Food + Art + Medium at the Food Book Fair
The first panel at the inaugural Food Book Fair brought together a far-reaching group of artists to discuss the increasing prevalence of food in the art world, either as a subject or a medium. Each artist has arrived at using food in their art in their own, unique way. The line connecting them is the ability of food to engage viewers in their art. Nicole Caruth, an artist, curator, and writer, moderated a panel that included the performance artists Jennifer Rubell and Tattfoo Tan, photographer and radio host Michael Harlan Turkell, artist Victoria Yee Howe, and Boston Tree Party founder Lisa Gross.
Food plays a significant but very different role in each of the artists' lives. Lisa Gross, who kicked of the panel, founded The Boston Tree Party. Their mission is to bring communities together through the planting of apple and pear trees. She is a champion of Urban Farming and believes that bringing people together in this way builds strong communities, promotes healthy eating habits and builds a healthy environment.
Jennifer Rubell, a performance artist, has aways found food central to her art. She incorporated food almost unconsciously in her art from the beginning. Her pieces are "happenings," and she uses "prompts" to get people to interact and react to her installations. She eventually realized that food was one of the most effective prompts and it has been integral to her work ever since. She has used one actual ton of bananas, 2,000 hard-boiled eggs, bacon, croissants, and pink cotton candy in her work.
Victoria Yee Howe is an artist who became a pastry chef to make ends meet. The hard work and grueling hours eventually lead her to leave the food business and focus on her art. She started pop-up bakeries and temporary installations around food. For her, the food itself is not as interesting as as the reactions to it and the environments that surround it.
For Tattfoo Fan, the food connection started when he decided to eat more naturally colorful food. To achieve this he tried to match his food to the Pantone color palette. Two positive results came out of this experiment. Pantone place mats that became a big hit and a healthier diet. From that starting point, he has used art to build a connection to the environment around us in a positive and, importantly, fun way.
The final panelist was Michael Harlan Turkell. Starting with a job in a pizza parlor at 15, he was always interested in a career in food, a math degree non-withstanding. While working his first full-time job in a restaurant, he bought a camera. But with the long hours in the restaurant he found the only time he had to shoot was while at the restaurant. He began shooting his mis-en-place and surroundings and from this his "Back of the House" project was born — a series of photographs of the unseen workings of New York's restaurants. Circumstance dictated his art and he hasn't looked back.
For all the artists on the panel, food has become an integral part of their work. For Jennifer Rubell and Michael Harlan Turkell, food has always had a prominent place in their lives, and through happenstance and practicality it has taken a prominent place in their work. To Lisa Gross, food is an obvious vehicle to connect with people and to inspire them.
In the case of Victoria Yee Howe and Tattfoo Fan, food has sent them in opposite directions. Victoria Yee Howe moved away from food, using it as a starting point to push into art and experience, with the the visceral reactions to "food" more interesting than the food itself. For Tattfoo Tan, his art inspired his choices of food and lead him to explore the importance of food and it's role in our lives.
For all the artists on the panel, incorporating food, in any fashion, is perfectly natural. As a material it is as important as paint or clay. As a subject it is as natural as a lanscape or model. Most importantly, food makes the connection between the artist and viewer, no matter the background, an easier one.