• #Realfood and the grape paradigm

    Once upon a time there was a bunch of grapes…

    In Art History, when it´s time to study still life paintings and talk about representing food, the story of the painters Zeuxis and Parrhasius comes along very frequently. And it goes like this:

    This last (Parrhasius), it is said, entered into a pictorial contest with Zeuxis, who represented some grapes, painted so naturally that the birds flew towards the spot where the picture was exhibited. Parrhasius, on the other hand, exhibited a curtain, drawn with such singular truthfulness, that Zeuxis, elated with the judgment which had been passed upon his work by the birds, haughtily demanded that the curtain should be drawn aside to let the picture be seen. Upon finding his mistake, with a great degree of ingenuous candour he admitted that he had been surpassed, for that whereas he himself had only deceived the birds, Parrhasius had deceived him, an artist.

    Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Second English translation, by John Bostock and H. T. Riley, 1855
    J.J. von Sandrart. Zeuxis and Parrhasius (detail). 1683. Wellcome Collection, CC BY 4.0

    What interests me the most about this story are the grapes. They are not real, but represented on the canvas. However, they are so realistically painted, that even some birds come flying to the painting. All according to Pliny, of course.

    And what´s your point, you are now probably wondering ?

    Well, not so long ago I was told about realfood and realfooders. And to tell you the truth, I hadn’t heard it before, but after investigating a little bit, it pretty much matched what I imagined it to be. Name well chosen. Summed up it means choosing fresh and ´real´ food like vegetables, meat, fish or dairy, to name just a few examples, and discarting ultra-processed food like industrialized sweets and breads, soft drinks and pre-packed meals.

    Giving it some thought, I started to connect everything. Zeuxis´ deceit with the bunch of grapes on the one hand, and real and ultra-processed food on the other. What a mess!

    Joaquina Serrano y Bartolomé. A bunch of grapes, 1875. Museo Nacional del Prado

    The grapes featuring this story are depicted as a painting, but physically they are made out of paint, varnish, canvas, etc. Ultra-processed food is also portrayed as something it´s not. It is depicted as food, but it´s made with highly manipulated ingredients and quite some preservatives and additives. Fresh ingredients cannot be recognized anymore in these types of products, or at least in the end result.

    Sweets shop in Dubai – Unsplash

    Ultra-processed food seemed to me like the painted grapes. Sorry, Zeuxis. Very beautiful and colorfull at first sight, imitating the real thing, but in the end, it´s not food like a real bunch of grapes, a loaf of bread or a glass of milk. Moreover, just like the birds approach the canvas to pick on the grapes, we as consumers approach ultra-processed food as if it were real food.

    Museum store in Odaiba – Unsplash

    Nevertheless, I would like to bring nuance to this deceit. In general, we are well aware we are looking at a painting or at another work of art, even though it´s not always as easy to perceive. But, do we have the same certainty when we are buying and consuming ultra-processed food? Or do we ignore the obvious and buy out of ease or greed, more than anything?

    Grocery store – Unsplash

    Zeuxis´ painting with the grapes would be like many aisles at grocery stores: endless rows of soft drinks, junk food, candies and snacks.

    And are we going to let it fool us any longer?

  • Gyotaku: the spirit of a fish at ´La Pecera´

    An ancient Japanese fisherman’s technique, the vastness of the sea and a great talent to shape ideas.

    As if he were a fishmonger or a bartender, the merchant of La Pecera unfolds his apron and ties it to his waist before attending his customers. But don´t expect him to fillet a fish, or serve you a pint. Instead, he will present us the works that are hanging in this particular market stall.


    During the first weeks of November, a dozen works of art have been covering a wall of the gallery La Pecera de la CebadaThe fish bowl of la Cebada. Visual artist and designer Noelia Báscones Reina has created these works for the gallery at the Madrilenian market Mercado de La Cebada and has titled the exhibition: GYO/collection.

    The leading actors of these simple, but solid works of art are printed fish. These fish transferred on paper in black ink have been made with the real fishes as a template, a Japanese technique called gyotaku. They are rubbed with non toxic ink and pressed against the rice paper, resulting in an accurate reproduction of the very own animal.

    The reproductions on paper were indeed the main purpose, used by Japanese fisherman to show their buyers their daily catch at the fish auction. 

    Noelia Báscones Reina, Pez grande pez pequeño

    So, what better location to show this technique nowadays, than a market? Don´t we all like to see the fish, the meat, the vegetables, or any other produce before we buy it? Especially at a market we have a very good opportunity to check their quality and freshness, and let the seller advice us. 

