Paper presented to SAG 22 November 2018
Stories and Sculpture
Three years ago I started a series of art works celebrating the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Dada art movement which had seen the light of day in Zurich, in February 1916. Virtually every artistic principle and device which underlies the literature, music, theatre, and visual arts of our time was promoted, if not invented, by the Dadaists: the use of collage and assemblage; the use of random elements and chance in the act of creation, and satire, humour and critical comment also played their part.
Works of art are autobiographical in the general sense that all artists draw on life’s experiences. While a thoughtful analysis will reveal connections to various aspects of art history, in this series of sculptures the underlying influence is Dada, whether it be subversive, confronting, interactive, appropriation or elements of chance. However these works also incorporate my thinking, pet hates and enjoyment to do with food, nutrition and lifestyle trends. It is also important to understand that my art is made as an expression of myself, to help me think through and express my concerns or thoughts in a way that intellectually satisfies, the works are not made to please or communicate to other people, though, like anyone who makes things, I am really pleased if other people enjoy them and if, even a few, see the message.
A short aside about designing our logo. The process started with the concept of sharing, of sharing conversation and food. A pie cut into segments changed into a pizza, to better indicate a multicultural food heritage. Because Parramatta means “place where the eels dwell”, and eels represent our environment, wildlife and indigenous food heritage, I then thought about an eel pizza or an eel on a pizza. The idea of olives and the reds and browns of a pizza, lead to Aboriginal dot paintings, an idea quickly modified, as a test drawing started to look too close to appropriation of indigenous art, in addition dot paintings belong to a different cultural and regional area of Australia. So, after to taking a break and making a gin & tonic with Finger Limes from the garden, a slice of Finger Lime was incorporated into the mix, which happily could also be a slice of dragon fruit. The colours are a much modified blue and yellow/orange of Parramatta’s logo. I would also like to thank Colleen Duncan of Hollyhill graphics for her assistance in converting the concept drawings and sketches into a logo.
Butterflies & Moths
In our society it would seem that a bag of sterile potting mix is just as good as newly turned earth, or even better than dirt, as you do not have to do much to the potting mix, just plant, add extra fertiliser, spray for anything that looks like it might be alive and away you go. But as a gardener I am very aware that soil is more than just a medium for planting things.
Soil is not sterile, it is a whole biota of teeming life. Read the recent “Call of the Reed Warbler” by Charles Massey to get an understanding of how important living soil, including insect, animal and plant life, is to our food supply:
“Below ground, in a burgeoning mass of life and activity that is tenfold that above ground, fungi, bacteria and other organisms.. create and sustain.. a living, absorbent soil structure; the very heart and essence of healthy farming and landscape function.”
The very essence of the food we eat.
The things that are out of place are the industrial fertilisers and chemicals that are routinely sprayed on a large percentage of our agricultural lands and in our home gardens. These two sculptures are a comment on how we look at nature and for instance, think how beautiful butterflies are, then write music, poems, design fabrics and create dance, celebrating their beauty. Then we kill them, and display the body in a glass case.
The Bogong moth was also an influence, in that these migratory insects were a major indigenous food source and possibly could still be a food source for Australians except that the larva have been absorbing arsenic, from the industrial chemicals and fertilisers in the black soils of Queensland and ingesting large quantities of the adult moth is now dangerous.
We prefer to ignore the fact that the mulch and leaf litter is as rich a habitat for life as a coral reef. Leaf litter releases nutrients into the soil and keeps it moist. This dead organic material provides the perfect habitat for a plethora of organisms, including worms, snails, spiders, and microscopic decomposers like fungi and bacteria. The sin is that we hardly ever look, and if we do, anything strange is zapped.
Eating our wildlife has never been a strong suit of the immigrant European people of Australia or their descendants, attempts were made in the early years from 1788 on, but the food resources of indigenous Australians never really received much attention from the food industry let alone the general population. Except in very recent times, pioneered by the likes Vic Cherikoff who started Bush Tucker Supply Pty Ltd in the 1980’s , Jennice & Raymond Kersh of Edna’s Table fame and Jean-Paul Bruneteau, Riberries Restaurant, Andrew Fielke of Red Ochre restaurants, our wild life and indigenous plants were a fairly well kept secret. What we really needed was someone internationally famous to do the right thing and attractively package all our indigenous ingredients into a widely promoted series of pop-up dinners and today every restaurant worth its salt is really out of place if they do not incorporate native ingredients into their menus.
