Our lives circle the plate. Like clockwork we turn to them when we are hungry, enjoying the way they complement our food with their color, patterning and design. They facilitate everyday utopian moments, quieting the labors of production that build each meal. While food is one of the first descriptions one will give of their culture, it is the plate that holds it all.
It seems strange then that the common plate is rarely examined for its broader social and cultural significance. While it is true that they provide a utilitarian support for the food we eat, adorn walls as decoration and commemorate events and places, they also behave as sites for cultural reflection.
The impetus for At Your Service began with Niki Johnson and Amelia Toelke’s desire to exhibit with artists who had inspired them. During the first two years of their friendship Johnson and Toelke independently began using the plate in their artwork. Their shared interest in these objects led to conversations that ranged from the utilitarian to the decorative, from issues of the domestic to innovations in design. Through their research and conversations they learned of a small group of working artists who were similarly using the plate as a site for cultural intervention and formal exploration.
Johnson and Toelke brought together the artists and writers in At Your Service in an effort to facilitate broader discussions of what the plate can mean. The inherent tropes of kitsch, commemoration, decoration, adornment, preciousness and historical virtue are both celebrated and made suspect by the works on display.
“Our hope is that the wide scope of work in this exhibition provides an experience that encourages viewers to incorporate their own stories and experiences. Though the exhibition focuses on the plate, it ultimately fosters a dialogue about the inherent qualities of everyday objects and the impact they have on our daily lives.” –Niki Johnson and Amelia Toelke