Posted by Nicole J. Caruth on October 19, 2012
For more than two decades, wife-husband team Lucy + Jorge Orta have contemplated global problems in food, water, shelter and land. Before meeting in early 1990s Paris, Lucy studied fashion-textile design in England while Jorge studied fine art and architecture in Argentina. Their individual practices were socially engaged and participatory. When they began to collaborate, the artists merged and expanded their methods of involving publics, art folks and non-art folks alike, in the process of making. Their activities range from hosting community banquets and recycling food waste to purifying water and issuing limited-edition passports. All of this is manifest in Food-Water-Life, the Ortas’ first major traveling exhibition in the United States, now up at Tufts University Art Gallery in Boston.
The Ortas founded their design studio five years before Nicolas Bourriaud coined the term “relational aesthetics.” The Ortas’ collaborative processes are often associated with this rubric but that seems an old-fashioned way of talking about their work today. The art world has since moved on to “social practice.” Although nebulous and, apparently, suffering from identity crisis, one one thing about social practice art is clear to me: food is a favorite ingredient. Being the great connector of people, it makes perfect sense as medium, as catalyzer. Food is also inseparable from issues of climate change, land and sustainability with which so many social practitioners are concerned. Food-Water-Life is an excellent instance of social practice, or the artist as activist-slash-humanitarian. The Ortas’ large-scale sculptures and contraptions symbolize the potential of art to effect change in global conditions that go unnoticed, unchecked, unresolved. The artists raise awareness about, for instance, the growing scarcity of drinkable water, and the 13.6 percent of the estimated world population that suffers from hunger. To this, the Ortas manage to bring optimism, whimsy and lots of color.