its all good on ham in the good, 2016

I stumbled across the work of Ella P. Weber on Instagram. I was thumbing through my feed as I normally do. I was feeling listless, waiting on laundry, my mind in a spin cycle from the shaken wake of the past week’s governmental proceedings. I was looking for an out. It’s been feeling most important to maintain perspective. I was looking for that dose of something else to shake the creep of paranoia.

There hasn’t been much laughter, and inasmuch as the situation the world is facing right now has grave implications for us all, laughter holds great power. It is both a common ground and a personal assertion of joy, which perhaps is the greatest antidote to terror. Weber’s work caught my eye, and dispensed abundant giggle force. The quality of humor in Weber’s work is uncanny, and as much as I approach notions of authenticity with skepticism, it feels incredibly authentic. I think Weber’s work appeals to our senses of play and sarcasm.

The photo that caught my eye was a titled series selfies Weber had taken with an oven roasted chicken, the plastic wrapped variety you may have seen in the glass cases at your local delicatessen. The chicken, which was not at first so obviously chicken, had been poked with a finger to imbue a smiley face. Weber refers to her friend as OR (oven roasted). The selfies I encountered were taken during a playdate, one of their last as it turns out.

Today during the deli shift from hell this oven roasted dilusso chicken in its entirety slipped off the slicer out of the hands of my coworker. Without its wings it flew across the deli sky and landed face first on the unclean floor. I like to think the poor guy was trying to save himself from being just another neglected slice of meat in some kids school lunch sandwich. Right away after removing my fingers from the little guys eye holes I thought out loud, “this has the potential to be the start of something special and unique” I even got to take OR home with me. That’s a $65 dollar friendship value right there. This piece is entitled “What even is a real friend?”

I feel like I cannot say much more about OR, without explaining about everything else I know about their relationship.

Weber lives in what I understand to be middle American suburbia, specifically in west Omaha, Nebraska. She lives in her parents unfinished basement, has an MFA in printmaking from The University of Kansas, and works at the local Hyvee Deli Counter where she has been employed on and off since August of 2015. The Deli has been a mainstay of supplementary cash flow in between residencies and an adjunct position at the University of Nebraska Omaha. Initially I thought it was weird that Weber was working at a deli, but the work had me captivated so it seemed somehow natural. To this notion Weber says that boredom is essential to her practice. Since undergrad she’s had three “throwaway” jobs. Working at the Deli is the third of these jobs, and one that she initially applied for to cover finances in between graduation and a residency at Anderson Ranch. Since then they’ve let her return time and again, no questions asked, after time she spends away at residencies. An earlier body of work revolved around the Frozen Yogurt counter she worked at, and made prodigious use of rainbow sprinkles. The deli is different, when you work at a deli you smell like meat, there are jokes about meat, and innuendo abounds.

While she was a resident at Anderson Ranch Weber had a studio visit with Hesse McGraw who is the Vice President of Exhibitions and Public Programs at the San Francisco Art Institute. Since Weber was at the time without a studio, and already taking pictures of meat at the deli, McGraw suggested that she choose to encounter the workspace of the deli as synonymous with that of a studio, instead of it being a bummer. Weber took the advice and as a result has developed a more positive relationship with what most people would regard as a “throwaway job.”

McGraw’s challenge to Weber was essentially that she push the simultaneity of deli life and art life, essentially that all of her art be made on the clock. Weber has pushed this to the extreme, amassing a cache of nearly 6,000 photos and videos pertaining to the deli. The Deli Daze work began in 2015, and has continued since. Weber makes all of her work on the clock as a rule, and her co-workers often ask if leftover meat and paper should be saved for “Ella’s art.” I think that one of the most exciting aspects of the work is that it seems as if Weber is getting away with it. She is negotiating her workspace into one of indivisible experiment. The inertia Weber has created in a space one could designate as devoutly inert is tremendous, and remarkable in this way.

Current Tinder Profile.

In March of 2016 Weber was inspired after a breakup to download the tinder dating app. Very quickly she realized that tinder is not a particularly savory way to go about dating. She began using the app to acquire photographs of men holding fish, which she noticed were extremely prevalent. Weber has interpolated the men holding fish phenomena with her experience at the deli counter.

caption My Insta Story IRL, 2016

At the deli Weber (or Della as she refers to herself on the clock), has had experiences that make indelible statements about our consumer culture and its reflections of sex and its social conditioning. The two would seem, through the glass of a meat counter, inextricably linked, like sausage. Weber explained to me an encounter, over the phone, where her female co-workers peer pressured her into helping a customer whom by all conventional standards, and co-worker opinions, was very attractive. He apparently knew it and continued to be very blasé about his quest for deli meat. Weber began to grow politely impatient and asked intently about what he wanted having heard about the options. His reply was “meat is meat.”

These interactions move the work. Another incident involved Weber receiving a record low thirty-one out of 100 on her secret shopper score because she didn’t smile. The incident prompted a series of smiley faces of which Weber makes one a day. Weber also assembles collages out of coupon clippings and magazine ephemera and meat, takes bathroom selfies from above where her face is usually obstructed by meet. She also makes entries in a diary on her website called The Deli Diaries. The diary is a written record and exploration of mundane consumerism imagined through an absurd lens that playfully upends the existential fabrics of our daily interactions as well as the politics of class.

Smile Untitled no. 13. 2016


Spicy Smile. 2016

Reurning to OR, Weber has had OR for nearly two months now. He is currently wrapped in plastic outside on the porch of her parent’s house. Weber rescued OR from the deli. He jumped off the slicer and fell onto the floor. Weber took him home. Of all of Weber’s works I found myself most tickled by OR. I think I enjoy OR most of all because he is the liberation of a practice contingent on site specificity. Weber is essentially animating meat, and providing a totem of sorts for the mundanity of consumerism and capitalist society in general. OR becomes the insane suggestion of happy that Weber related me in the Nebraska slogan “Visit Nebraska, Visit Nice,” and the Hyvee slogan “Where there’s a helpful smile in every aisle.” Both statements are verbose in their malleability much in the manner of liverwurst. They are entirely dependent on the experience of the customer.

My bff OR (oven roasted) and I had the best day ever together enjoying the sunny outdoors on the other side of the deli walls. (Freedom) ️ we climbed trees, fell off swings, took selfies (obvi) played ball, rolled around in patches of snow, laughed so hard we cried. Despite the smiles, we did have some more serious conversation on the porch where we discussed death. Due to threats from the roomies who say OR has to go due to old age and smells, we have to say goodbye soon. But the question is, if we get to choose our death, how do we want to go? How should OR die? He’s handling this really well (better than I am) and is open to interesting death ideas. #cherishthemoments #death #life #afterlife#delidaze #mywilson

OR, processed as I imagine him, was easily impressed with happiness. All Weber had to do was stick a finger in him. OR being imagined as a friend or perhaps significant other also interestingly handles the world of online dating. OR is malleable. He is exactly what a good consumer looks like: completely pleased with something entirely fabricated.

Ball with OR and ballin


It’s a Match, my BFF. 2017

Weber is asking important questions about freedom of choice and the pursuit of satisfaction. Are mundane choices white noise to stifle the greater ones? She will be endeavoring yet another residency at Signal Culture in Owego, New York where she will be digesting content from the deli into something oriented around new media applications primarily concerned with the footage she is accruing at the deli.

–Jack Wood

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