Tehran-based artist Mahnaz Miryani has been fascinated by puzzles since she was a child. In her miniature culinary arrangements, she channels a love for fitting little pieces together into satisfying compositions. Tiny trays transport pastries, eggs, cakes, and other dainty morsels, including a baking surface with an apple pie in the making. Miryani sculpts each itty-bitty croissant or cup of coffee from polymer clay, adding texture to create realistic details. Then, it’s time to bake! Once the clay has hardened in the oven, she adds colorful details in acrylic paint and soft pastels. The next item she plans to add to her menu is a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.
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Described as fostering “a sense of lobotomized capitalist productivity,” artist Genesis Belanger coaxes tension from the mundane. Her stoneware sculptures are at once disconcerting and commonplace, depicting the uncanny remnants of a dinner party, medical furniture draped with lanky, limp limbs, and a discount shop hawking carved oranges, a half-eaten cookie, and apples chewed to their cores.
More elaborate than her previous works, Belanger’s newest tableaus are similarly dramatic in subject matter while soft and subtle in visual tone—rather than glazing the ceramic sculptures, she blends powdered pigments into the material itself with a kitchen mixer, a practice that allows her to achieve her signature muted effect. A trio of the artist’s surrealist installations is now on view at Perrotin as part of Blow Out, a solo show that delights in strange theatrics and unobtrusive malice. Detached body parts reside on tables and store shelves in a manner that’s tinged with sexuality, while objects like picnic blankets and tipped bowls appear on the brink of movement. Suspense pervades the otherwise still scenes, exposing the anxiety and fantasy hidden in the banal.
If you’re in Paris, visit Perrotin before December 17 to see the disquieting works in person. Otherwise, find more from Belanger on Instagram.
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Everyday objects are puzzled into meticulously organized compositions in the work of Adam Hillman, who has a knack for arranging items like coins, fruits and vegetables, toothpicks, and keys into vibrant flat-lays. Inspired by textures, color, and gradients, the artist responds to the tactile qualities of each material to form intricately woven straws, stacked pennies, and breakfast cereal into geometric forms. You can find more of Hillman’s work on Instagram, and purchase prints at Society6.
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Decay is sometimes an unsightly signal that it’s time for last week’s leftovers to be expeditiously trashed, although not all spoiling leads to the compost bin or garbage. Bubbly juice and veins of mold are responsible for common fare like beer, cheese, kombucha, kimchi, and bread, and although our reactions of disgust tends to mask the more fruitful features of the decomposition process, spoiling can provide health benefits and also be visually stunning—we’re continually fascinated by Kathleen Ryan’s ability to blur the line between the beautiful and grotesque.
In the short film “Wrought,” directors Anna Sigrithur and Joel Penner of Biofilm Productions highlight the intriguing and alluring qualities of mold and rot. From wispy spores sprouting atop a surface to liquifying cabbage to shriveling slices of fruit, the documentary timelapse flashes a variety of substances as they wilt and wither and ultimately questions our perceptions of the natural process.
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Ukrainian pastry chef Dinara Kasko (previously) brings a healthy dose of geometry to her meticulously designed cakes. Candy-colored spheres line a four-tier tower of layered sponge and cream, triangles connect to create an angular apple skin, and small pearls cloak a round form in a hypnotizing spectrum of pigments. Other patterns are more organic, like the shimmering petal-like confection that tops a strawberry tart. Many of the edible artworks are created by pouring mousse into silicone molds and then spraying the shapes in vibrant gradients or pastels.
Based in Ukraine before the war began in February, Kasko left her home and studios in Kharkiv following Russia’s invasion. She worked as a volunteer and fundraiser for a few months as she traveled around Europe before settling in a small space near Liverpool in recent weeks. “I lost everything in one day,” she says, sharing that many of her friends and family are still living in the country. “I’m working not like it was in Ukraine… It’s difficult to find the motivation to build the structure and work hard because you understand that someone can take it, and you can lose it again. On the other hand, I understand that I want to live much more.”
