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Lauren Prousky talks Black Tie Soup Night

Part performance, art happening and party, soup’s on at the AGO April 14.

'Black Tie Soup Night' in black text on a blurry, colourful background

Image courtesy of the artist

Meet Lauren Prousky – the multidisciplinary artist, writer, curator and 2023 AGO X RBC Artist-in-Residence serving soup in Walker Court this Friday. Black Tie Soup Night (BTSN) is a few things at once – equal parts absurdist art happening, participatory performance and upscale affair. Led by Prousky, the artist-driven soirée is a “playful project exploring the theoretical concept of ‘primordial soup’ to posit that we’re all soup people: floating, mixing and melting into each other in order to get by.” Party guests – that is, Friday night visitors to the AGO – are invited to dress according to code in their most “elegant” ensembles. Guests will enjoy a performance by David Lee Broth (Ben Gorodetsky) and complimentary soup developed exclusively for the evening by Shalaka Jadhav. Prousky is one of three AGO X RBC Artist-in-Residence this year. The first program of its kind in a major Canadian art institution, it offers institutional support and funding to artists as they experiment with new artistic endeavours in their practice in The Anne Lind Artist-in-Residence Studio.  

Prousky holds an MFA from the University of Waterloo, has exhibited work around Canada and has had residencies in Japan, Iceland, British Columbia, Ontario and Brooklyn. Her work is described as “includ[ing] a focus on developing my humour-based writing practice, the presumed neutrality of intestines and “going up the down escalator” as a metaphor for the digestive tract and soup as a stand-in for complex and often fragile systems of care.” She shared what to expect ahead of this Friday evening.

AGOinsider: Black Tie Soup Night is just a few short days away. How are you feeling now versus when you first starting working on the project?

Prousky: I think I’ve maintained a rather consistent level of excitement and momentum throughout the process. Of course, there are some pre show jitters although I generally feel pretty good about how things have progressed. I also feel good about feeling good because the last time I was given a big opportunity like this, I was an absolute wreck. I’d lie awake night after night completely freaking out about if my idea was enough to warrant the kind of institutional support it was getting or if I was somehow squandering the opportunity without knowing. In the end though, I felt alright with what I’d made and with how I’d managed my budget and my time. I think that experience showed me that I am, at the very least, capable of executing something maybe-sorta interesting with a clear vision and that newfound confidence really made this whole experience all the more enjoyable. 

AGOinsider: Tell us about how you originated the concept for Black Tie Soup Night. What were the elements of your research and preparation process? How do you see this project integrating with other concepts you’ve explored in your practice?

Prousky: Food, consumption and cultural traditions are themes I return to often in my practice although this particular project stemmed from an interest in the “primordial soup”, which is a now-disproven theory of how life began. I just loved how something as quaint and colloquial as soup weaseled its way into a big scientific concept! And the idea of soup being a common origin for all life on earth? Adorable! I started thinking about how, perhaps, a solution to all our catastrophes lay in going back to our roots by living “more soupily”. The project that developed from that line of inquiry, Questions for a prebiotic broth, was a series of found object sculptures that combined natural and man-made materials and used a lot of coloured plaster to create assemblages that stood in for recipes for new life forms. A lot of my research for that project kept leading me back to the idea of entropy and order-from-chaos theories and it occurred to me that there is something entropic or random about the idea of soup itself, with its floating bits and swirling liquid. From there, I thought it would make sense to expand the project in a more absurd direction to reflect the supposed entropy of the primordial soup and the sheer unlikelihood of life emerging as it did. Then the phrase Black Tie Soup Night popped into my mind and I decided that a weird party would be the perfect way to encapsulate all of that. As I’ve developed BTSN though, I’ve realized that our cultural connotations of soup are simply too rich to ignore so I’ve tried to incorporate some of that into the project as well. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how soup is often a symbol of care and a vehicle through which we offer care to others. Making and delivering a soup can also be quite laborious so then we get into a whole other matter of unpaid or emotional labour and who is caring for those tasked with offering the most care? Where does all that compassion and energy come from? I don’t have answers, but I think it is nice to offer soup to people unsolicited and tap into the complicated yet cozy connotations of this ubiquitous food. 

Lauren Prousky, recipe test. 2022.

