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Flatbread Inspires Exhibition, Symposia in Grain Belt

The Flatbread Society brings its flatbread workshop, among other things, to Broad at MSU

In the early 2000s, the city of Oslo began to redevelop the sagging industrial port of Bjørvika, replacing its rusted containers and ships with office buildings, schools, and blockbuster museums. Today, the neighborhood is a hub of economic activity, with at least one notable exception—a plot of public land, no bigger than an acre, where an artist collective known as the Flatbread Society is busy planting seeds and baking bread.

San Francisco artist Amy Franceschini conceived of the Flatbread Society in 2011, after giving a lecture in Oslo about Futurefarmers, another collective she founded in 1995, which transforms underutilized spaces into community gardens. The public-art organization Slow Space asked Franceschini to launch something similar in Oslo, so she called upon some of her favorite collaborators, including architect Lode Vranken and chef Boris Portnoy, to help her. The result is a publicly tended garden where anyone can come and make flatbread, a local staple consumed by cultures around the world. “People refer to it as the bug in the machine,” Franceschini says of the project.

A Flatbread Society installation in Stockholm last year. COURTESY THE ARTIST

A Flatbread Society installation in Stockholm last year.

COURTESY THE ARTIST

This month, the Flatbread Society “bug” arrives at Michigan State University’s Broad Art Museum in East Lansing, where it aims to disrupt, or at least call attention to, industrialized farming in the Midwestern Grain Belt. Called “The Land Grant,” the exhibition opens on September 5 with a weekend of festivities that explore how grain is processed and used.

There will be dances and songs inspired by threshing wheat, and academic symposia with artists and agricultural experts. These will take place inside an octagonal grain pit in the museum, which Vranken modeled after the stock-trading pits at the 166-year-old Chicago Board of Trade.

The show extends outside to the sculpture garden, where Portnoy will fire up a handmade tandoor oven and host a workshop on making bread. “This is an art form that isn’t familiar to us,” says curator Alison Gass. “We’re talking about giant installations you’re meant to climb on and engage in, and a sculptural object you’re meant to set fire to. It’s been a bit of an insurance issue for us.”

A version of this story originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 40 under the title “Flour Power.”

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