Yes, I took a Food & Art class this past semester. While I have mixed feelings about its value for me at the time I took the course, its final gave me a chance to exercise some urges I’d been having to make something relevant, powerful, and aggressive.
We were given the deadline for the final show, for which we had to make something that had to do with the intersection of food and art. That was how broad the class usually was, both a blessing and a curse. In this case, it allowed me freedom to make whatever I wanted or needed. I was struggling (and still do from time to time) to justify being an artist at all in a world with so many problems. With the idea to make something that goes beyond the piece and is more about making a difference than making a thing, I decided to make something with enough shock value that would hopefully take the viewer out of context for a moment, and force them to acknowledge the extremity of the piece’s content and the reality it portrays.
I found the photo through a simple Google search,*which I taped down to a pedestal. I baked store-brand brownies, and crushed them up with chips, candies, food-related trash I found around campus and dust and floor grit swept from the gallery space we used for the show. I frosted around the edges of the picture with chocolate frosting, drawing the spaces where I wanted the food trash to be piled. I built up some areas with larger brownie chunks and piled the rest on top of that. I made a few passes at it, with larger pieces and then smaller dust and grit, trying to get a fully-formed and -coated perimeter of food trash around the child.
Influenced I suppose by watching Waste Land previously in class, and by my experiences in Latin American countries where I saw a much tamer version of what this piece addresses, I really wanted to make something that had a profound impact on its viewer, striking them hard enough to force them to try to do something about it. It’s a powerful issue, and it’s extremely easy – especially in modern society – to get wrapped up in our own private worlds and lose sight of things like this that are so distant from our own realities, even if they could exist in the next country, or even our own.
It is disheartening to see this, needless to say, and a friend and I couldn’t help remarking how ironic it was that my piece was placed right next to a life-size chocolate infant that the audience participated in eating during the gallery opening event.
The next class after the show we had a vertical iron chef challenge, a sort of fun-final, which I couldn’t help thinking of as a competition of waste, a purely decorative creation funneled into the industrial-sized garbage can at the end of the room, along with the table linings, utensils and food scraps leftover from the process. How much can we continue to throw away for the pure and simple purpose of “enjoyment?”
Not meaning this to turn into a rant, I should come to a close. It brings to light, however, the debate over how much use it is to be an artist in these times when so much else can be done. So much tangible good is possible, and yet somehow so far away, that it is difficult to justify making things like a cast sugar spinal cord or a multilingual grid reference to the various meanings of the word ‘toast.’ Sure, there’s value, but at what point does the piece lose sight of its context as an art piece in the society in which it exists? When does the piece begin to exist for itself, rather than with relation to and in response to the situation in which it is made and exhibited.
I’ve rarely been one for intellectualism or “art-speak,” and while I think most people enjoy some rhetorical musings from time to time, my goal as an artist is to never lose sight of what the world around me is, how it relates to and influences the pieces I make, and my role in that context. It’s a view of the bigger picture that is very difficult to grasp, and clearly I have trouble grasping it as much as the next person, but I think to become blind to it is the real failure, and where art becomes art for art’s sake (for which there is definitely a valid argument as well), instead of something culturally, socially, and creatively innovative and responsible. Everything taken into account, the latter is what I hope for most in artists I really love, and what I strive for myself simply as a human being.
* Note: I didn’t take down credit for the photograph I used, and apologize for that; I know it existed on multiple websites, but can’t remember who I took it from. I profited none from this piece, but will give credit if a rights holder feels it is due.