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The Art of Playing with Food


Oriana Leckert | June 5, 2018
There are as many ways to incorporate food into one’s creative practice as there are to eat dinner.

This month, Per La Mente called on four artists who create interactive experiences around food that are both creative and delicious. You’ll hear from Emilie Baltz, a food technologist and multisensory experience designer who made a cotton candy–activated theremin and created a meal for 100 in a former nuclear reactor in Stockholm; Andy An, an industrial designer and creative technologist who curated an “edible playground” filled with analog and video games that guests played by eating; Jenn de la Vega, a cookbook author, food stylist, and recipe developer, who throws Epic Nacho Bowls and Eggstravaganzas; and Lindsay Kinder, a French-trained chef whose macaron classes encourage people to bring a playful sensibility to high-end treats.

These highly creative people have not only mastered the art of playing with food, but they’ve found ways to help others do the same, imbuing audiences and participants with a sense of community, sharing, and joy.

For as long as people have eaten, food has influenced our art. Cave paintings of hairy wild yams by Australian Aborigines in Ubirr were made as much as 40,000 years ago; murals on the walls of 9,000-year-old huts in Çatalhoyuk, near today’s Turkey, depict the “frolicsome and daredevil” hunting of aurochs and red deer; and lighthearted three-dimensional trompe l’oeil floors depicting the detritus of a banquet have been found in the Ancient Roman city of Pompeii dating back to the 2nd century.

In modern times, many well-known artists have included food in their work in serious and playful ways. Judy Chicago’s famed installation The Dinner Party, widely hailed as a seminal feminist work, is an homage to famous and mythological women rendered as place settings around a huge triangular table. Jennifer Rubell made a name for herself by creating conceptual food performances at Miami’s Art Basel. Dorothée Selz creates “ephemeral edible sculptures” that have been displayed at the Tate in London, and Red Hong Yi executes massive paintings and installations made from sunflower seeds, coffee stains, and more. Then there are the über-modern food artists who have achieved renown through Instagram and other social platforms, like Ida Frosk, Brock Davis, Febri Unggy, Kerstin Hiestermann, and Selena Kohng.

image courtesy of Anna Keville Joyce

There are many other types of artists and creatives incorporating food into their work in unusual ways today. Actress Orietta Crispin performs interactive plays during which she prepares a meal for her audiences, Liv Buranday and Yaser Ahmad create mixed-media stencil art out of coffee beans and nuts, respectively, and Maria Nguyen takes the art of plating into the stratosphere. “Food and art are universal languages,” Nguyen says, “and when you put them together, it can be extremely powerful.”

Jennifer Coates paints cross-sections of food items from candy bars to lasagna. Under the moniker LAZY MOM, Josie Keefe and Phyllis Ma make brightly hued photos and animations that incorporate edible items, from wiggly hot dogs to jewel-encrusted piles of cheese, and Jason Mecier and Carl Warner craft portraits and landscapes using only food, like rice, cereal, and bacon. Warner has spoken about the universal appeal of his work, which he says “break[s] the boundaries of language and culture.” And of course the artists featured in our video incorporate everything from video games to edible jewelry to musical instruments into their creative food artistry.

There’s no telling what tomorrow’s culinarily inspired artists will manage to come up with, but it’s clear that audiences will never lose their appetite for creative people refining the art of playing with food.

To get to know the elaborate, messy world of edible art, go here.

To taste of 9 of the world’s yummiest food museums, try here.

To read about artists reimagining restaurants, click here.

To meet a French-trained chef doing very playful things with cookies, head here.

For more creative people, join the Fernet-Branca Family

Oriana Leckert is a writer, editor, cultural hipstorian [sic], and the author of Brooklyn Spaces: 50 Hubs of Culture & Creativity. Her writing has appeared on Slate, Atlas Obscura, New York Post, Matador, Hyperallergic, Gothamist, Curbed, Brooklyn Magazine, Brooklyn Based, and more.


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