Art has a longstanding relationship with food and the capitalist forces that puppeteer consumer culture. From Guiseppe Arcimboldo’s fruity portrait ‘Vertumnus’ (1590-91) to Andy Warhol’s pop spectrum of ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans’ (1962), food has transformed within art history from a symbol of decadence into to something misshapen, consumerist and synthetic. ‘M’m! M’m! Good!’ at Rowing explores alternative ideas of sustenance through their display interrogating contemporary culture’s relationship with food and food production.
Luca Francesconi’s ‘Uomo curvo’ (2014) stands perhaps most dominant in the exhibition space, autonomous in relation to the other works. It is also the only human-like form presented. With a fresh red cabbage sitting at the head of the sculpture, Francesconi’s sculpture changes on each showing as the site’s curator selects a seasonal, regional vegetable. ‘Uomo curvo’ is the only work featuring food as we know it. As an independent, partially edible piece, one can’t help but put Francesconi’s work on a pedestal, representative of society’s food culture B.C. – Before Consumerism.
Lisa Holzer’s ‘Omelette passing under sauna’ (2015) and ‘Ei passing under spaghetti’ (2015), are photographic prints overlaid with acrylic paint. Holzer performed at the private view of ‘M’m! M’m! Good!’ by cooking the same omelette from her work, distancing the food product from expected contexts, and encouraging a humorous reaction from the audience.
David Jourdan’s work alongside Holzer’s introduces a leading text. ‘Untitled (Status Report on la Grande Cuisine)’ (2013) is a blending of language from a 1972 New York Magazine expert, describing the cuisine of the moment. Hung side by side on silk screen paper and at different heights, Jourdan’s work can literally be read column by column or line by line. There is no direction on how to interpret or decipher the message ‘correctly’. Jourdan’s work pokes fun at the ostentatious one-upmanship surrounding travel cuisine, presenting the audience with a slice of irony in both physical and theoretical manifestations of the work and its display.
Maryam Jafri’s film ‘Mouthfeel’ (2014) is the only video work shown. It sets a scene between a married couple, both highly business-minded and exasperatingly corporate. Like a television drama, it contains adverts selling Coca Cola and men’s grooming goods. The phrase ‘quality needs no introduction’ is repeated throughout the film and nearby is Jafri’s ‘Product Recall: An Index of Innovation’ (2014), two ready-made Pepsi baby bottles. These reference corporate cover-ups of harmful food products and the insanity of contemporary consumer culture.
Reflecting the highly corporate nature of Jafri’s works is Kate Sansom’s oil-based diptychs. Sansom’s works were originally on show in a digital gallery, Photoshopped into the virtual exhibition. This placed her practice directly inside a production environment. In each work at Rowing, fake fur and synthetic grass creeps directly out of the canvas to represent a kind of unnatural materiality within her playfully titled works: ‘Prescription Jelly Tot’ (2014) and ‘Lipton Front Yard Pool’ (2014).
Finally the exhibition is brought together by Sophie Lee’s ‘God speed the plough’ (2015). Framing the gallery as a whole, Lee’s painting circuits above its neighbouring works in a factory line of repetitive imagery. The small drawing was taken originally from a Viennese café in the 1920s. Easily mistaken for a donut assembly line, Lee’s work brings a sense of nostalgia to the exhibition, revealing something of the lost processes of food production before mass globalisation and transportation.
Today we have become far removed from the original food product. Everything we eat arrives in packaging designed conveniently to be picked off the shelf and consumed without question (there are 32 ingredients in a ‘simple’ juice drink, for example). The exhibition probes these daily habits by confronting viewers with the contemporary realities of food production. It refreshingly flags up the obscured nature of our complex relationship to food and nutrition, and reveals just how much our appetites are distorted and manipulated by global business concerns.