Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Gluttony and the Gourmand exhibition essay

Progress Leader 4 October 2011 article
Article in the Progress Leader 4 October, 2011

Gluttony & the Gourmand features five works by contemporary Australian artists who are perplexed, consumed and nauseated by contemporary food culture. Working in different mediums, the artists examine the complex terrain which foodies navigate and our culturally loaded notions of status, celebrity and health.

Corinna Berndt’s series depicting ‘pretend gourmet dishes’, evokes the stylized images consumers are bombarded with in advertisements, books and tv programs. The visual representation of food in highly artificial terms, by the juggernauts of marketing and advertising, alongside the star power of celebrity-chefs play on the lifestyle aspirations of consumers. Within this paradigm, food and dining denotes one’s status within a social class and is more than the act of satiating hunger.

“I am interested the dramatic shift of representation of food through media. Whilst images of food in recipe books from previous decades could be considered more naturalistic, they now seem much less appetizing, and even garish, compared to the extremely manipulated and stylized images of food which inundate contemporary society nowadays. Food is no longer portrayed to resemble itself. Instead, much like the fashion industry, the media produces images of a highly constructed, plastic-like dream, playing on the multiple desires of the consumer.” (Corinna Berndt, 2011)

Annie Hsiao-Wen Wang’s ongoing series ‘Marketplace’ also explores the theme of the visual representation of food and contextualizes it within the traditional wet markets of Taiwan. Wang’s stark photographs highlight our disassociation with the origins of our food and are a commentary on the ‘highly sterilized and polished ‘food pornography’’ which pervades supermarkets and the dying tradition of food markets.

‘As a child growing up in Taipei many of my fond memories are of situations of meet and greet in these markets. However, Taiwan is now rapidly being taken over by western consumerist ideals; large, sterile shopping centers are gradually replacing these markets of old values and traditions.” (Annie Hsiao-Wen Wang, 2001)

As our obsession with food, dining and the cult of the celebrity-chef grows, so too does Australia’s battle of the bulge, heart disease and other lifestyle related illnesses. In this way, food becomes a contested zone, a never ending cycle of temptation and guilt. Kate Williams and Emma Hicks’ installation ‘Junk Thought’, comments on the increasingly conflicted relationship of food and health in contemporary Australian society and seeks to illicit alternatives to the current position.

“At the same time as Australians’ weight skyrockets we are bombarded with media images of ultra-thin models and celebrities; diet and exercise become the flip side of the one coin. Master Chef runs back-to-back with The Biggest Loser, tapping the same “Junk Thought”. Losing and gaining become one and the same, interchangeable, just more stuff to fill the void.” (Kate Williams & Emma Hicks, 2011)

Ruffbat Creative’s (duo team of Rhiannon Mc Lay and Josh Rufford) recent works allude to the epicurean tastes and the myriad of food movements and practices which have weaved their way into everyday discourse. These expensive products and complex food movements and practices are another minefield for foodies as vocabulary, lifestyles and budgets need to accommodate the next phase in culinary evolution.

“The pieces are illustrative explorations of some of the weird and wacky terms and explanations we’ve heard of and discovered ‘in our food journey’ (Masterchef pun intended)…Things like localvore, pescetarianism, ovo vegetarianism…..are all choices people make in their dietary preferences and needs.”(Ruffbat Creative, 2011)

In the ever expanding market of food-related entertainment and the appeal of the exotic the table feast by Katie Jacobs and Brittany Veitch alludes to the environmental impact of our consumption. The use of Australian native animals also hints at the commoditization of Australia’s unique fauna as consumable objects. The intricately detailed construction of Brittany Veitch’s hand-felted Bilby Suet Pudding sculpture alongside Katie Jacobs’s delicate and meticulously crafted ceramic works reference the labour-intensive and time-honoured art of cooking a feast.

Gluttony & the Gourmand exhibition intends to critique the complex and dynamic force which food and dining has within contemporary Australian culture and aims to leave the audience reflecting on his/her own relationship to food.

Essay by Feyza Yazar, 2011.

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