Kasko has started to photograph her cakes again after resettling and is currently working on launching two online courses in addition to designing a collection geared toward the home baker. Some of the molds she utilizes and sells are still handmade in and shipped from Kharkiv, despite pauses from bombings, loss of electricity and internet, or post office delays. You can shop those tools in Kasko’s store and follow her work on Instagram.
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In ‘The Cultivar Series,’ Uli Westphal Gets to the Root of Crop Diversity and Agricultural Modification
Earlier this year, Russia’s war in Ukraine obstructed the global food supply in a way that exposed just how precarious the entire system is. The conflict confined 25 million tons of corn and wheat to the country, making such a crucial stock inaccessible and compounding the effects of an already urgent crisis.
Combined with disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic and the continual issues of the climate crisis, the war helped propel global food insecurity to levels unseen in decades. It’s estimated that approximately 800 million people around the world don’t have enough to eat due to skyrocketing prices caused by increased demand for a reduced supply. These problems are predicted to decimate local economies and prompt widespread unrest in the coming years.
Part of combating such an emergency involves understanding the core of modern production and how growing practices have evolved over time. Back in 2010, artist Uli Westphal took an interest in the ways farming and cultivation were affecting the availability of certain plants after a visit to VERN e.V. The German nonprofit cares for thousands of specimens, makes obscure or rare varieties available to the public, and is also “a regional network of gardeners, farmers, and local garden sites.” “They have a large garden plot in a tiny village two hours north of Berlin, where they grow a kaleidoscope of rare and forgotten crop varieties,” he shares. “I walked into a greenhouse full of tomato plants bearing fruits that I had never seen in my life.”
This encounter prompted what’s become a years-long project of documenting the planet’s incredible agricultural diversity. Encompassing both the wild and the domestic, Westphal’s “ongoing and endless” Cultivar Series illuminates a vast array of specimens through striking flat-lay photos. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and other produce arranged by color capture the breadth of the world’s crops, comparing their shapes, sizes, and molecular makeup—higher levels of chlorophyll promote the verdant pigments of leafy greens, for example, while carotenoids are responsible for bright orange carrots.
From Amsterdam and Potsdam, Germany, to Mexico City and Tucson, the sources of Westphal’s subject matter are broad, with some fare coming fully grown from farmers and others as seeds to be cultivated. “Cucumis sativus I” features fifty cucumber varieties the photographer grew in a greenhouse once connected to his Berlin-based studio from seeds gifted by a Dutch organization, for example, while the pumpkins and peppers in two of his other works were a collaboration with Peaceful Belly Farm in Boise, Idaho.
Whether depicting potatoes or pears, the images offer a rare glimpse of species that often aren’t available in the grocery store or markets. “Since the industrialization of agriculture, our focus has shifted to only a few modern, high-yielding, robust, ‘good looking,’ uniform, and predictable varieties. This change has led to the displacement of traditional crop varieties,” Westphal writes, noting that when a plant isn’t actively cultivated, it often falls under threat of extinction, and such strains tend to be protected by conservation organizations like the seed banks he’s collaborated with in the past. “A majority of all varieties developed by humans have already become extinct during the last 50 years. With them, we not only lose genetic diversity but also a living cultural and culinary heritage.”
The photos also elicit questions about contemporary domestication practices that are of increasing concern as biodiversity dwindles. Westphal tells Colossal:
Synthetic biology is evolving at a rapid speed, out-pacing public awareness, debate, and regulation and is altering life in ways that are unprecedented. My main concerns about synthetic biology (and genetic engineering) are the havoc that the inevitable release of significantly altered organisms into ecosystems can cause and the increasing consolidation of corporate control over what we grow and eat.
Three photos from The Cultivar Series are on view as part of the group exhibition Food in New York through September 30, 2023, at the Museum of the City of New York, and Westphal is currently working to document the seeds of the world’s edible plants, of which he’s culled a shortlist of 3,000 species. Prints of his flat lays are available on his site, along with similar collections centered on fruits and other consumables, and you can follow his practice on Instagram. (via Present & Correct)
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Editor's Picks: Food
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