Food in art: Artists play with dynamics of gastronomy

New Delhi, April 16: A plate of food and wine on the table is no longer mere gastronomy. It is high art of flavour, colour, textures, concepts, cultures, science and politics – everything that contemporary art has been experimenting with for the last decade.

Food in conceptual art seeks to connect the visual with the cerebral and the visceral, says Indonesian contemporary Julian Abraham, who is working on the concept of fermentation, wine, prohibition and faith with installations.

His new work, ‘Karma Wine: Kapitan Biopunk’, a multimedia installation on display in the national capital recently, relates to the art and science of wine-making.

A sculpture, resembling Abraham, responds to viewers’ repeated entreaties for wine over a microphone on the basis of sonic waves. Once the sound connection is made and the circuit established, the figure lowers its head and pours wine as benediction from its mouth into the devotee’s waiting cup.

The installation is accompanied by texts ‘about the history of fermentation, its religious and scientific significance and analogies’.

The wine is tamarind water fermented over two weeks by the artist. ‘I have used the concept of a religious rite wherein the worshipper prays to the guru expecting a good life and probably a good afterlife. The wine is a salute while the viewers’ prayer is a rite,’ Abraham told IANS.

The artist began working with fermentation in 2010 after the Indonesian government increased excise duty to check alcoholism.

‘But it did not work out that way – people tried to brew their own alcohol with methanol or wood alcohol…I wanted to explore its implications and outlooks across cultures,’ Abraham said.

The humble fortified biscuit – designed to enhance nutrition level – is a subject of food aid politics in young artists Ruchika Negi and Amit Mahanti’s new video installation, ‘The Idea of The Biscuit’ – featuring a biscuit advertisement and a man masticating food.

‘Our installation is a political take on food and the politics over fortified biscuit in the hunger market for food relief. Fortified (double baked) biscuits, first made in the 16th century, have found their way to markets as commodity for trading in the new capitalistic world. We play on the systemic idea of food, creating artificial hunger markets,’ artist Ruchika Negi told IANS.

Studies say fortified biscuits with iodine and iron have improved the health of rural children in developing countries – and sparked virulent politics over brand placements, pricing and policies.

Performance and installation artist Shweta Bhattad uses food and performance to address issues of wastage. Her new multi-media performance art, ‘Three Course Meal and Dessert of Vomit’, paints a macabre portrait of gluttons drowning in their own ‘vomit’.

Italian conceptual artist Alfonso Borrogain has been engaging with street food vendors in the capital with his concept of fluorescent food – lighting them up with phosporous or coloured phosphorescent lamps.

‘Food is my strategy. I like to place surprise articles inside them and give to people across diverse cultures,’ Borrogain, who is in India for an artist’s residency programme, told IANS.

The artist has been working with ‘Ostrich eggs and chicken egg’ pinhole cameras – made of the egg shells – that photograph people as they eat eggs.

‘We eat eggs and the eggs eat us,’ Borrogain explained to IANS. The artist said he was a member of an international group of nearly 20 artists who make conceptual art around food to address issues, which is a growing trend.

‘We are witnessing a global food revolution. So long, we had colonisation of food with fares migrating to other parts of the globe. But now food is evolving in the same way as art has. People are beginning to recognise universal new symbols as in globalised art. Presentation and style have become more important in modernist cuisines,’ critic Ryan Bromley told IANS here.

Bromley is working on a visual project, ‘How the food of the future will look’, together with large food chains.

Executive chef Shivanand Kain (Eggspectation) says art in food begins at the time when chefs begin to conceptualise the dish. The new kitchens add to artistic value, he says.

‘I have seen expensive paintings hung behind meat grills at the Ritz Carlton in Italy. The Italian chefs treat the kitchen as a place of art…Who knows. The designer kitchens could become the future venue of art shows,’ Kain told IANS.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

IANS