Monday, July 20, 2009

Vegetable Terrain

When I was growing up, my favorite vegetable was broccoli, mainly because they reminded me of little trees and I would pretend to be a giant while I ate them. I mentioned this on my profile for America Online, back in the dark ages of social networking sites, and was promptly invited to join the Broccoli Club, of which I became a proud member at the tender age of thirteen. My adult self has since deemed broccoli too normal to enter the weird vegetable pantheon. I was delighted, then, to find that British artist Carl Warner's Amazing Foodscapes project could provide me with the opportunity to remember the way that broccoli trees can strangely disorient our sense of proportion.

To further add to your astoundment, I shall reveal that the mountains in the above photographic tableau are made of bread, the clouds of cauliflower, the waterfall a spray of sugar, with a fragmented vanilla pod ladder and herb hills traversed by a cumin trail. It's funny how the process of demystification in this case adds to the wonder of the feat, perhaps because the art itself here isn't nearly as interesting as its material construction.

Bread dissolves to underwater cauliflower in this cave scene. And the stalactites win the award for Most Dangerous-Looking Carrots. These photographs came to me in a PowerPoint presentation of unknown authorship forwarded by a professor to whom I have a certain Romantic connection (British Romanticism, that is. . . Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley, little Johnny Keats who always draws a tear from my eye--you get the idea).

Could Carl Warner be Britain's answer to Beijing artist Ju Duoqui? While the vegetable tableaux of each seem to reference college dorm poster art (Duoqui recreates famous Western paintings, like Mona Lisa and The Scream), I must say I prefer Duoqui's work, which seems a bit more thoughtful and less sterile than Warner's, whose ideal edibles give no sense of impending decay and seem to evoke a universe in which even foodstuffs can be pumped full of Prozac, except for these trippy mushrooms, whose mood-altering substance of choice should be pretty obvious.

One indicator of the easy consumption encouraged by Warner's scenes is that he has been commissioned to create more of them for ad campaigns by British supermarket chain Sainsbury's, a Swedish frozen food company named Findus, and a cheese company in northwest England's Lake District, an area known to me for its association with several Romantic poets, incidentally. I was reassured, nevertheless, of something more twisted lurking about the broccoli tree composition after Warner revealed in this interview that this particular foodscape was inspired by the spiteful apple-throwing trees in The Wizard of Oz that terrorized his child self (the role of "apple" is played in Warner's scene by peas). In this sense, perhaps he's a kind of food art David Lynch, exploring disturbances that lie just a grass blade beyond these cheery, faux-functional exteriors.

You can read more on Warner in this Daily Mail article and view a slideshow of his work (including the scary meatscapes that I left out) at the Daily Telegraph.

Those desirous of pursuing a more Romantic interest in vegetables should read Percy Bysshe Shelley's 1884 "A Vindication of Natural Diet," in which he proclaims the moral and physical advantages of vegetarianism with impassioned pleas such as: "By all that is sacred in our hopes for the human race, I conjure those who love happiness and truth, to give a fair trial to the vegetable system." And speaking of fair trials, it should be remembered that Frankenstein's so-called "monster" was a vegetarian, maybe even vegan (and a novel creation of the missus, Mary Shelley). Alas, I fear I remain the more monstrous creature, wandering now and again beyond the green pastures of strict vegetarianism into the pleasures of carnivorous kingdoms.


Cristin said...

You're right. Those meatscapes were scary! These photos remind me of a trip to the Dali Museum in Spain. Thanks for pointing them out.

kale daikon said...

Yes, the meatscapes remind me a little of a Candyland scene. Sinister... Hope this doesn't upset your dreamlife too much.