Spatula & Barcode and the well-traveled sourdough starter

The food-centric art project is in residence at The Bubbler through October.
 

This story was produced in partnership with WORT-FM’s Monday 8 O’Clock Buzz. Thanks are due to host Brian Standing.

The Madison-based art project Spatula & Barcode combines food with interactive art, in a way that is hard to pin down to a concrete product or goal. Its wide-ranging and nebulous nature makes it a good fit for The Bubbler at the Central Library, where leaders Laurie Beth Clark and Michael Peterson have a residency through October. They’re turning that hands-on art space into a combination of kitchen, community space, art studio, and multidisciplinary research hub.

On a recent Saturday, Clark arranged jars of ingredients on a shelf in the library’s ground-floor window on Mifflin Street. The display lends a homey, bustling feel to a project with a very broad scope. In an interview this week on WORT-FM’s Monday 8 O’Clock Buzz show with host Brian Standing, Clark described the project as an exploration of food systems—not just the big overarching systems of industrial agriculture, “but also very little systems, like the system of your household, or your engagement with a food cooperative or a CSA.”

The Bubbler residency grows out of the duo’s “Foodways” project, which they’ve recently also taken to Darmstadt, Germany and Melbourne, Florida. People who drop by the Bubbler space on Saturdays and Sundays can expect to have some deep conversations about their own food experiences, often over sourdough pancakes made in the on-site ad-hoc “research kitchen." They come from a sourdough starter (the yeast culture used to make sourdough bread) that the duo initially made in Germany. Currently nicknamed “The Bubbler” for its fermenting qualities, the starter has successfully passed customs in the U.S. and Australia, despite Peterson’s fears that officials would frown on a biological agent crossing international borders. “I have been leaving backups of the sourdough with friends all over the world,” Peterson says.

Spatula & Barcode is also pairing up artists and farmers to have meals together, in a project that ties in with the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s Wisconsin Triennial. Clark and Peterson have gotten the ball rolling by approaching farmers at the Dane County Farmers Market, and asking if they’d like to have an artist make a meal for them. “Generally the first thing people say is, ‘What’?” Clark says. But many of them have warmed up to the idea.

“There’s currently 30 pairs that are set up to be happening all over the state, and we’re hoping by the end of the project that’ll be 50 or 60,” Clark says. “We’re having a lot of fun with getting to know the farming community in a really different way.”

Of course, conversations about food and food systems in Madison can often get too soft and self-congratulatory, so it’s important to note that the duo tries to confront the other side of that—for instance, the pain of food insecurity, or food-related memories that aren’t pleasant.

“There’s a lot of romanticization of food,” Peterson says. “People assume food is good. People assume that if you’re working with food, it’s about being kind and generous to each other. I don’t think that’s always the case… We’ve talked on occasion with people about their deep emotional connections to food, coming out of their childhood, that are not always pretty.”

Listen to Brian Standing's full interview with Spatula & Barcode: