Gastro-Vision is a new monthly column dedicated to all things food in contemporary art and visual culture.
Yara El-Sherbini has used pubs as a site for her work for the past three years. In the U.K., where the artist is based, pub quizzes, or trivia nights are enormously popular. (According to Wikipedia, it has been estimated that more than 22,000 regular quizzes take place across the country every week.) In short, the game requires groups of roughly six to ten people to form teams. The evening quizmaster poses a series of questions, which are broken into rounds, and teams respond using a provided answer sheet. The results are scored, and the team with the highest count is usually awarded a prize. El-Sherbini has adopted this interactive entertainment format for her performance, A Pub Quiz, which she staged in the United States for the first time earlier this month.
Beer, cocktails, mozzarella sticks, potato skins, and other bloat-inducing pleasures circulated at the Greenwich Village tavern, Fiddlesticks, as El-Sherbini engaged guests in six rounds of wryly-humorous, tongue-in-cheek trivia: What is the shelf life of a Twinkie? When was “God” first inserted in the Pledge of Allegiance? What is the world’s deadliest animal? What’s the number one cause of personal bankruptcy filing in the United States? How much does a blue-chip gallery pay for a booth at The Armory Show? Al Qaeda, Sarah Palin, and Gordon Brown figured into other fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, and true or false questions. While your typical pub quiz might cover lighter topics in history, science, sports, and film, El-Sherbini uses her role as “Quiz Mistress” to raise awareness about political affairs, frequently revealing the absurdities of media, governments and their prophets.
The cacophony of hoots, cackles, and music filled the air and sometimes drowned out El-Sherbini’s voice, but she remained perched on her stool, exhibiting an amusingly even temper. I can’t say the same for my team, dubbed “hotlipsquared,” an excited and diverse group of 20 and 30-somethings, most of whom I had never met before this event. We were at one point accused of being a tad too competitive, but I think plain drunkenness was mistaken for an eagerness to win. As the game came to an end and pub pandemonium began to subside, the genius of El-Sherbini’s Quiz was obvious. In the context of social drinking, individuals of various economic, religious, racial, ethnic and other backgrounds, who might not otherwise engage one another, were made to jovially converse about political and social issues that affect us all.
My team didn’t achieve the highest score but, ahem, we did win the prize for best team name: Girl Effect campaign t-shirts. El-Sherbini’s performance was held in conjunction with the opening of The Girl Effect, which is currently on view at Lombard-Freid Projects. This group exhibition is inspired by the campaign of the same name, which posits that adolescent girls are the most likely agents for social change, though they are often invisible to their societies and to our media. The eight women artists participating in The Girl Effect (including Cao Fei of Season 5) push viewers to consider their own roles in the development of social structures and hierarchies.
Between rounds of A Pub Quiz, a selection of 1980s “power ballads” sung by women (including Girls Just Want to Have Fun, I Need a Hero, Tell It to My Heart, Let’s Hear it for the Boys, and I Think We’re Alone Now) played over the loudspeaker, in ironic reference to the exhibition. In the gallery, El-Sherbini continues her Situationist-like approach, by tailoring her board game A Rather Trivial Pursuit (aka A.R.T. Pursuit) to incorporate questions specifically related to The Girl Effect. This game, similar to A Pub Quiz, playfully explores the trivial alongside the political, and demonstrates the artist’s interest in individual and universal knowledge. Through October 10, you can e-mail or call Lombard-Freid Projects to reserve a slot to play. Game slots are on the hour, every hour, from 11am- 5pm, Tuesday through Saturday. Refreshments will be served.