Baking Bread at the Parthenon

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Demeter’s Torch. Moira Williams and visitors of Centennial Park created this working, adobe oven. It is on wheels and can be used by visitors to bake bread on the Parthenon lawn during FLEX IT! My Body My Temple.

If you happened to be at Centennial Park during the first week of September, you may have seen artist Moira Williams walking along the loop with a wagon in tow or operating an adobe oven on the Parthenon lawn. As part of Adrienne Outlaw’s FLEX IT! My Body My Temple, the Brooklyn-based artist created an ongoing, participatory art event that invites visitors to consider what feeds us.

“When I do socially engaged work,” says Williams, “it’s always about the community and supporting the community.” The physical structure of Socrates’ Wagon Sings with Demeter’s Torch was in fact community-made. Williams worked with park visitors to construct an oven and the mini-Parthenon shaped adobe structure surrounding it. She set up a table on the Parthenon lawn and park visitors helped sketch out their ideas for the shape, the designs on the pediments, and the individual metopes. Together, they configured it to be about Athena, exercise, and eating healthy– topics that arose naturally in the course of conversation. Working with clay, they built a miniature version of Greece’s (and Nashville’s) doric masterpiece.

With the oven complete, Williams walked the mile loop with Socrates’ Wagon, collecting wild yeast and conversing with park visitors in a kind of Socratic Dialogue. “My work is always about starting a dialogue — talking and listening to people,” she said. After she harvested the yeast, she returned to the lawn and the oven and baked bread, pizza, yams, garlic, apple crumble, and dosas with park visitors. Together, they cut ties with the commercial food chain and ate food harvested from the park itself.  “When we eat together, we slow down, we think about things,” Williams says. She hopes that the experience will show participants how easy it is to step away from commercial foods.

Socrates’ Wagon Sings with Demeter’s Torch is now on display in the Parthenon Museum, and visitors can contact the artist for permission to use the oven on park grounds. She is drying Centennial Park yeast to send to FLEX IT!, and it will be available with sourdough starters for Parthenon Museum visitors. In November, she’ll return to Nashville and walk 70 miles south to The Farm, which has a legacy of teaching about community health.

Williams has made walking part of her artistic practice for many years. A founding member of The Walk Exchange, she also enjoys night walks through New York wearing various safety suits, walks pigeons over the Brooklyn Bridge, and makes trips to the post office to mail letters to the Milky Way Galaxy. When she’s not walking, she’s engaged in other participatory works, like commissioning teens to paint graffiti murals in Brooklyn, producing handmade paper from trash on the streets of Haiti, and distributing tomato seeds from 19th century Italy to community gardeners. Her work is all about reciprocity and is shared with Nashville in the spirit of relatedness.

FLEX IT! My Body My Temple is a set of evolving, socially engaged art exhibits in the Parthenon Museum and on Centennial Park grounds. Curated by Adrienne Outlaw of Seed Space, Flex It! invites participation and reflection on personal health and fitness, while building community.

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