Squashings, pressings, and stains: food as a medium in printmaking and works on paper

Autumn 2015
Megan Fizell

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In the 1960s, artists began experimenting with food as a medium; from the performative meals at Daniel Spoerri's Eat Art Gallery to the chocolate sculptures by Dieter Roth, the applications of this material were exploratory and wide-ranging. Considering specifically the body of work termed 'squashings' and 'pressings' by Roth from the mid '60s alongside the Stains portfolio from 1969 by Edward Ruscha, these practices serve to illustrate one way artists of this era challenged the established artistic canon. Examining the work of New York artist Martynka Wawrzyniak and Australian Elizabeth Willing alongside the early practitioners demonstrates a new handling of this medium by contemporary artists.


Elizabeth Willing's recent work titled 16 Singles (2014) uses processed cheese to construct a grid on a large sheet of white paper. In selecting the cheese she relates, '[it] jumped out at me in a supermarket here in Berlin because it was sold straight off the shelf, warm, no refrigeration, and that screams "unnatural" and hilarious to me.' According to Willing, this series developed through her considerations and explorations of food acting as a natural adhesive. Like Roth's 'decay art', time is an essential component in the formation of the piece; as the cheese dries out over a number of days, the liquids evaporate and the fats leech out of the cheese causing the paper to pucker and buckle forming a three-dimensional object from a two-dimensional plane.

Collecting and examining these textual/ food works demonstrates the way artists have challenged established artistic canons by incorporating banal and edible materials. Through Stains, Ruscha questioned ideas of painting and printmaking and Willing's 16 Singles employs the natural processes of decomposition to 'sculpt' the paper in uncontrolled ways. Although the neo-avant-garde artists were the first to engage with foodstuffs as a material, contemporary artists are extending their ideas within their own practices.