Lauren Prousky, recipe test. 2022. One Cup of Sake jars, sea water, tap water, pigment, shells, bat nut, fake food. Image taken at Studio Kura in Itoshima Japan

AGOinsider: What was it like making art at the AGO during your AGO X RBC Artist-in-Residency? Who or what aspects of the Gallery did you connect with and why?

Prousky: It was exceptionally, gloriously and intensely cool. I grew up near Toronto and would come to the AGO all the time, so it was nothing short of magical to briefly have a studio in the building. Not to be dramatic, but I did tear up once or twice from the visceral feeling that 16-year old Lauren would have been rather impressed with how things have panned out. 

When I’d come into work, I’d really try to maximize my days before catching the GO Train home. One of the things I found extremely generative and fun to do was to set aside designated wandering times where I’d stop whatever I was doing and go have a 20 to 40-minute wander around the galleries. Using “wander” as my directive (as opposed to, say, “find inspiration”), really allowed for productive looking and a surprising amount of ideas to flow. Some pieces that really resonated with me were Rose Gold by Sara Cynwar, David Rubin Piqtoukun’s sculptures, String That Show the Wind by Elaine Cameron Weir and spending some time in Jonsi’s Obsidian installation. 

I also spent about two days in the library looking through material the librarians and archivists generously pulled for me. There were some neat old pamphlets from food and cooking events the gallery threw in 60’s and 70’s and a great little book called A trilogy on SERVICE colonization compiled by Martha Rosler that redirected my focus to issues of class and domestic labour in our notions and systems of care. Melissa Smith, Assistant Curator of Community Programs, also recommended the book, Art of Gathering: how we meet and why it matters by Priya Parker, which helped me a lot with figuring out how to structure BTSN. 

Lauren Prousky, bring to a simmer (the big wait). 2022. 

Lauren Prousky, bring to a simmer (the big wait). 2022. driftwood, plaster, found ceramics, shells, paper, metal, bouy, wood, pastel. Image taken at Studio Kura in Itoshima Japan

AGOinsider: You’re working closely with two collaborators – Ben Gorodetsky and Shalaka Jadhav. What did they bring to the project or illuminate for you as an artist?

Prousky: They are almost entirely responsible for bringing this project to life and I am very grateful for their enthusiasm and creativity every step of the way. The way I structured this type of collaboration is that I presented Ben and Shalaka with the idea of the event and then asked them to bring their own artistic POV to the project. Working like this required a lot of trust and a certain level of comfort with the unknown since nobody (not even me) will be aware of all the moving parts until they come together on Friday. It’s been great fun hearing their ideas and seeing how they interpret the admittedly open-ended concept of Black Tie Soup Night within their respective roles. Ben will perform at the event as David Lee Broth, an old-timey lounge singer who, somewhat anachronistically, only sings ABBA songs rewritten to be about soup. Shalaka developed two fabulous soup recipes for the event that are based on the project and her own history and culinary interests. I’m hesitant to say more about the performance and the soups because I don’t want to ruin any surprises, so I’ll end this by saying how lucky I feel to be surrounded by such talented and passionate creative people. If there is a downside to cross-discipline conversation and collaboration, I’ve yet to discover it. 

AGOinsider: In terms of your practice, what’s next for you? 

Prousky: I am going straight from the AGO to a hole in the ground, which sounds like a joke about how tired I am, but it’s the truth and I’m not even that tired. Shortly after my residency wraps up, I’ll be participating in a “serial collaboration” called A Hole in the Ground, that is being facilitated by an organization called Inter Arts Matrix in Kitchener, where I live. They dug a big ol’ hole in a park (with permits, permission, safety precautions etc.) and 12 artists will be making art in, with, around, or about the hole over the course of the summer. I think I want to write a short play that takes place entirely in the hole. After that, I am doing a performance where I dress up as a sexy intestine and walk from my house to a diner and have lunch as part of the CAFKA Biennial. And then a short film with Ben and our friend Aashay Dalvi and more intestine art for a show in Toronto later in the summer. 

Lauren Prousky, Big Bowl. 2023.

Lauren Prousky, Big Bowl. 2023. Kiddie pools, spray foam, wood glue, cloth and acrylic. 60" dia. 

This year’s AGO X RBC Artist in Residence Program presents projects responding to the theme of humour. Black Tie Soup Night is happening Friday, April 14 at 7 pm in the AGO’s Walker Court, get more information here. Entry to the party is included in General Admission. Members and Annual Passholders always visit the AGO for free.

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