Our Daily Bread (2013)
There is a saying “we are what we eat,” based on the philosophy that the food is a mirror, and an act of eating mirrors the making of a self. In other words, the array of decisions to eat reflects our ethical, political, social, and identity defining aspects. Eating, in one-dimensional meaning, is to sustain life. Food is life.
Food in a culture
Food provides nourishment necessary for our physical survival. However, because eating is a primitive instinct as well as a ritual, food is deeply rooted in tradition, religion and culture. From the consecrated bread and wine in the communion service to funerary practices of serving a rice bowl to the death angel in Korea, daily-consumed foods take a role in symbolic religious and cultural practices.
However, the way we perceive food is drastically changing. In Korea, people usually say, “have you eaten?” instead of saying, “how are you?”
It is a common greeting expression that reflects the time of extreme poverty Koreans suffered after the Korean War, when the country was totally devastated and people lived from hand to mouth. However, it only took less than four decades for the country to evolve from the era of famine to obesity, followed by the economic miracle including rapid industrialization, urbanization, globalization, and an education boom. We are now living in a time of excessive consumption. Recent studies about a healthier diet are pouring out from the mass media, proving what not to eat is as important than what to eat. Recently in 2012, BBC broadcasted a sensational documentary Horizon: Eat, Fast And Live Longer promoting fasting as the new keyword for a healthier and fancier lifestyle. Only a few weeks ago, a similar documentary based on Horizon was also broadcasted in Korea, indicating the contemporary perspective of fasting in excessive world we are living in.
In Our Daily Bread, 2013, I chose to use bread as a material, referring back to the primal and basic form of mundane life source. I chewed and spat out mouthfuls of bread and video recorded a close up of my mouth. This video piece goes with the sculptural mouth-shaped pastes that are the actual spat out breads displayed on the floor. With the action of chewing and spitting out the bread my work contains two strong aspects of ideas of food; the refusal of the mundane practice, and my feed-fasting attitude - spitting out the bread metaphorizes the conflict between a consumerist generation of young people and the traditional generation.
Food in contemporary art
The laborious but meditative process of an artist captures the primal stage of nature simulating the excessiveness of contemporary world. In Gnaw, 1992, Janine Antoni gnaws 600 pounds of chocolate cube sculpture and makes the spat out chocolates into heart-shaped packages. She explains the act of gnawing as “the most traditional thing” which is “to carve … figurative sculpture … by the residue it self on the object.” She calls it a primal urge, as animals and babies put everything in their mouth to learn about them while destroying them at the same time. It is the most basic instinct, to eat. At the same time, the lipsticks and heart-shaped packages resembles Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club criticizing the consumerist society, where the soap salesman Tyler steals left-over drained human fat from the liposuction clinic dumpsters and then selling them as soaps back to the rich women and using those fats for the ingredients for bombing consumerist corporation buildings.
Antoni continued Gnaw with the 600 pounds of lard cube, which parallels the struggle of desire that women face in society; desire to eat chocolate is to literally eat fat. While Antoni demonstrates primal instinct is to eat through Gnaw, I tried to overcome the human instinct by denial of desire through Our Daily Bread.
My aim tags along with idea of redefining the human instinct. Spitting out the bread evokes an uncanny feeling in the viewer not only because it is grotesque to watch someone’s bodily waste but also refusing to eat seems to contradict the norm, as a healthy human desires to eat. My choice to control over human instinct by refusal of the food may reflect the excessive world we are living in.