At first glance, it looks like a romantic table for two complete with flowers, custom tableware, spotless silver and red velvet cupcakes. Take a closer look and you will see the shattered tail lights and bullets decorating the table coverings made from police uniforms. This is Fixed Price Menu.
Last year, filmmaker/producer and Long Beach native Ava DuVernay founded LEAP (Law Enforcement Accountability Project) in the wake of the George Floyd murder, to encourage artistic expression around police violence and accountability. Over the course of the next two years, the LEAP fund will commission artistic projects across multiple disciplines including film, literature, poetry, theater, dance, fine art and music from its campus in Filipino Town.
One of the artist grantees is Jocelyn Jackson, a culinary activist, who created a conceptual menu and tablescape, titled Fixed Price Menu, related to the murder of Philando Castile. The former chef, lawyer and artist’s culinary-themed installation was filmed with 360 immersive technology and illustrates the imagined sit-down dinner between Castile and Jeronimo Yanez, the exonerated Falcon Heights, Minnesota cop who fatally shot the school cafeteria chef at a traffic stop in 2016. The aftermath was streamed live on Facebook by Castile’s girlfriend who was in the car at the time along with her four-year-old daughter.
Jackson presents the contrast of how something beautiful can be so heartbreaking and how food is an essential medium for her expression. There is personal detail in everything in this tablescape, intended to personify who was being served on each side of the table.
The tableware is very specific. There’s all wood on Castile’s side and a square plate to honor the cafeteria trays that were a part of his life as a food worker in the school system. On Yanez’s side there are silver plates, indicative of the police officer’s badge and also the reflection of a mirror. It wasn’t just his place setting, but also the addition of 16 additional plates, all engraved with the names of those Jackson considers co-conspirators. She wants every person that was part of this experience of exoneration also to be present at the table and held in the same accountability, including Tom Kelly, Derek Chauvin’s original attorney in the George Floyd case which starts this week.
“It’s important for me to highlight all these names,” Jackson tells L.A. Weekly in a telephone call from Las Vegas, where she is working on her next exhibition, A Common Thread, which expresses her passion for textiles. “Putting a recipe box on the table so we can see where Philando Castile continues to have attention to the students he cared for are important details. I hung a police jacket on one chair and a chef’s jacket on the other.”
The center of the table is a cornucopia of fruits, vegetables and a flower-filled butternut squash that Jackson hollowed out.
“There’s one moment in my research that Yanez was involved in pulling over Castile five years before the fatal shooting for the same reason in 2016 – a broken tail light,” the artist says. “That really resonated with me, so I got some tail lights and I broke the shit out of them. This was the excuse for such brutality. I crushed those tail lights and made a beautiful centerpiece out of the shards. Those red shards of plastic that gave license for a murder to occur. It was important for me to have that real contrast of pain and heartbreak as well as beauty and the ability of a different choice to be made.”
The fruits and vegetables were also very intentional, to indicate that Castile’s life was very much attuned to the hundreds of students that he cared for on a daily basis.
“It breaks my heart that the centerpiece coming across the table is the setting of those seven bullets that were shot in his direction. As human beings, we all have to have this contrast in mind, otherwise we go into a place of normalcy and status quo, where we think things like seven mass shootings in seven days can’t occur or aren’t occurring – they are.”
Jackson created the menu with very intentional ingredients to be able to tell the story and for people to tangibly take these stories and recipes into their very lives and experience them in a way that calls to action and sparks a longer conversation. She created the red velvet cupcake recipe for Yanez’s young daughter.
“Castile was about a moment away from potentially being the cafeteria worker that took care of Yanez’s child,” she says. “Would it have been different that day if the officer had recognized him from the cafeteria that served those elementary school children? I wanted to have those moments of pause, for communication of a different outcome. In the cupcakes I used roasted red beets instead of the standard red food coloring. There’s enough difference in that recipe that makes people take notice. Sometimes we assume that something is savory, but when we look at it differently and experience it in a different context from a different perspective – assumption can be turned on its head.”
It all rests on a tablecloth made from seven brand new standard navy blue police shirts that she cut up and applicayed. It was a collection process she describes as mundane as it was horrifying.
“I went to the stores and purchased the police shirts, jackets and the bullets in person. It was an important process for me to interact with the present moment of how people engage with security culture. I didn’t need credentials for these items. I just needed to answer the question of the person helping me if the ammo was for self defense or target practice. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard of that distinction. It was important to have this representation of the blue line that is in our system right now, destroying what it means for accountability for the killing of people of color.”
Experience the powerful 3D installation here.