The secret diary of a food artist

What makes an artist an artist? Caroline Hobkinson explores the space between purists and practitioners – in food

4 min read

The first thing you should know about me is that I am an arts whore. I like it when different disciplines interact; when they clash and sit uneasily with each other, like arts and business can; when both question each other and drag each other out of their comfort zones.

The art crowd – they are disgusting snobs who don’t thing it’s is right for artists to sully their hands by making commercial products

What’s wrong with making money with ideas? After studying art at Central Saint Martin’s, I knew I was too greedy to be an artist straightaway so went into well-paid copywriting.

But my overwhelming greed for food led me to do what I do today, working with big companies – I’ll consider them all. It allows me to pursue my passion creating installations and performances with food and forcing diners to reassess the way they eat.

Food as art

Food as art

I love the spectacle of food, the performance element. The fact that one moment we desire it so much, we cross entire cities in search for the perfect mouthful, but as soon as we’ve had it, the desire is gone. If we overindulge we feel dirty. This inspired me to hold a dinner in a Berlin Gallery and leave the leftovers to rot for six weeks.

I love the way food makes people feel full, longing or revolted. It transports us to our past and it lets us travel to places we didn’t know even existed. I understand how we might fall out over a shared bowl of chips, but we always make up by tucking into a roast chicken while pouring glistening warm gravy over it.

I think food is sexy and eating is the most intimate way we interact with our environment. I have learnt how our senses can enhance and modulate our taste sensation. Did you know that listening to a high frequency makes coffee seem sweet without adding any sugar to it? Or that weight really matters when it comes to our fickle taste buds? Cream slurped from a white spoon tastes lighter than from a black one?

My main focus is the ritual and spectacle of eating, food as performance and social commentary. I curate food art events, normally one-off events in galleries, public and private spaces, for both arts and corporate clients.

I have created, choreographed and cooked experimental feasts collaborating with wonderful head chefs and picked up amazing culinary tricks. I give lectures on multi- sensory flavour perception, the storytelling power of food.

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I don’t work in a studio, sullenly sketching and throwing pottery. A lot of my work is meetings with executive directors, and in my kitchen and on my laptop. I have to be serious and respectful of the commercial world. It might sound unromantic, but it’s the way I get to do what I want to do.

I love nothing better than a client with an open mind and a big budget. Does it matter if that client is a global corporation or a wealthy private patron?

Without corporate budgets, I wouldn’t have been able to suspend a table from the ceiling, float entire warehouses with helium balloons, carrying delicacies on transparent fishing wire, and create a Pina Bausch-esque dance ritual around a deconstructed dining table.

Perhaps I even prefer working with corporate clients. Doing so lets my imagination run wild and stimulates my rebellious streak. I like that there is a brief with strict parameters. I like that there will be an interested and receptive audience, and that I am not indulging some narcissistic naval-gazing notions that may not ultimately communicate.

Pablo Picasso once said: “We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realise truth”

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