Imagine a birthday cake decorated in a specific image, or a bento-box creatively arranged to pique the interest and imagination of a Japanese grade-schooler, or even the elegant and often minimalist displays designed to heighten the experience of elitism at a five-star restaurant. All of these forms of appetizing expression represent food that is artistic. In each case the purpose of the presentation is to complement the work’s primary function: to be edible.
Food’s innate gastronomic function, its significance in relation to our basic human needs, and the fascinating sensory phenomenon of taste, have a tendency to color the lens through which we view edible items. Quite understandably, we generally see them as things to eat.
The Shoe-Burger represents a very different approach to the eatable: as material for high-art. Unlike the afore-mentioned examples of artistic food, this ephemeral sculpture was not made to be eaten. On the contrary, instead of the shoe design being a creative presentation for a burger, the burger serves as a creative medium for representing the shoe. The shoe-burger transcends the practical purpose of food items to occupy the intellectual space of high-art.
By casting off their traditional nutritional functions, the ingredients employed in this composition cease to be food and become symbols. Despite the first world’s tendency to take it for granted, food is charged with personal, cultural, economic, and political significance. When our instinctual focus on the gastronomical function of food is taken away, these other implications can rise to the surface to be examined.
On one level, by using edible ingredients to create a representation of a shoe (a traditionally practical and important article of clothing) the artist sets up a potential dialogue between two very basic human needs: food and clothing. Using one basic necessity to represent another allows the viewer to confront the way in which these needs are prioritized, both in their own lives, and on a larger scale.
The artist’s specific selection of hamburger to construct this representation is also significant. The burger is both a symbol of an overarching American cultural identity, and an emblem of our nation’s tendency towards consumerism. Closely associated with the hamburger is the fast-food chain and mental images of obesity. In addition the shoe bears the unmistakable trademark of the Nike Swish, adding another layer to the commentary on American consumerism. These two symbolic subjects work in tandem to paint a picture of American excess.
The shoe-burger not only encourages us to examine the prioritization of human needs and to confront the role that food and consumerism play in our national identity.
These two levels of analysis can also be compounded to paint a grim picture of our nation’s role in a global society. While many countries and peoples struggle with the unavailability of such basic human necessities as food and clothing, the abundance of these amenities in our culture has allowed for the production of such an ironic artifact: A shoe that is not for wearing and a meal that is not for eating.