerings of the participants. Importantly, students were able to apply the question of value to something they know—a university education. Provocative questions here were: why are we all paying different prices for our tuition? What effect does this have on relationships between Oxford students and Regional campus students? Is this ever discussed? What effect does this have on the perception of fairness? How does it effect the “reputation” of a Miami University Degree?