Experimental Eating: Can Food Be Art?
Australian artist Elizabeth Willing views food as art, blending boundaries to create works that can be enjoyed using all five senses
Artists have long used food as inspiration. Food as an art medium is a newer phenomenon, and Australian artist Elizabeth Willing is among those artists who use food in their work, creating experiences and events instead of paintings to explore food using all five senses.
These dinner parties are like no other. Cutlery is infused with scents of tobacco and leather. Mirrored plates enlarge their contents and distort diners’ faces. Sharing dishes attacked too greedily tip over towards the other party.
These choreographed “experiences” are part of the artist’s body of work that explores both the qualities of food as an art material and the emotions it inspires. “I like the idea of surprising people or confusing them,” she says. “Manipulating someone’s experience is really enticing to me.”
Willing, whose work often offers commentary on food culture, will surely seek to manipulate the experiences of visitors at her upcoming solo show, Impossible Guest, at Australia’s New England Regional Art Museum between February 16 and March 18, 2018.
A “hugely influential” period spent with London’s Experimental Food Society introduced Brisbane-based Willing to University of Oxford food scientist and Professor of Experimental Psychology Charles Spence, and took her practice in sculpture and installation into a new field. “Charles had me exploring the connection between sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste. A lot of what I’ve made since is based on what I learned in his lab.”
While pieces such as Stew (2012), a collage of clippings from vintage cookbooks, toy with notions of disgust and confusion, a more playful quality is also evident in Willing’s work. Foil-wrapped chocolates attached to a wall dared audiences to breach the unwritten rules of the gallery by consuming the piece—creating a sort of edible art. A mountainous range of marshmallows cried out to be squished.
The ephemeral nature of food as art is important to the artist: “The materials are so sensual that to preserve them would remove their most interesting qualities.” Willing wants the works, like her dining experiences, to survive in the memory rather than on walls.
Still, she is not immune to conventional food etiquette. “I consider myself a host as well as an artist; I want people to have a good time. Food should always be enjoyable.”