    Aside from the beauty of these depicted fish, what adds up to the value of this exhibition, in my opinion, is that the artist not only shows us the technique, but is adding different layers to her works, and I´m not only referring to the layers of material, of course. 

    Noelia Báscones Reina, Lapiz – tinta

    In a very subtle way she includes pieces of robe as if they were scraps of a fishing-net, or secures a few grates beneath a seam, to bring important issues to debate, such as the alarming pollution of our seas or the enormous amounts of food waste we all generate. She also points a fish in the direction of a plate made by a round laced paper or adds eating sticks or cutlery to reflect aboutour current consumption habits. We can even read the wavy paper as the metallic store shutter, through which the fish in this case, has to be transported in order to be sold, as a little reminder of the journey from the sea to our table. 

    Noelia Báscones Reina, Espina I, Plato I, Cuca

    None of the materials or the words that Noelia has used have been chosen lightly, each one adds depth, resulting in collection of modern still lifes that exude quality and freshness, just like the fish at the auction. 

    Thanks to this exhibition at La Pecera, the market not only offers food, but it gives us the opportunity to reflect on the provenance of the products, on the way we eat and on the waste that is generated by the product itself and its capture or production.

    We leave this market stall hungry, with the urge to visit more. During only a few weeks, we have seen the immense sea in just a little fish bowl.

  • FoodFuturesArt, the future of food according to contemporary artists

    This article was first published in Spanish on June 9th at TheFoodieStudies

    L ast June 2nd the artist Romina de Novellis sat down on a white sheet that was covered with chunks of watermelon. She was wearing a white tablecloth as a dress. Very slowly, she began to take out the pulp from another watermelon and to eat it. Meanwhile, two musicians were accompanying her, one on the violin, the other on the accordion, and a video installation was screened in the background on which the artist herself was eating a pomegranate in the company of two vultures.

    The italian artist has been chosen to present the first performance of the FoodFuturesArt festival, organized by the Faust Cultural Centre in Hannover. During the next few weeks, until July 7th, around twenty german and international artists will show their particular view on the future of our food with their photography, installations, video, paintings and performances. The aim of this project is to find ways to adopt habits that assure healthy and conscious nutrition, without forgetting about the climate change and the ever growing world population.

    To introduce the theme of this festival, its curators have chosen a video from the renowned artist Daniel Spoerri. It shows a long table with chairs, all made from the scraps of wrapping material. Spoerri, who is famous for introducing the term “Eat art” and for his Spoerri Restaurant, inspired a great number of artists to use food residue and other objects used around eating in their works of art.

    During her performance “Inferno”, the artist De Novellis uses various pieces of watermelon with which she makes its materialistic quality tangible in various ways. However, her own body is still the most important vehicle to express herself. According to the organization we can translate the ripping, the throwing away and the non stop eating of the watermelon as a symbol of the waste of food that exists in many parts of the world. On the other hand, the red flesh and juice stand for the blood of the lives that are taken by all the waste.

    Her performance, presented by the artist for the third time since 2015, has been combined with the second part of her video installation “Augurii” from 2014. In the video we can see De Novellis in various scenes filmed in her apartment, always in the company of two vultures: eating pomegranate at the table, taking a bath, breastfeeding her baby and lying on the bed.

    The repetitive act of eating watermelon, extensive duration of the performance and large quantity of the fruit with red stains on the sheet and tablecloth, all make Romina´s proposal visually very potent. The video on the background adds tension and an almost violent touch to the whole picture, seeing two wild animals in a different habitat and the consequences there might be for the artist and her family with the animals being in the house.

    Within the context of the Hannover project, Romina´s proposal must remind us of the enormous amount of food waste. According to FAO, a third of food that is grown in the world is lost before getting to the market, or is wasted in homes and eating establishments.

    Meanwhile, the UN has just concluded an international symposium around the same subject, but from an institutional and academic perspective, rather than artistic. The importance of creating awareness around food waste has been of the utmost importance to all kinds of institutions. Moreover, food waste is closely related to hunger that is suffered within large parts of the population and the fatal consequences it has for many lives. The vultures in Romina´s work, just like hunger and human negligence, are always luring.

