Food waste as art

“It’s not something you really ever see, so watching food grow mouldy is fascinating to me. Usually it would go straight in the bin. But we shouldn’t be afraid of mould, it is another natural process that food goes through.”

Anonymous contributor, Your Stories

In a recent blog in Your Stories, the contributor describes how she sometimes sets aside gone-off vegetables and fruit to see “how they will turn” and go mouldy over the coming days and weeks. It feeds her curiosity rather than her appetite and adds another dimension to her relationship with food waste. It turns out she is not alone in her intrigue: some have even turned rotting food into an art form.

Cartoon by Erin Chapman for Your Stories post ‘Breaking the mould

We tend to ignore the uglier side of life, and food waste is no exception. Making decay into art is a fascinating way of remoulding our perceptions of waste. Plus, with art and exhibitions, there is none of the smells or hygiene risks usually posed by rotting food. We can experience it simply for its visual stimulation, and indeed, it appeals to us in a morbidly fascinating way.

The images can be shocking, and some artists have used this shock factor to start meaningful conversations about food waste. An example is ‘One Third’ (2012) by artist Klaus Pichler. The title reflects the proportion of food produced for human consumption that is wasted every year.

‘Strawberries’ by Klaus Pichler, One Third (2012)

Pichler photographed rotten and mouldy food on silver platters, oozing from table decorations or suspended in mid-air, grotesque and compelling. The presentations are caricatures of the abundance of food in the Western world, carelessly abandoned in their luxurious displays.

‘Instant Whipped Cream’, Klaus Pichler, One Third (2012)

Not solely art, the collection aims to inform and inspire action, and was presented for the first time at the United Nations FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) headquarters in Rome. We are given details of where the food was grown, its carbon footprint and how much water required to produce it, and the artist hopes this evokes the “connection between individual wastage of food and globalized food production”.

‘Pineapple’, Klaus Pichler, One Third (2012)

In a brighter exhibition, Kathleen Ryan undermines the value we usually place on mould in her project ‘Bad Fruit’ (2019). Her supersized lemons, oranges and pears are crafted from a foam base and adorned with thousands of intricately-laid beads.

‘Bad Lemon’, Kathleen Ryan, Bad Fruit (2019)

But contrary to our usual expectations for what is appealing and what is ugly, the beads that make up the unblemished, “good” parts of the fruit are made of plain, coloured glass, while the mould is formed from dazzling precious materials like gemstones, opals and pearls.

‘Soft Spot’, Kathleen Ryan, Bad Fruit (2019)

The real beauty is in the decay. She told Elephant Magazine: “Fruit is dying, but mould is thriving, by using natural materials for the mould it has this energy to it that you can feel.”

‘Serpentine Flurry’, Kathleen Ryan, Bad Fruit (2019)

Another work that plays with life and death of food is ‘Still Life’ (2001) by Sam Taylor-Johnson. The viewer would be forgiven for thinking that they are observing a painting of a bowl of fruit, displayed like a traditional, “Caravaggesque” still-life. But soon the fruit begins to change.

Film still, Sam Taylor-Johnson, Still Life (2001)

Soon we realise we are watching a film, and the fruit we have been admiring starts rotting down before our very eyes. Slowly at first, but as the mould and fungus take over, the fruit quickly slips helplessly into decay, and is gone within four minutes.

Film still, Sam Taylor-Johnson, Still Life (2001)

It was presented in the Tate Modern in the early 2000s on a loop, and although the Tate interprets the portrait as a death/resurrection apologue, the title instead implies a clever double meaning. “Still Life” could equally have been “Still Alive”. The fruit might be gone, but there is still life at work in the bowl, in the form of mould, fungus, bacteria and insects. It could be interpreted as a transformation rather than death.

Film still, Sam Taylor-Johnson, Still Life (2001)

For two young German artists Nikita Kakowsi and Max Slobodda, documenting their food waste as art helped them come to terms with the guilt they felt at accidentally wasting food. The sad occurrence of finding “lost treasures deep within our fridge” in their student house, spoiled and inedible, became something meaningful.

Nikita Kakowsi and Max Slobodda, 2016

The photographs allowed them to face their waste, instead of doing what most of us do and immediately throw it away. It is reminiscent of how some treatments for anxiety encourage us to examine the negative emotions that invade our mental space, not avoid them, and then let them go. Indeed, they tell VICE that “Somehow, photography became the perfect form of therapy for some of the visual trauma we caused ourselves over the years”.

Nikita Kakowsi and Max Slobodda, 2016

As we break down theories of food waste and explore the complex nature of waste behaviours and systems, properly acknowledging food waste is an important step. To fully appreciate food waste, sometimes we must hold it up to the light in all its stinking, furry, rotting glory. Facing waste can be fascinating, therapeutic, and thoughtful. The Your Story contributor became more mindful of the consequences of waste after watching food go off, and as a result never wasted food she considered more valuable, like meat.

Finding ways to talk about food waste is the key principle of this blog: the more we talk about it, the more we will find solutions. So why not share your food waste story too?

Published by foodwastestories

The first food waste magazine.

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