One more about food, art, and playing with it

I just added another artist to the Gallery page: Judith G. Klausner. In her series From Scratch, Klausner adds tiny art to food or uses food to make tiny art: she carves away Oreo filling to make a cameo-like portrait, paints ornate scrollwork on wallpaper with condiments, embroiders toast.  In the statement for this series, Klausner observes that when we-as-a-culture express nostalgia for foods lovingly made from scratch, we seem to acknowledge that we have lost something that cannot be replaced by processed and industrialized food.  At the same time, this nostalgia tends to ignore the all-day labor and skill that were often needed to make these lovely homey memories happen, and that when people women chose not to cook all day, they were able to make other choices that should not be denigrated either.  She writes, “As a woman in the twenty-first century, I can choose to spend my day baking a loaf of bread, or to grab a package off a grocery store shelf after a long day at work. I can choose to spend my evenings embroidering. I can choose to combine these things and call it art.”

Oreo Camero #9, by Judith G Klausner

As this philosophy of choice is my own kitchen philosophy as well (excluding the part about art), I perused Klausner’s website with great interest.  (She also makes beautiful, delicate sculptures out of insects that died of natural causes, so one can see that the process of reviving the lost and elevating the undervalued are consistent themes in these series.)

In addition to the feminist implications of this work, I think Klausner’s small sculptures put forward some large questions about art and value.  As previously blogged, artists Carl Warner and Saxton Freyman create sculptures out of food, but when we refer to their art, we are most likely referring to the photograph: the durable, salable artifact of their craft.  Though Klausner has photographed her pieces for her website, the art object in question is actually the food sculpture.  Clicking through her site revealed an image of a show at MIT, with the embroidered artworks hanging on the wall behind glass. What happens to our conceptualization of art if the art in question runs the risk of decomposing over time, even with careful conservation?

Though her statement does not address this aspect of From Scratch, the food materials used are largely mass-produced, highly industrialized food items: she doesn’t paint wallpaper with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, she paints it with ketchup and mustard.  A cameo is a thing of value; a solitary, unwrapped and clearly used Oreo is not.  An Oreo carved like a cameo is not necessarily a thing of value, either – so does it become so when placed it under glass and curated like any other sculpture?

To complicate this last question, I’d like to introduce another food sculpture I just came across today, after mulling over Klausner for a few weeks.  I am not sure of the artist’s name because I can’t read the characters on his Twitter page, but I was able to peruse some examples of his sculpted bananas via Mole Empire.

Two photos of banana sculptures by y_yamadenLovely.  So, unless I am missing something crucial, the maker of this bananart is just some guy on Twitter doing it for fun.  Should we consider this art?
If it is art, what part of it is the art?  The photograph (probably taken from a phone) or the banana (which will go brown in a matter of moments)?  How much is it worth?
If not, what keeps us from elevating it to that status?  Is it the lack of glass casing, the absence of an artistic statement, the reassurance of an artistic CV, or what?

I don’t have answers to these questions, obviously, but I do know that asking them does not make me like Klausner’s playful Oreos and thready toast any less.

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2 responses to “One more about food, art, and playing with it

  1. So many interesting questions raised in this post. Beyond the feminist implications of Klausner’s perishable art (the idea that “women’s work” has always been more or less temporary because it’s edible, wearable, or, as in child-rearing, simply ineffable, not to mention of little material value), I appreciate the more subtly existential idea that an oreo cameo puts forth: that all art—like humanity itself, like our galaxy and even the universe—is temporary. “Temporary” as in situated in time, bound by and subject to it. Finite. As for the banana sculptures—hm. Another fairly hairy question. Is it art? Imho, no. It’s whimsical and sweet, but it seems to me to remain firmly in the “food” category, rather than the ultimately more nourishing “food for thought” one.

  2. I like your remark about the Oreo, Kim; cameos are an old-fashioned sort of item, but these particularly look like Roman coins or some artifact of a civilization long past. It really does underline the temporariness of the art and the society that makes it.

    When I first saw the banana sculptures, I thought them well-crafted and clever – perhaps as well-crafted and clever as embroidering “mold” onto a piece of toast. But I think you have a good point about the function we attribute to art – creating a space to contemplate or puzzle or learn – and I do agree that Klausner’s pieces purposefully make that space, while the bananas please and entertain.

    But because I like to push at edges, I enjoy wondering how much of that space is created by Klausner’s thoughtful statements, by the glass encasements and the presentation.

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