February 12, 2018 / Luxury Lifestyle

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.

Australian artist Elizabeth Willing blends the boundaries between food and art, hosting participatory dining events as well as creating interactive installations using food. Photograph: David Kelly, courtesy Museum of Brisbane. Banner image: A detail from <i>Afternoon Pick-Me-Up</i> (2015).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.

I consider myself a host as well as an artist

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.”

Originally created for the Institute of Modern Art Brisbane and the Brenda May Gallery in Sydney, <i>Goosebump</i> (2010) featured gingerbread cookies attached to a wall with royal icing. Guests were invited to eat the work.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.

<i>Afternoon Pick-Me-Up</i> (2015), exhibited at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin. At first appearing to be a sort of landscape painting, the installation actually comprised thousands of wrapped pieces of chocolate for visitors to enjoy.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.”

Abstract from a distance, a closer look at <i>Untitled</i> (2014) reveals it is in fact a wall of toasted marshmallows.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.

Elizabeth Willing has also expanded into performative work, hosting tastings with custom-made cutlery and dishes, such as <i>Tipping Plate</i> (2016). Photograph: Mark Sherwood. Image courtesy QAGOMAThe 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.”

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Nione Meakin
is a UK-based writer whose work has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Marie Claire, and Grazia