Now I am doing my bit to package and promote foraged local products found in my front paddock, a by-product of the local kangaroos and wallabies.
When I was growing up in a small seaside town in Queensland, quite a number of activities involved acquiring food, some were tasks like maintaining plots of pineapples and bananas, raising ducklings and chickens, gathering mushrooms in the neighbour’s cow paddock ( that farmer also introduced me to molasses which he kept to feed his poddy-calves, I adored it). Other neighbours had mango trees, mulberries and guavas. I remember eating parrot pie, my elder brother had shot the birds. We only had it the once though, they were so small, all bones and no meat, it was not worth the effort. But the sea and its bounty was a different matter, we fished, for yabbies and eels in waterholes, oysters and mud crabs in the mangroves and row boats out to the whiting grounds or to the reef. My dad and his mates netted Australian Salmon and Mullet from the beach, the women scaled and cleaned the catch, the men cooked on a wood fire, leftovers were made into fishcakes, taken home in the esky on the remains of the block of ice that had cooled the beer.
This sculpture embodies the wealth of our seas today through materials collected on walks along my local beach; crustacea, cuttlefish, molluscs pippis, glass, plastic.
Breasts are the delivery system used by mammals, including human beings, to supply milk; the first food we eat. In most mammals this is a relatively straight forward matter, however in the case of the human mammal, breasts and breast milk have been turned into a complicated social and sexual minefield, particularly since the 19th century and the ever increasing focus on breasts as sexual objects. However in this sculpture the influence was the way the breast is packaged by various factions. The media packaging breasts as sexual objects, particularly in photo journalism. The fashion industry, packaging through design, on the catwalk and in shop windows. The pornography industry through images still and video. The advertising industry in media and on the street.
In fact sometimes it seems hard to distinguish between fashion, advertising, journalism and pornography. Art is not immune, you only have to consider cinema, literature and paintings to name a few. Last but not least is the way the breast is packaged by those on all sides in the breast feeding debate, those “for”, consider the breast milk so sacrosanct that a sense of guilt can rub off on even those who, for all sorts of reasons, are unable to breast feed and have to use the milk of other mammals. Those “against” have denied nature and packaged breastfeeding as somehow out of place in public, something shameful, something to be hidden from public view.
Yak Butter Tea
Why is there a constant search for the new, the exotic food that will grace our supermarket shelves, that will grace our dining tables so we can impress our guests, that is if anyone ever invites people to share a meal at home anymore.
Will the next fashion be another rip off of an indigenous food tradition? As there is not much left to pinch from Peru now that we have been through the quinoa fashion, Yak Butter Tea maybe the way to go:
The traditional butter tea, enjoyed by the people of Tibet for thousands of years, is just waiting to be exploited as, according to organic facts website, the benefits include “increased energy levels, moisturizing the skin, warming the body, aiding digestion, boosting heart health, improving cognitive function, suppressing appetite and preventing dehydration and it is particularly helpful for people dealing with weight-loss problems, indigestion, low energy levels, fatigue, muscle weakness, fever, cognitive difficulties, poor water retention, chronic disease, diabetes as well as those with a high cancer risk.”
While most people don’t live in harsh conditions like Tibet, the same health effects that protect and support the Tibetan people can also be enjoyed by people around the world.
Of course non of the media stories will mention the side effects, caused by the caffeine, salt and butter, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular risks, headaches, anxiety, irritability and insomnia. At least they will not be mentioned until toward the end of the fashion cycle, when way is being cleared for the next super food discovery.
Entertainment, media and advertising have to be fed and food has not yet reached the point of full exploitation. So why not a frenzy for the half dozen Italian formaggio marcio, such as Abruzzo’s Marcetto, those particular breeds of regional cheese that are fermented via the larva of a cheese fly, and are a perfect fit, a new fad to boost the fading fashion for “ferment”.
