Aesthetics and the senses / Food and Culture

Truth Through Trash

Throughout the years food has evolved from an essential for survival, into many different forms of art. Food can even be considered “aesthetic based on how the delivery of food appears to our senses” according to Elizabeth Telfer. However, this type of luxury food which is delivered as “art” is not always as tangible for what society believes to be the inferior race, African American. In this enlivening piece of art by Professor Martin Irvine, it is obvious that the quality of food used was not of the same quality as what one would serve in a five star restaurant. It is fair to say, a chef would only use foods that cause the consumer to feel “savored, appraised or thought about” (Telfer). Yet, these leftover scraps would never leave a consumer feeling as satisfied and therefore can not be seen as “art” according to Telfer. Still, that sad fact does not degrade the quality of “art” shown through trash.  Marvin states that this photograph demonstrates a “reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.”

This masterpiece was inspired by pickers who were working in a landfill at the time. While observing the pickers work, he decided to share their story by recapturing the scene with pieces of trash, peanut butter and old food the pickers had been working with. Marvin even had many of the workers help in making their self-portraits. Mădălina Diaconuwould consider the sense of touch used in the making of this project “a sense of aesthetic experience of fine art.” Most food portraits are created with tasty, delicious, savored foods. But in this case, the items used were anything but that. It can be assumed that the type of people this art represents, most likely do not live in the best of places with the most desirable/healthiest types of food at their disposal. That however is what makes this artwork ironic. The sad reality of these people’s lives is shared in the deeper meaning of this picture. The value of happiness and life of these pickers is very poor, and comparable to the quality of materials that were used to create their self portraits. Fortunately, the meaning of the portrait has greater quality than the actual materials.Through this picture you can imagine how hard life is for these people and come to appreciate everything we are given, even food. This photo to some may bring back memories or cause the imagination to wonder from one thought to another (a type of taste according to Carolyn Korsmeyer). But in the end it shows life and culture and gives us all a reason to be thankful.


3 thoughts on “Truth Through Trash

  1. Sarah,
    I’m really interested in how you consider the “pickers” participation in the formation of these portraits. Does that interaction between self and art represent or echo the connection between eating and the body? Can the things we touch, or put into our bodies to eat, alter and influence how we as individuals are portrayed to the world? I suppose this portrait makes me really consider the notion of self representation through physical materials like food (though we might also consider things like clothes, cars, music, etc).
    Maybe you really “ARE” what you eat!

    • I really liked the connection that you drew between the materials used for this piece and the lives of the subjects. i think that this is a really powerful aspect of food art that other mediums lack because there is that inevitable intrinsic connection that we all have with the foods that we eat and with the eating of food in general. While in many cases food can constitute a form of self-representation and definition (as Krystal mentioned) I think that to some degree, food (as an icon of socio economic status, or culture, or geographic location or anything else that effects what types of food you have access to) also represents an involuntary means of external definition. As you described, these pickers don’t have access to the same kinds/qualities of food as people in a more privileged socio-economic position and are almost certainly defined (to some extent) by the fact that they are consuming food that they found in a dumpster. Case and point. despite the moving aspect of this work where Professor Irvine draws attention to the hardship of these people. By creating their portraits with trash, he is publicly and concretely defining them as being what they eat.

      Something else that i find interesting about this work and its context, is the role of waste as a product of consumerism (which i seem to be really stuck on in these pieces). I assume (though i could be wrong) that these pieces were done in America? and that these pickers were American pickers of diminished means? in which case i find it horribly disturbing that so much edible food is just being thrown away. Maybe we can also explore the way that both the pickers and the people who throw the trash away are mutually defined by the food which (discarded by one and picked up by another) connects them to each other.

  2. Krystal Im glad you brought that up because even though i was technically writing about that question (are we what we eat) i hadn’t even thought of that. as i stated in an earlier post i am starting to believe that statement is true. why else would people go to such extremes or pass judgment. even though it is not “technically” true i think its true on the shallow end of what other people think.

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