John Riepenhoff's Recursive Pizza

A few weeks ago, Slice'r Tim Harrington emailed me the photo you see below, having found it on Reddit. "I can't stop looking at it," Tim said. Neither can I. After doing some digging, I found it was the work of Milwaukee-based artist John Riepenhoff. You know I had to get him in the hot seat on this one. Here's a quick Q&A with him. The Mgmt.

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[Photographs: John Riepenhoff]

I can't stop staring at that photo. At first I thought it was some sort of Photoshop magic. But then I see the photo of people interacting with it and eating(?) it. Did you make it yourself? It's mini pizzas on a large pizza, right? I googled around but couldn't find any documentation or artist's statement about the work. I think I get it just by looking at it and reading the title and materials list. But would you care to enlighten us?

Physical Pizza Networking Theory is meant to address the ontology of the social as material in art. Using mise en abyme to illuminate a relationship between the layers of material and our experience, and meta symbolic experience of pizza as a hearth, as meeting point, as cultural convergence, as party, as sculpture, as gift, as collage, as pie, and individuals as ingredients within pieces of a social pie adding up to something greater than their whole in a deliciously simple way. This work of art celebrates the event and temporal moments of art-as-happening, document, and experience. Take a slice, be a part of Physical Pizza Networking Theory.

What was your inspiration for the work?

A new gallery was opening in Milwaukee several months ago, Small Space, and their inaugural show was a collage group show. Collage to me is a pretty broad category so I wanted to make a bonus statement in my work by making a delicious and fun interactive temporary sculpture that could be offered as a gift to anyone visiting this new conceptual art space. My work is typically about the structure of an art environment so pizza was a perfect template to exercise visceral enjoyment mashed with layers of intellect in a way to start talking about the social as material in a shared art experience.

How did people react to it?

They ate it up.


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Ah, both literally and figuratively, I suppose.... Did you cook the mini pizzas first and place them on the large pizza?

The pizza was fabricated by Jason Todd, the head pizza chef at Classic Slice. I think he precooked the little pizza doughs a bit and separately cooked the massive pizza dough then cooked them together with all the additional toppings. Jason could make the pizza larger than what commercial pizza box companies manufacture so I made a mega-sized pizza box to fit his peak output.

The mini pizzas look like they're all topped differently. I think I see pineapple pizza, olive pizza, onion pizza, ground-beef(?) topping pizza. How many different kinds of mini pizzas are there?

The final piece was a collage of different cultures' food (Hawaiian, vegan, meat lovers, macaroni, pepperoni, pesto pine nut, etc.), a collage of the actual pizza itself in an attempt at providing some perspective to the viewer of the levels of experience they might be having outside of the pizza, and finally a collage of the people attending the opening and participating in the piece by putting it inside of them.

It seems that PPNT is by definition a temporary piece and now exists only in photos and memory, but do you have plans to re-create it for future exhibitions?

The original Physical Pizza Networking Theory exists in the bellies of the Small Space visitors, but there are plans for it to be in another show in Milwaukee this fall at University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Union Art Gallery. If that plan goes through, people will get several chances to participate in this piece in late September and October of this year in Milwaukee.

What's your favorite pizza place in Milwaukee?

I'm a fan of Classic Slice for their gigantic fresh pizza by the slice and their chill attitude.

Thanks for the rec, John, and thanks for playing along here.... Slice'rs, if you want to see more of John's work, his website is here: johnriepenhoff.com

UPDATE: Now you can eat the recursive pizza!

You can eat the recursive pizza in Milwaukee this Friday (9/24/2010) and for the next three Thursdays. Details here »

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