    “Mall II”, Hartmut Kiewert, 2016; “Diners Club”, Lenny Ratnasari Weichert; “Food Rotation”, Helmut Henning; Dinner with Leon Joskowitz

    During the next few weeks, other artists from around the world will present their work in Hannover, artworks dealing with security, sustainability, residue treatment, food preparation and emergency reserves. Besides these artistic proposals, there are several conferences, workshops and dinners prepared to complement the program. May this project serve as a platform to generate great initiatives and tangible proposals to fight the problems we are currently facing and most importantly, will be facing in our food future.

  • ARCO 2019: Food in three contemporary works of art

    This article was originally published in Spanish on March 11th on TheFoodieStudies.

    There are lots of ways to face 30.000m2 filled with paintings, installations, sculptures, videos and other contemporary artworks. Some people search for new trends, other people come looking for renowned artists, and others to get to know new galleries and make contacts.

    I´m specialized in food and art and my goal when visiting ARCO is quite clear: look for food, edibles. Not in restaurants on the fairground, nor in the temporary food stands and bars at ARCO itself. I look for food on the walls, on the floors, or wherever the artwork is placed. This approach is very defined, I admit, but on the other hand, it´s a very stimulating visit.

    The search this year hasn´t been easy, but from the ones I have seen, I will tell you about a couple of interesting finds, not just visually, but also from the artists objective point of view, once you find out something more about their work.

    Marcel Odenbach. Seduction, 2016. Collage on paper.

    1. Seduction

    The first thing I spot when entering pavilion 9 is a big pink painting with three enormous wafer biscuits and an obvious pop art looks. It is made by the German (video) artist Marcel Odenbach. Once you start approaching the work however, the wafers disappear, and an endless number of photographs start to show, all of them arranged by colour scheme to form the two different layers, the wafer and the chocolate and hazelnut filling. The big pink background then transforms into pages and pages of books in German. According to the gallery, all these elements together form an ode to the city of Vienna, the wafers as a symbol of the city and the collage of photographs with portraits of famous people as a symbol of the Austrian scientific and cultural world. Among them you can see the neurologist Sigmund Freund or the poet Ingeborg Bachman just to name a few.

    Manuel Franquelo-Giner. “It’s, oh… what is that word? It’s so big, so complicated, and so sad”(fragment), 2019. Stucco, polyuretane resin, pigment, zip bag, Inkjetprint of Canson Photorag paper, aluminum frame.

    2. It’s, oh… what is that word? It’s so big, so complicated, and so sad

    At the other end of the hall, I have found a little piece inside the wine bar ´Bodega Opening´. The bar is a proposal from Ansón&Bonet for this ARCO edition to serve glasses of wine and sandwiches, and has had quite a lot of success, it was constantly packed, specially during lunch time. Back to the art work, which is a photograph representing a slice of meat in a zip bag, hanging from a plate. Or something that looks like a piece of meat on a plate.

    According to the artist´s comments on his Instagram account, Manuel Franquelo-Giner states that the paint isn´t actually paint, the meat isn´t actually meat, nor the photograph is what we understand as a photograph. Trough this and other works, such as for example his series ´Absent Referents´, he means to reflect on the path the food industry has taken, on the ecological disaster and on the human supremacy over animals and the unanimated. Quite a statement in this little piece.

    Wolfgang Tillmans. Freezer still life, 2017. Inkjet print, framed.

    3. Freezer still life

    At the end of the tour I stand still by a photograph from Wolfgang Tillmans, which at first sight suggests that we are looking at a still life, given the angle of the shot and the composition consisting of a variety of objects that look edible. Instead, if we look closely, we see a scene filled with elements that don´t usually end up in still life pictures or paintings, not in the historic nor in the current ones. The scene has been set up in a freezer, with a chunk of ice cubes, an empty egg shell and some dry leaves. Nothing edible or attractive, although there is something that looks like a potato and maybe some cucumbers, but it´s not quite clear what they are. Looking at other still lifes from the artist, we can see well known elements mixed with more odd-looking items. These works draw the attention to them precisely because of that factor: they look very familiar, but at the same time they are taken out of their usual context or composition to create a strangely attractive scene.

    With just these three works we can say that food is clearly present in contemporary art, and from different points of view, from ethical and civic responsibility to visual play with daily objects, to representation of cultural identity on different levels. They are all works which not only stand out visually but generate all kinds of ideas to think about as well.


    D uring the build of the new city market in Cuenca in the 1960´s, a very special order was made, which was intended to give the construction a more artistic look, but without losing sight of the purpose of the building, which was of course the gathering and selling of food. The work was commissioned but was eventually never placed, and the market was finished without its intended artistic look.

