Monday, December 8, 2008

The Vegetable Museum

If art is a way of defamiliarizing the world, of bringing our attention to dwell on the strangeness of certain objects, thoughts, or actions, then vegetables, in their innate weirdness, are a natural medium for this kind of aesthetic reflection. (The ghosts of Russian Formalism and Viktor Shklovsky are nodding their spectral heads in approval as I type.)

When our Veg-on-the-Street correspondent, Endive Haricot, forwarded me a link to The Vegetable Museum, the vegetable art project of Beijing artist Ju Duoqui, I immediately recognized in her a kindred spirit, though one far more skilled than I in the art of wielding the vegetable. Parents teach their children not to play with their food, but Duoqui's work recovers the secret bounty that is lost when vegetables are reduced to mere vehicles of nutrition.

After shelling several kilograms of peas to make herself an entire pea-lady outfit two summers ago, Ju Duoqui decided to get even wackier and reconstruct classics of Western art via the wide world of vegetables (the tofu Mona Lisa, a leeky Van Gogh, Klimt's naughty kiss between radishes, begging the question: where's the beet?!). Of the tableau above, Liberty Leading the Vegetables (the inspiration is Eugène Delacroix's La Liberté guidant le peuple) the artist writes:

Against that fiery fried-egg backdrop, this woman who emanates onion smells from her breast and carries a spring onion spear in her left hand and a wood ear flag in her right, draped in a tofu skin robe, leads the vegetable people forward. The yam soldiers, with their bewildering little round eyes raise a cabbage banner. Having figured out what moving forward means, have they lost their momentum? Each of the potato-head soldiers has a different expression, not sure of their bearing, perhaps surprised, but that is definitely a completely unadorned potato. You wouldn’t know them any better if they were chopped into French fries and covered in ketchup, but when placed in the picture, they all appear unfamiliar and rich in facial expression.

How well do we really know our vegetables, regardless of the form they take? I am particularly taken with the line: "this woman who emanates onion smells from her breast." Think of it, the onion body from which flow the tangible traces of courage and hope. Maybe that Obama onion wasn't so random after all...

Another vegetable piece of Ju Duoqui's that I am fond of is The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Pickled Cabbage, which is a lumpy revision of Rembrandt's The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolas Tulp:

And here's a saucy little Tim Burton-style potato 'n' lettuce Napoleon:

Dig the little eggplant shoe and the cilantro cravat. All photos and the artist's statement are taken from the Paris-Beijing Photo Gallery, where even more vegetable masterpieces await your perusal.


eek said...

This is an excellent discovery.

What in the world are the heads of the anatomy students (and the surgeon) made of? Sunchokes? Methinks they're too smooth...

I hereby offer to fashion a victory wreath of turnip greens for whomever gets it right.

kale daikon said...

I was thinking grotesque corn kernels. There is a reference to Dr. Pickled Cabbage, but I'm not sure if that's what pickled cabbage looks like. Do they have sunchokes in China? Also, I would like to know what the delicate collars are made of.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of these weird posters on the wall of a fast food restaurant I used to go to in Novato. I don't think I'd call them "art," but it's fun to marvel at the mere fact of their existence. (Erin, I think I told you about these...)

kale daikon said...

Wow, thanks for the link. I think this requires its own post. I'm really into the "Jalapeño Jeaven." Those jalapeños look jummy!