Blade Made in the USA

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Blade Made in the USA

Kelly Lenza

“I went with a blood orange, because they’re visually striking, and you have this weird gory juice that gets everywhere.”
 

Interview by L. Valena

Talk to me about where you started from this time.

I kind of started for this one the same place I started for the original piece. Both of these ideas had their genesis in responding to that piece of art. I originally couldn't decide if I wanted to write a recipe or do a photo, and it just happened that the photo thing happened first, but then after I asked if I could do another one and you said yes, I just went back to the original starting point and thought about how that particular piece resonated with me. Thinking about where our food comes from, and the impact of food on our society, and also the toll of food production. So rather than really telling a literal story, like I did with the photo composite about a human doing work, this time it became very symbolic. Here's how our food system impacts the people who produce it.

How did that translate into this recipe?

Everything in the recipe comes from somewhere. The idea of a hoecake in general- my mom has been really interested in hoecakes lately. I want to say it's more of a class thing than a southern thing, but my grandmother grew up really poor in the south, in the depression era. And my mother is in her early 60's, and starting to explore and be really interested in almost romanticizing that rough upbringing. It's kind of southern cultural, but it's also kind of romanticizing where the family came from. I feel like it's impacted a lot by the fact that she and my dad are pretty well off right now, so it kind of feeds into a story about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, and looking with nostalgia at poverty. That's something that bothers me personally, but I think it's also pretty common. I'm sure that other people would look at that and say that no, she's just interested in things her family has done. But just that idea of false nostalgia for something you didn't experience, or maybe you did experience it, but you're way past it now. You're looking back on something that was difficult and thinking 'how nice, how quaint, how charming.'

So hoecakes are a romanticized poverty food. Talk to me about the oranges.

Sour Orange Hoecake

1 blood orange

1 lemon

1.5 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup water

3 tablespoon oil

salt

Finely grate orange and lemon fully to make zest. Combine zest, cornmeal, and salt in a bowl. Juice orange and lemon; add to cornmeal mixture. Add water to mixture 1/4 cup at a time and mix with spoon until crumbly and moist. Mixture should be able to hold together if patted down. 

Heat skillet over medium heat. Add oil and allow to heat to sizzling. Coat skillet. Add half the hoecake mixture and use a spatula to form into a patty shape.

Cook about 5 minutes, then flip. For best results, use pan to shake-and-flip; using spatula usually results in broken patties. Cook another five minutes.

Serve hot with butter and salt.

So, the piece I responded to had a really heavy citrus theme. I don't know why bitter orange popped into my head, but these turned out more sour. Orange rind can have a really bitter flavor. I went with a blood orange, because they’re visually striking, and you have this weird gory juice that gets everywhere. I liked the visual of that, talking about the cost of food production. But also, blood oranges are a cross with a grapefruit, so they're quite sour. And adding in a lemon just punched it up. I wanted to use more juice. So I used the zest of the lemon, the zest of the blood orange, and the juices of both. I really like a strong sour tang, and lemon and salt together also felt like it was really important. To jump back to the blood orange, the juice looks like blood, and when you cut the orange in half, it kind of has this hole in the middle, which kind of reminds me of arteries, which is a little gross.

No, it's awesome.

So kind of harkening back to the image of the bleeding heart that the figure was holding in the piece I responded to. And then lemon juice and salt in wounds is really painful. Originally I was thinking of serving these with liver, and then I ended up buying something I don't know how to pronounce, which I think is telling. It's an Oscar Meyer brand liver pate. It's the cheapest, most processed liver pate you can get, and I get a taste for it once in a while. I usually eat it on crackers, but I realized I could serve it with this. And it's just extremely processed organ meat, along the same lines as the bleeding heart, and internal organs. Thinking about the vital organs of people, and how brutal the food system is at both ends. The whole thing felt very symbolism heavy to me, and even with the nostalgia for poverty and heritage stuff- that's my family. This is based on a family recipe. And I'm still participating in it, and I'm participating knowing the origins and knowing that it coming back now is a product of our privilege. So it's self reflective as well as an outward facing critique. Because I ate it, and it was delicious.

Yeah, I'm really excited to make it! I think the symbolism is so interesting- the idea of blood and salt and corn, actually, are really heavy symbols with a lot of historical baggage. What else do you have to say about this piece?

In the image most of it is not really in focus. There's a lot of really blurry image, and I feel like that's important. That’s how it is for most of us- the image is blurred. We have a really hard time self examining, and even examining outward. And people really struggle with their food, and where their food comes from, and most of us can't even handle thinking about the animals and plants that our food comes from, much less the people who are producing it.

Now that you've taken this prompt from two different angles, do you feel like you've had enough exploration?

I guess so. I feel like I could play with it more, and understanding the time limits of the project, and how the project is intended to flow. I'm still interested in playing with these themes. This is the first art project I feel like I've been able to participate in for photography and combined media. I think that's why it's unlocking a lot of stuff- there's a lot of themes I'd love to explore in photography. And it's just that this has given me permission and a deadline, and it just sort of allowed me to channel that and to do it without being stifled by my own indecision or lack of motivation.

Indecision is such a good word- it's not a word I usually think of when I think about creative blocks. It's hard to commit to something, especially when you don't know where you're going. And the entire creative process, by default, is unknown. You have no idea where you're going, you start going down a hole and you don't know where it's going. And then you discover that it's actually a tunnel, and it's linked up with a bunch of other tunnels, and there's all these other places where you can change direction. It's crazy shit.

It's like a rabbit warren.

Yes. Exactly like a rabbit warren.

[Editor’s note: I was so intrigued by Kelly’s recipe that I cooked and tried this myself. It was delicious. I wanted to document the experience in a way that was outside my own comfort zone, so I made this tiny audio piece. Check it out! xoxo LRV]


Call Number: C8VA | C11.1.FD.leBla


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Kelly Lenza is a portrait photographer and maker in Chicago, IL. They're often found posting selfies, fat advocacy, photography, and food they made on their Instagram profile, @LividLipids. You can find their portrait work at www.BloomPhotographyChicago.com.