Total Food Weirdness
How Art Became EdibleNovember 15, 2013
Why do we play with our food ? How do fried eggs become googly eyes, and a bacon rasher a mouth ? And why do we carve witchy faces into pumpkins at Halloween, and decorate cupcakes to look like Muppets, Storm Troopers, and brains ? The internet is stuffed with iconic artworks recreated with thousands of M&Ms, homemade Kit Kat lasagnes, tiny Stonehenges built using only Rice Krispies, and adult-themed pasta shapes topped with cheese. There’s even the somewhat odd fetish of “sploshing” (something to do with baked beans, whipped cream and nudity — so we’re told). Our obsession with food weirdness knows no bounds.
But there are those who go even further than decorating a cake with the face of Ryan Gosling. With chefs and ‘food impresarios’ carving out a foothold in the art world, food is leaving the confines of the kitchen and is being served up in major galleries and public spaces.
Sam Bompas and Harry Parr take this obsession with food and art, and supersize it. They flood buildings with punch and conjure clouds of breathable gin and tonic. Their batches of Occult Jam — a magical fruity preserve — is imbibed, creepily, with the hair of Princess Diana, and their piece for the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow saw them fill glass chambers with vaporised clouds of lime, cranberry and pear.
For their last trick, they installed a floating Pineapple Island on a boating lake at Kew Gardens, London, complete with a banana grotto and singing fruit, and launched the accompanying book, Tutti Frutti. The creative duo, known as Bompas & Parr, create large-scale fantastical installations that pop up anywhere from car parks and shops to major museums and heavyweight galleries. They are masters at squishing together food and art, but Sam and Harry wouldn’t call themselves artists. When asked to define what they do, Sam Bompas admits “it’s something I’m often asked and can’t answer very well. But, at the moment, it’s ‘food impresarios’.” Sam and Harry aren’t the first creative types to play with their dinner, even if they do it on an unprecedented scale.
London artist Miss Cakehead turns the notion of cute baking on its head, creating iced fancies decorated to look like rancid boils and rashes caused by medical afflictions or grey cakes sold at a pop-up Depressed Cake Shop to raise awareness of mental health issues. “There are tons of artists who’ve used food” says art critic Skye Sherwin, “from Gordon Matta-Clark’s legendary artist-run restaurantcome- art project, Food, which became a nexus for the downtown New York scene of the 1970s, to Rirkrit Tiravanija’s ‘relational’ installations where he dishes up Thai food to gallery goers. French artist Loris Greaud has made sweets with no flavour, and Doug Fishbone dumped 30,000 bananas in Trafalgar Square — people ate them !” “There are quite a number of galleries that have started to look very, very carefully at food,” says Sam.“
They’ve been turned onto the fact that it [food] can be a lot more compelling emotionally and a lot more resonant than a load of paintings on the wall.” American sculptor Matthew Day Jackson created an effigy of himself out of sponge cake for his exhibition which opened in 2011 (which he allowed to be devoured by guests at the after party). Another creative, Francesca Sarti, creates works in a more traditional form, usually at an intimate, table-top level. For the last decade — through her design studio, Arabeschi di Latte — she has created all manner of high concept, artful food events. She has cooked up wonky- looking handmade in-flight meals, created a pasta-making herbarium, and her piece It Takes Two To Tango at The Victoria & Albert Museum in 2010 involved participants feeding each other dinner with giant spoons — messy, noisy and more than a little hilarious.There’s something excitingly debauched in taking something so basic, something so essential to life, and pushing it creatively to a fantastical, sticky end.
We learn as children that playing with our food is taboo, yet we are served dinner in the shape of dinosaurs, letters of the alphabet and weird, smiling faces. Playing with food is a human instinct — and a natural inspiration for artists. Who wouldn’t marvel over artist Prudence Staite’s life-size cheese sculptures of Obama, Cheryl Cole and Dita Von Teese ?
“Like all food and all art, there’s the good, the bad, and the mediocre,” says food writer Gabriella Gershenson. “I am hesitant when I see food being incorporated into art. I think food should be respected, because in the end, it’s the stuff that keeps us going. But when it’s done right, like any art, it can be thought-provoking, illuminating, and delightful.” •