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Around the Communal Table: Laura Tanner on the Social Practice and Techniques Behind "Dish" at 3S ArtSpace

The first day of class my sophomore year in college, my intro anthro professor walked up to the blackboard and scribbled, “Culture is a system of meaning embodied in symbols.” She was paraphrasing cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz, who interpreted culture as a social phenomenon woven together by shared symbols and meanings.

In art, just about everything has symbolic meaning: An apple; its round shape and red color; the materials used to depict it. Even the substrate it’s depicted on. For artist Laura Tanner, whose exhibition “Dish” is on view through July 28 at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth, symbol, meaning, material, and social discourse are all in play in the building of her dense, sumptuous multimedia drawings. So are yummy recipes.

“Dish” is much more than a drawing show, though. Laura researches foodways in seacoast communities in South Florida, Louisiana, and New Hampshire. Like an anthropologist, she dives deep into each community. As she writes below, “One must know the local to understand the national.”

“I wanted to get into communities and have conversations about contemporary social issues,” she told me over the phone. But those social issues can be hot button topics: immigration, wealth disparity, climate change, and the economy. How to start the conversation?