In 1963 on one of my first visits to Sydney I happened in passing the Paris Theatre and dropped in to see a new release film, “Tom Jones “ and my relationship with food was changed forever, the banquet with Tom Jones and Mrs Waters is seared in my mind; Oysters and pears became my coming of age, so to speak. There have been numerous movies since which play the food and sex angle, from the egg yolk in “Tampopo”, through the Elio and the peach scene in “ Call me by your name” to Helen Mirren and asparagus in “The Cook, the Thief, the Wife and the Lover” as well as “The 100 foot Journey”, but I still find the scene from Tom Jones the best, mainly because of the humour and enjoyment of sensuous eating as foreplay.
Of course that little black dress of food, sex and food, food as sex, never goes out of fashion. Although, “I certainly love cumin” Nigella denies ever suggestively sucking a finger or delivering innuendos, the association between the two is alive and well in contemporary art and culture.
When I started as a full time student the National Art School, I did so at a mature age, after working for 12 years, I suddenly found myself studying and broke, working as a cleaner at night, trying to pay a mortgage as well as feed myself. Despite having had no experience in dealing with life’s necessities, having been fed, housed and clothed by the good grace of the Royal Australian Navy, I discovered the joys of cooking and given the lack of finances, the joys of cheap cuts of meat, cheap seafood and cheap vegetables used to flavour bread, pasta and rice; all washed down with flagon wine. Tongue, liver, tripe, shanks, neck chops, ox tail and pork belly. Mullet, octopus, squid and mussels, and only those vegetables and fruit that were in abundance and cheap. If I managed to eat out, it was Little Italy, Chinatown or the Greek’s. After discovering an Indonesian restaurant in the basement of an arcade in Pitt Street, I sought out obscure grocery shops for ingredients, the library for recipes, and taught myself Indonesian cooking, even if, for lack of knowledge and ingredients, there was some ad-libbing along the way. This was a great way to learn cooking and discover other food ways. Today most supermarkets carry at least the basics for numerous national cooking styles, though the downside is that our food obsessed culture has discovered the cheap and it is now expensive, beef cheeks are no longer dog food and the squid that was fish bait is served faceted like a jewel, but at least tripe has not been discovered, yet.
Apart from eating, drinking and making art, I love gardening, a broad brush term for gathering food as well as growing it. I have been a forager of wild plants all my life and indigenous foods were a part and parcel of my upbringing. When I started my garden on the south coast in 1985 I immediately introduced a range of indigenous fruits, nuts and vegetables : Bauple nuts ( known to non Queenslanders as Macadamia nuts, or if they have heard of Bauple nuts it is usually spelt as “Bopple“. The nut comes from a specific location and that is Mount Bauple and the nearby town of Bauple on the Fraser Coast.) Finger Limes (which also grow in the same region on the Fraser Coast), Lilli Pilli and Warrigal greens. When Dandelion and Purslane introduced themselves, they became a part of the food chain. Recently instead of planting the usual range of vegetables, beans, peas, cauliflower etc, I have been experimenting with yam daisy, native leek, vanilla lilies, pig-face and other edible Australian plants. This has been a difficult exercise, first finding the seed, working out how to get it to germinate, growing and then collecting seed for the following year. No matter what I did or whose method I followed I could not get yam daisy seed to germinate, until one day I just threw seed onto the garden bed and watered it with the hose and then ignored it, they all germinated. Of course now that they are flowering each plant is out of sinc with the others, a single flower on each plant only opening for a short while. I need dozens of plants instead of the very few that have managed to mature .. I am starting to wish someone would genetically modify…. No I am not, but I do wish Australia had taken notice of the food resources being cultivated by the Aboriginal people and developed them rather than destroying. “Mutant Jelly Beans” is my comment on GMO. Jelly Beans came to mind because they are associated with the USA, as is GMO and there is no satire or humour left in genetically modified corn or soybeans.
One day, while casually looking at an image of Titian’s 1538 painting, “Venus of Urbino”, a marriage portrait painted for the Duke of Urbino, who would have hung it in the privacy of his bedroom, I was contemplating the symbols of fidelity, the sleeping dog at the end of the bed and true love in marriage, symbolised by the red roses she is holding. I started wondering what the Duchess got up to on a Sunday afternoon while the Duke was out hunting venison for dinner.
This paper comes with Omega 3, 6, 9 and protein.
Contents : raw, organic, non gmo, vegan, paleo, gluten free, dairy free,
soy free and no added sugar.