Beauty Is On The Fork Of The Beholder

Tribute to Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva

The thought of “recycled food” at best conjures up images of gleaning harvested fields for edible crops left behind, or its urban equivalent, dumpster diving. Some estimates say about 25 percent of commercially produced American fruits and vegetables never make it to grocery store shelves because it’s “too ugly” to sell.

Land – Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva. Created from monkfish skins, fishing line. 300 cm x 100 cm

The good news is that food producers and grocery stores are increasingly diverting the unattractive onion or the misshapen apple to local food banks that want to achieve their goals. But that still leaves an awful lot of food waste generated by homes and restaurants that has nowhere to go but the landfill.

Some larger cities, such as Seattle, Duluth, Ottawa and San Francisco, now offer — or mandate — waste collection programs that separate food items from the rest of the household garbage for composting.

In London, however, some restaurant waste has gone straight from the kitchen to the artist’s studio — and then back onto the walls of a white-tablecloth dining establishment.

Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva gleaned her materials for “The Wish of the Witness” from the kitchen at Pied à Terre, a 2 Michelin star restaurant on Charlotte Street. The exhibition of 10 sculptures and installation works was displayed throughout the dining room for the months of September and October. Check out also this post on Barbara de Ruiz.

The works, made during Hadzi-Vasileva’s 8-month residency at Pied à Terre’s first “Artist in Restaurant,” were constructed from raw materials the chefs had no use for, including scallop skirts and corals, sheep testicles, quail carcasses, fish bones and fish skin.

“The resulting artworks are carefully balancing between the brutal and the beautiful, composing decompositions into beautiful forms,” Hadzi-Vasileva wrote in her artist’s statement on the project.

A Wish (detail) by Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva. Created with quail wishbones, 23.5ct gold leaf, perspex frame.

She worked closely with the restaurant’s chefs and kitchen staff as she researched the project, observing their daily routine, eating in the dining room, and collecting leftovers. Once in her studio, she washed and preserved the materials with bleach and detergent. The final form of the artwork depended on the shapes and colors of the parts and sometimes, the canvas needed to be re-stretched.

“I have always been very interested in organic materials — materials that can evolve when they go through a process of manipulation,” she told earlier this year. “One of the reasons I enjoy working with the materials I choose is that they challenge presumptions or limited perspectives of what art can be and how it can engage other issues. They also question notions of what can be beautiful.”

Untitled by Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva. Created with rabbit jaw bone, 23.5ct gold, timber.

This is not the first time Macedonian-born Hadzi-Vasileva has worked with food scraps. She has created art, usually large-scale installations, from membranes from pig and cow stomachs, animal heads, chicken skins and fish skins – many, many fish skins. Read also this post on Arts and Crafts.

Her first foray into fish-skin art was at the beginning of this century when she created a piece honoring the salmon-fishing heritage of a small town on the Tweed River in northwest England. Six months and 2,500 cleaned and preserved salmon skins later, she presented “Epidermis.” She still works with salmon skins — 960 of them in “Recurring Undulation,” which was on display in London from July through September — but no longer eats fish.

Pied à Terre has been part of the London art scene since the restaurant opened in 1991. This new annual residency program is a way to encourage emerging artists, and a committee of 12 curators selected Hadzi-Vasileva to launch it with a grant of £10,000 (about $15,713) — and £2,500 (about $3,928) in dining credit. And if you compare this to her contemporary works values…

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