Food as a lens to two diverging cultures | First Food Residency at The Koppel Project
Last Thursday, amidst the furore of Frieze week, a resolutely different kind of exhibition opened its doors to the public.
“Cactus & Creatures”, the fruit of a labour of love by First Food Residency, is currently running across The Koppel Project’s two London gallery spaces featuring the work of 19 artists including pieces by this year’s artists in residence, previous program participants and a number of invited guests.
While many of London’s galleries are running bold solo shows concurrently to the heterogeneity of Frieze — Jean Dubuffet at Pace, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami at Tyburn, Catherine Opie at Thomas Danes — “Cactus & Creatures” is a rare and joyous gallery group show, presenting recently graduated British artists alongside visiting Mexican muralists and artisans as well as established practitioners. This chorus of voices gives the show an energy that sometimes lacks among the professional commercialism of international art fair weeks.
From Anna Bruce’s evocative photos documenting the process of Mezcal production in southern Mexico, to Stephen Chambers’ blood-red portraits of scorpions, ants and grubs, painted with the crushed reds of cochineal bugs, the exhibition is an ode to the foreign mysticism of food culture in Mexico.
Stephen Chambers, de oro de rojo de gusano cochineal and gold on paper 154-x-152cm- 810x879
Food, its production and its consumption, is the structuring principle of First Food’s residency programme. For the last four years, First Food Residency has been affording artists a seven-week period to research and respond to staple foods in either the UK or Mexico. An initiative which began in the wake of two separate projects which saw Antonia Bruce and her daughter, photographer Anna Bruce working in Mexico — the former researching for the exhibition Infinitas Gracias at the Wellcome Collection, the latter documenting Mezcal production — the residency was born of their shared desire to continue exploring this vast culture. The project quickly zeroed in on the vast differences between attitudes to food across a cultural divide.
Food becomes a lens through which to penetrate cultural heritage, national symbolism, and concepts of production and globalization. Much of the work presented by visiting UK artists is a rediscovery of labour-intensive artisanal process, something so absent from their own national food production. One artist, Holly Froy, is presenting stone carvings, while Anne-Laure Carruth a large woodcut print — the result of a physically demanding carving process across a vast piece of material — to cite just two examples.
With a strong educational drive and desire to render their production inclusive – contra art-world exclusive — the exhibition will serve as the backdrop to a number of workshops and events throughout its duration. Mexico City-based Scottish artist Greer Pester will be leading a series of educational workshops tied to the theme of resilience in response to the recent trying times in Mexico following two major earthquakes and a spate of extreme weather.
Malo Farfan creating in situ mural
The exhibition will run until November 4, closing with a celebration for Day of the Dead at The Koppel Project’s Holborn space, where Mexican artist Malo Farfan has completed a major in-situ mural. The event will announce the end of the exhibition, but by no means the end of the project — next year it will be the turn of Mexican artists to be hosted in the UK.
Installation view Orelie Pascale Wright
Fiona Beveridge, Thumbug Sandal Platter, 2016, handmade papers, acrylic, cochineal, 49 x 40cm
Malo Farfàn, Agave en el zocalo, 2017, ink on vintage postcard, 25 x 17
Photos © Anna Bruce