Manwich vs. Jello- Its all in the presentation

Chris Pickett stirring the Manwich

Mark Cole Pedestal Casserole with Kraft Mac and Cheese

I spend most of my days trying to make pots that elevate function and culinary expectations. This saturday night I tried my best to lower any expectations by hosting the SW VA style Hoedown Potluck of 2009. We had about 20 people who all brought low class food. We had an abundance of mac and cheese(straight out of the box), brownies, sour krout and spareribs, deviled eggs, bannnana pudding, Jello with coolwhip, and lots of Manwich. The whole idea was to see how service ware affects the perception of food as it set the tone for a gathering. After three hours of munching i think most people where so full that they couldn't move quickly. People seemed happy even though the combined cost of our meal was probably $70 at the most. Who says you need money to be content in life?

Im interested in how presentation affects the perception of value. In a recent critique I stated that I want my work to function as Anti-Fast Food ware. I believe more elaborate pots encourage people to spend more time at the table. Someone asked me how does a bowl bring people back to the table? Essentially they were asking how can an object steer human behavior? For starters all objects are created to either attract or repulse. Guns repel, stuffed animals attract, books inspire learning, etc. Animals use signals for fear (exposed teeth, hunched back) or happiness (dogs wag their tales, cats purr) to let us now how we should approach them. Most of our reactions to this type of stimuli are based on years of cultural agreement on how one should react to the object or situation. Over time people associate appropriate responses to objects.

The context of an object often clues the user to its purpose. To use the gun example again, a gun in a box of toys reads as playful and toy-like, while a gun tucked into the back of someone pants reads as violent. The object might be exactly the same size and color but the context sells the viewer on its purpose. There are whole branches of modern art that call into question our responses to objects. (i.e. recontextualizing found objects. ) To answer the question about my bowl i have decided my aim is question how pots create context. Color can do this, the viewers association with pattern can do this, even the cost of the pot can do this. To better serve people aesthetically, physically, and emotionally with dinnerware I need to set a tone and establish part of the context it will be used in.

For our hoedown potluck we ate off of paper plates that bend, fold, and nearing drop their contents all over the floor. I thought it was fitting to serve sloppy joes on this type of service ware. The bannanna pudding also fit the floppy plate as it oozed into a pile of deliciousness. I liked seeing how people modified their grip on the unstable plates. They used what they had and looked happy to accept the challenge. On the opposite end of service the mac and cheese was served in an elegant mark cole pedestal casserole. Just the server made me think "this must be amazing Mac and Cheese to be served in that". We served the sloppy joes straight out of the skillet but I would have like to put it in the gold lustered Alyssa Welch tureen. We were too hungry at the time to let it get that far. By matching and contrasting the service ware to the type of food, I got to see the affect objects have on our eating habits. It was a good experiment that I would like to repeat with my beginning ceramics classes.

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