Food & Art 1


I’m not sure if the title of this series is a reference to Wittgenstein’s Beetle In A Box theory. If so it is tenuous and I cannot make a connection between Wittgensein’s views on language and the work here. But as a political / food / art statement it is close to where I see my practice developing after SYP.

Sophie Wright from LensCulture interviewed Italian photographers Michela Benaglia and Emanuela Colombo on their work on the future of food; insects. This is a topic that has been around for some time now in the food industry. Of course many cultures think nothing of eating bugs, including spiders, grasshoppers and worms. The amount of sustainable nutrition and protein they contain is indisputable. A BBC program a few years ago showed Thai village children collecting giant crickets from the farmer’s fields after school to be taken in for lunch the next day. The teacher combined all the insects and stir fried them with soy whilst the children queued up to eat. Free, sustainable, nutritious food and pest control for the farmer – what’s not to like!

Quite a lot as far as the Western diet is concerned. I rather like stir fried crickets and have used them on Thai workshops at my school. But I do suspect that as long as we have alternative protein to choose from in the UK we are several generations away from insects forming the bulk of our protein.

In rural Cambodia, small children winkle tarantula from their burrows for mum to quickly grill over an open fire. The spider is eaten as we would a crab, meat sucked from legs and abdomen. It is a valuable source of potassium that would otherwise be absent from their diet. Here it is an indistinguishable add-on to a courgette quiche. The photographers offer a “handy comparison”, that of sushi in the 1990’s. A dish of mainly rice with fish is hardly comparative, simply because the fish was raw.

And this is where ‘Beatle in the Box’ falls down. The artists themselves admit to squeamishness and their favourite recipe contains such a small amount of ground cricket it amounts to little more than seasoning. Unfortunately the chefs involved in creating the dishes see the use of insects as nothing more than a novelty food. More research was needed to prepare dishes using the insects in quantities closer to how they are consumed in the East.

As an artistic statement it is engaging and though provoking but in a very west-centric way that does little to impress the importance of sustainable food now and in the future. The artists themselves express more a curiosity than a belief and the photographs reflect this. The pairing of insect with the dish created using it is good, but the insect image is out of proportion to the dish. Perhaps this is an attempt to shock the viewer as indeed the artists themselves appear shocked at the thought of eating these creatures. The dishes themselves are very small, it would be impossible to identify most of them without a title. Perhaps the size of these images reflects the fact that such a small amount of insect was used in each one – achieving nothing in terms of global food sustainability.

As a political statement it is unconvincing simply because the artists themselves appear unconvinced. They state that “as photographers we don’t want to give opinions or solutions: we bring a story to the attention of the public and show it as it is, without making a judgement upon it. It is up to the observer to think about the theme, and we hope our works will do this; make people think about something they would have never thought of alone” (Wright 2023). Unfortunately by the way the artists have presented and commented on their work, they have in fact made a judgement, and it doesn’t help the case for sustainability.

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