    Last week I was speechless when visiting the exhibition on the work of the ceramist Pedro Mercedes at the museum Casa Zavala in Cuenca. Not only because I was introduced to the work of this artist, but because I discovered what the commission for the market was all about. Pedro Mercedes made a series of fascinating works that are indeed close related to the theme mycurioseaty is also into… Indeed, food! Some of the murals we already shown to the public in 2007, for me however, they were completely new.

    One of the rooms of this exhibition is designated to a series of murals that he created to decorate the façade of the city market after it was build sixty years ago. With his characteristic scraping technique, Pedro Mercedes created spectacular images of daily scenes related to large part of the food chain and, in particular to the market life.

    He made a total of sixteen individually themed murals, which were formed by several smaller panes. This was necessary due to the measurements and consecutive restrictions of the clay oven. Part of these murals can still be admired at this exhibition until next December 16th. As soon as you enter the room where they are on now located, you are overwhelmed with the images. A different lively scenery is displayed on each of them, it´s hard to pick just one of them, they all capture your attention and make you stare at all the figures and objects they show us.

    No sketches or preliminary drawings were made. The ideas Pedro Mercedes had in mind were directly transformed into the clay with his scraping technique, resulting in these beautiful two-coloured murals. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. They are worth admiring.

    Pedro Mercedes, Harvesting with love, scraped clay panes. Temporary exhibition Casa Zavala, Cuenca.

    Pedro Mercedes, Farmers to the market, scraped clay panes. Temporary exhibition Casa Zavala, Cuenca.

    Pedro Mercedes, The butcher shop, scraped clay panes. Temporary exhibition Casa Zavala, Cuenca.

    Pedro Mercedes, The bakery, scraped clay panes. Temporary exhibition Casa Zavala, Cuenca.

    Pedro Mercedes, The fish shop, scraped clay panes. Temporary exhibition Casa Zavala, Cuenca.

    A frieze on the market´s façade was reserved to place these murals decades ago. The frieze is located at street level just beside the sidewalk and currently beside parking spaces as well. It´s not difficult to image that this location was perfect for quick decay and that vandals wouldn´t have to try too hard to damage the murals. The decision therefore not to place them after all, to preserve them, to avoid decay and to avoid direct damage has made it possible for us today to be able to admire them. Despite that, it would have been interesting to see them at their original location, for which Pedro Mercedes made one of the largest works of his entire career.


    Fernando Zóbel, Ornitóptero, 1962. Museo de Arte Abstracto Español, Cuenca. Image: Fundación Juan March, www.march.es


    W  hat if we were asked to create a dish based on an abstract work of art? Where would we start, how would we use it as an inspiration for the creation and presentation of a dish?

    I´m not a professional chef. I love to cook and if I say so myself, I do a pretty good job. However, being successful at this proposal and not make a simple copy of the work, is quite another thing. I believe this task would be too difficult for me, luckily, the contest is meant for trained chefs.

    Several professionals will face this task during the second gastronomic contest ´Cuenca Abstracta´ held next October 8th in the city of, you guessed it, Cuenca, where they will need to use a selection of local ingredients to prepare their ´abstract dish´.

    Last year the work chosen for this challenge was the ´Ornitóptero´ by the painter Fernando Zóbel. As much as I observe the print of this work I have at home, I still find it very difficult…

    Ah, well, I´m not a chef, but let´s give it a go anyway, even if it´s just some brainstorming…

    Using ingredients with the same white and black colour scheme could be an option, or creating geometric forms, straight lines or faded brushstrokes. We would even get more technical and think of the type of materials used in the painting and the texture of the ingredients, or draw inspiration from the device itself that gives his title to the painting, the ornithopter. Even the great Leonardo da Vinci made drawings of it, enough stuff to think about and draw ideas from, don´t you think?

    Luis Feito, Nº 460-A, 1963. Museo de Arte Abstracto Español, Cuenca. Photo: Fundación Juan March, www.march.es

    For this year´s contest, the work chosen by the association ´Cuenca Abstracta 2016´ is ´Number 460-A by the artist Luis Feito. A clear change of colour scheme, texture, form… I´m going to leave it at that, just in case. Let´s see how the chefs manage to reflect, even a little bit of this work on a plate.

    It seems to me that this is quite a good idea to stimulate creativity in an amusing way, and to get to know the artistic and culinary heritage of the region better. Maybe I will give it a go myself at home, I´m curious to know what the result will be, don´t you?