M:ST News


“How to Make Mac Hall Pruno”

Walking into the Nickle Galleries I find myself nervous in moments. I’ve spent the better portion of my trip to the gallery wondering what the Arbour Lake Sghool’s project could be. 

As I enter, John Frosst grins widely. I eye a glass display gallery containing a variety of drink bottles, bags of I-don’t-even-know-what which may be rotting, filters, vessels, and a half full still of orange-ish liquid. My partner, Evan, who also knows the Frosst brothers, asks Andrew about the project as I take in the visuals and listen to the conversation. Pruno, Andrew explains, is a wine… of sorts, brewed in prison. They’ve spent nearly two weeks crafting a Mac Hall Pruno made with leftovers of juice from scavenged drink containers, fruit remnants, and sugar and salt packets retrieved from cafeteria businesses. Evan asks if they intend to drink it, Andrew smiles and explains that they intend to offer it to their audience (us).

We spend a minute speculating on how it should be sanitary, because alcohol sanitizes, right? 

I’m mortified at the possibility of drinking the orange liquid that I can’t seem to stop staring at. And, knowing these guys, sitting here implicated, sitting here planning to blog about this – I’m feeling a lot more obligated to participate than I can even believe. I hope they try it first.

As the two brothers continue to set up, I sit at the front of a section of chairs, facing tables slowly being loaded with ingredients, a stack of waiver forms (you have to sign one to drink), and the still and assorted bottles behind that. I ask Evan if he plans to try it. He hesitates. I tell him I plan to, and ask (perhaps desperately) that he will too. He agrees. Now we’re both sitting here in dread, contemplating what we’ve determined to do. (I’m totally into the prank-like social disruption of this project. I want to do this, I just can’t believe I do.)

In between dreading the Pruno and drinking the Pruno was gathering Mac Hall Pruno ingredients, as well as instructions on how to craft it, and information on the three main types of alcohol and which ones are pretty safe for humans. They also provided a variety of prison sayings to help you remember how not to fail at making Pruno (I’ll share these soon!).

One of the most challenging aspects of participating in this project was gathering the Pruno ingredients, I also feel it’s this part that heavily emphasized the socially disruptive aspects of what Arbour Lake Sghool does, and was doing with this project. There are socially upheld rules for what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour. We were asked to break these, gathering fruit juices and even fruit from recycling and compost receptacles throughout the Mac Hall cafeteria – as well as sugar packets, salt, and even ketchup, which is also high in fruit and sugar content. Though I stuck with the group and did my best to participate, I was only bold enough to grab some sugar and ketchup packets to add to the mix. I’m majorly supportive of dumpstering whole, intact, and safe for consumption foods when you live in an urban setting where they’re incredibly abundant – but to openly pick through small cans in public? Thankfully (and probably because they expected this nervousness) enough material (in the form of fruit cups and juice boxes, and sugar and ketchup people had gathered) was provided so that everyone could make their own ziploc bag of potential Pruno regardless of scavenging skills.

The Pruno produced by the Frosst brothers as a part of their installation was well fermented. To ensure a high enough alcohol content in the drink, it was also cut 50/50 with filtered hand sanitizer, retrieved from a public location (this is where the lesson on which types of alcohol aresafe to consume was incredibly important.)

Now, to be clear, their Pruno was made entirely from fruit-based liquid scavenged from the Mac Hall Cafeteria at the U of C. This made adding sanitizer to it actually reassuring. As the concoction neared completion, John explained, “We’re going to serve you in these 9mL vials. Andrew and I are contractually obligated to drink this.”

“Not really” suggested a gallery staff member.

Stubbornly, “We signed a contract with ourselves.”

A quick conversation revealed that these vials had been scavenged as well, but well cleaned in the same way beer brewing equipment is cleaned – with powdered bleach. They asked who’s in. Surprisingly, 4 of us agreed. As we signed the waiver, a fifth joined. From there it was grimacing looks to one another and just a few moments of nervous anticipation. I let some other audience members smell my Mac Hall Pruno, while waiting for all participants to be served. 

It tasted awful. Obviously.

I almost instantly felt a warm and familiar tingling feeling in my stomach. Success. Right? Apparently the best way to get participants to do something gross for art, is to ensure the gross thing is consuming probably-completely-safe alcohol. 

The project also included aspects contributed by the 2 absent Arbour Lake Sghool members. A fantastic paper by Scott Rogers addressing the history of alcohol and social disruption, and a video work by Justin Patterson.

And I’ve got the soon-to-be Pruno I was sent home with (now in a mason jar) and I’ll probably, at least, try that too. 

(I’d also like to note, that if you haven’t noticed the jest of making prison wine at a university in a time of budget cuts and tuition raises, please do so now.)