Culinary Arts

Chalk it up to the cultural zeitgeist, but hot-button issues always have a way of percolating up in different mediums and practices at the same time. Let’s say a particularly unique comet makes headlines; wait a month and there will surely be three movies on asteroid apocalypse. I suppose you could call it the “summer blockbuster” phenomenon. As for the dominant memes of today, food seems to be firmly on the radar of many contemporary visual artists. Over the next month, two local artists will be mounting separate exhibitions, both of which directly confront the important issues involved in how we feed ourselves.

This week, Portland State MFA candidate Rebecca Shelly will debut Vanishing Varieties at PSU’s Autzen Gallery. While reading through her father’s old gardening journals, Shelly realized that many of the seed types he planted were no longer available, and so set out to revive and portray these heirloom plants discovered from her father’s writings. For her exhibit, Shelly created paintings of garden bounties from her childhood, while also raising starts to grow the vegetables pictured. For both of her exhibits (the PSU show, as well as a June exhibition at Disjecta), these starts will be freely available to all attendees. It’s a generous and nuturuing twist on the old commercial model of art, and one that will guarantee the future of her project’s seeds.

Shelly has documented some of her process and inspiration on her thesis website, Local Victory, and on her artstuff blog, where she also shares details of some of her past pieces (including an installation about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault). Over the weekend, she posted some great photos of the exhibit opening, along with her father’s recent gardening journals (PDF download), which he shared for her project. If you miss her show this month, keep an eye on her blog for information about an upcoming June group show.

Vanishing Varieties
Thursday, April 30 – Wednesday, May 13
PSU’s Autzen Gallery. Neuberger Hall. Sw Harrison and Broadway.
Artist Lecture: May 6th at noon at the Shattuck Hall Annex at PSU. sw Broadway and Hall

At the other end of the soil-to-table continuum is artist and “eating designer” Tricia Martin. Building off of the memories and emotional associations that we hold with food, Martin “curates” meals and eating experiences that challenge her audiences’ thinking about the things they eat and the communities they form by eating them. In turn, her work has led her to found Taste Matters, an eating design studio which has hosted and collaborated on group suppers, individual meals, and student taste exercises. An overview of Martin’s recent work will be on view as a part of PNCA’s MFA Thesis exhibit, along with her self-designed book, Eating is Art.

Sun, May 24 – Sun, Jun 28
PNCA Swigert Commons and Gallery 214

Part of what makes food such a ripe subject for contemporary art is that it allows the artist to directly involve the audience in the completion of the work. While Rebecca Shelly’s exhibit encourages the visitor to raise and care for her veggie starts, Tricia Martin wants for her audience to help in the creation of a meal. Last summer, Martin organized Pietopia 2008, a recipe contest rooted in personal experience:

Last June, I put a call to entry in the city of Portland: What does it taste like to be unemployed, starting a new job, just married, divorced, a new homeowner or desperately searching for housing? What kind of pie would describe the way you are feeling right now? Could you imagine your thoughts, concerns or joys transformed into the All-American Pie?

The goal of Pietopia is to bring to the forefront the sense of taste, the feelings it can evoke, communication, and communing as interweaving entities within the fabric of our daily lives. Pietopia is seeking to channel Portland’s emphasis on the importance of the taste of food as a way to discover what this city’s quality of life truly is.

If you think you’ve got a particularly evocative pie, send in a 300 word blurb with your recipe to:, or find out more about Martin’s various projects on her blog.

This summer’s art openings are bound to be delicious.

Thanks for sharing