Interview with Jake Levin of Sourced Material


Jake Levin cooking Lamb on the campus of Bard College earlier this summer in Upstate New York.

Jake Levin is an artist (and butcher) living in New York. He founded Sourced Material, who recently had an exhibition at flatbread affair in Brooklyn, New York. I talked with Jake about the ideas behind Sourced Material, and specifically, their exchange program.

 

Can you tell me about the lamb we had at Sourced Material’s recent exhibition at flatbread affair in Brooklyn?

Sure. The lamb that I cooked and served at the Sourced Material: Wool exhibition at flatbread affair was bought from Fleisher’s Grass-fed and Organic Meats in Kingston NY. We (I founded Sourced Material as an artist collaborative, we use the the royal we when writing to signify the plurality of Sourced Material) sourced the lamb from them for several reasons. The most important reason is that  they are one of the only butcher shops that are sourcing their meat directly from local farmers and can ensure that the animals are organic (no antibiotics, no hormones) and pasture raised. The other concern was that the meat was sourced from from the same area as the wool that we used in the exhibition – Red Hook NY (about 10 miles away from Kingston). The third reason is that I am now apprenticing as a butcher at Fleisher’s and think their lamb is the best lamb I have ever had – anywhere. Many of the guests commented that they had never had lamb which tasted so lamby.

I still have the bones you gave me. I’m going to make broth from them tomorrow for risotto.

Lamb stock risotto sounds great, put some mushrooms in it.

I am putting in the mushrooms I found the other weekend – the Hen of the Woods. Where in Red Hook is the wool from?

The wool was all sourced from The Hudson Valley Sheep and Wool Company, a 100 acre farm that raises heritage breed sheep, in Red Hook, NY. The wool was then either hand-spun into skeins of yarn or felted into large sheets. Some of the skeins were then dyed using plant matter like strawberries and beets. For the exhibition the wool products were installed on handcrafted metal meat hooks, wooden butcher blocks, and butchery-like objects.


Installation view at flatbread affair in Brooklyn.

Can you tell me some more about Sourced Material?

I found Sourced Material out of an interest in knowing where and how I was sourcing materials, in particular as an eater and an artist.

Over the last five years I have become very involved with practices of sustainability. For me my awareness and interest actually grew from being a home-cook enthusiast and gourmand – not a sculptor. I started only eating foods in season, and as locally as possible, and trying to source my food as directly as possible: shopping at farmers markets, nose-to-tail butchers, etc. It took me awhile to to start to really think about sustainability in terms of my art practice.

I have always been a process and materially driven artist. I found my inspiration and joy as an artist in the materials I was using, more than anything else. As a result of this I started to bring the process of material production into my practice. I use a lot of soft material and fibers – and so I taught myself to sew and felt, and i took a yarn spinning class at the Yarn Tree with my partner Silka Glanzman. I finished the class right before starting my first summer in the Bard College MFA program. I was going to school in the heart of sheep and wool land with a desire to use hand spun yarn in my work. Once installed at Bard I bought some wool from the Hudson Valley Sheep and Wool Co. five miles from campus. I anxiously began to spin, trying to figure out what it was that i wanted to do with it. It was during that time that i began to think about my material production as an artist in terms of sustainability. I thought – if I try so hard to sustainably source all of my food why shouldn’t I do that with materials I use as an artist? That question lay the foundation for the development of Sourced Material.

On your web-site there is a section called “Exchange,” can you tell me about this?

We wanted to see what other people would make with the wool material-objects. So, we decided to establish a free exchange program, through the website, where people could write to us requesting one of the wool material-objects. We will send anyone the wool material-objects on the condition that they either document what they produce and give us the rights to publish that documentation, or send us back what they make. Co-authorship is also assigned to both the producer and Sourced Material. By having both the exchange program and a gallery/boutique displaying “finished” material-objects, the viewer of the site gets to decide how they are engaging with the material or object. They choose whether they are going to participate as a producer or a consumer.


Salad from a dinner at the flatbread affair exhibition. The space hosts intimate dinners for each exhibition.

The material is free of charge for participants, right? You give them material for free, they give you co-authorship with what they make?

The material is free of charge for the participants in the exchange program. We share co-authorship when the work is exhibited, either on the Sourced Material site or in a gallery.

I like this idea of a choice in being a producer or a consumer. It’s not just the question of are you going to be passive or active – but it is very relevant to the society we live in today. Like Youtube, where one can watch, or create the content. But then, in a sense, creating the content is now part of the process of consumption – it is the prosumer (producer consumer). Web-sites like Youtube and Facebook thrive on people producing the content for them, within their framework/interface. What is important in your project is the idea of co-authorship – that it doesn’t just become Sourced Material’s content – but that it is still the producers creation from their labor.

Assigning co-authorship is a way of maintaining transparency. It is important to Sourced Material that each producer in the chain is easily identifiable. This is so credit can be placed where credit is due, but also so that each link in the system of production for these wool objects is traceable.

Prosumer diagram found online.

Back to the flatbread exhibition, these were made by you, correct, not from the exchange program?

The works in flatbread affair’s Sourced Material: Wool exhibition were made by me and Silka Glanzman. We have sent out several skeins and sheets of felt out to people participating in the exchange program and we are looking forward to seeing what they produce, and exhibiting them in the future.

I can imagine Sourced Material generating some cultural capital and becoming like a brand, or a marketing term. Someone uses your wool, gets a Sourced Material stamp, and it gives them a kind of credibility. Like in the case of “organic,” a word that loses all its potency when it gets circulated for marketing purposes. Or, like an FDA stamp of approval. It seems like you are playing with this idea. But also, you have your principals, that hopefully, you will not compromise.

I understand what you are saying and really appreciate it. I hope its true. I am very interested in thinking of Sourced Material as a brand. I think there are some very exciting and interesting possibilities in Sourced Material as a “brand.” It is also why I have decided to create distance between myself as an artist and Sourced Material.

Image found on Next Nature.

But then, this whole project becomes part of your art practice, even if you are acting as supplier here, not producer. I hope that this interview encourages people to request materials from you. Is there anything you’d like to say to people who may be interested?

I hope so too. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about Sourced Material. Anybody who is interested in Sourced Material can email us right now: contact@sourcedmaterial.com.

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