Food Art, Fun Art, Is Red Art?

Dwelling between festive seasons, the image of recyclable plastic swaying in the wind spring to mind, an affecting scene from Urbanscapes 2013. Hong Yi's 'Empty Plates Pavilion' will not look out of place if it was exhibited at the Singapore Biennale, 5500 white plates forming the background of many an Instagram snapshot. This architecture graduate from Kota Kinabalu first gained attention with her playful rendition of a basketball player, which led to numerous commercial commissions; In the process garnering a worldwide social media following that a Malaysian visual artist can only dream of. Advocating art that is fun via the use of everyday materials, Hong Yi skips over the haughty fine art notion of the found object. Instantly recognizable portraits and forms are created with matter ranging from coffee to socks to food, which the artist is most famous for.

Hong Yi standing in front of her creation 'Empty Plates Pavillion'

Cooking has always been an artistic act, where each production is never the same each time. Chefs justify their Michelin stars by expending effort to increase the aesthetic value of food, just like mothers encouraging children to eat their vegetables with colourful arrangements on a plate. What is wrong with beautiful presentation if it enhances one's culinary experience? Being served a latte with a frothy heart renders overly roasted coffee tolerable. On the other hand, using a cucumber to create a pastoral scene, negates the act of food preparation itself. Hong Yi's ephemeral works are captured in well-lit photographs, where the snapshot is the art, not the food. Human beings have regressed in perception, who now are more accustomed to two-dimensional visual stimulation. The magical confluence of social media and pretty pictures help make such food art popular. I would like to see one in real life - but is food art, art?

31 Days of Food Creativity Series: Day 11

Hong Yi's penchant for utilising non-art mediums to fabricate representations, reinforces her brand of "not painting with a paintbrush". Look beyond the gimmicky medium is the subject, and one finds a number of works which can pass off as fine art, had the artist's statement been written for a gallery exhibition. Dyed carnations for an Aung San Suu Kyi portrait ["This calculated effort echos the Burmese leader's many years behind bars..."] Goldfishes drawn with mascara ["Representing objects of beauty in Chinese society, the goldfish and the female..."] A can of Campbell's soup ["Warhol"] Why does the visual arts scene not recognise Hong Yi as a fellow peer? Is it jealousy? Artists have traditionally been commissioned to produce beautiful things - or are we now stuck in an age where art must have meaning, or circumvent historical precepts about art?

Aung San Suu Kyi made of 2000 dyed carnations

Can art be fun? Arranging one's nasi lemak to depict the Kuala Lumpur skyline is ingenious. The effort requires logical faculties to identify shapes and colours, and creativity to subvert learned identities of objects. Working with constraints is the practical aspect of producing art, and Hong Yi seems to excel given such situations. Her works inspire others and make art more accessible to the public, yet fine artists hide in their hypocritical studios and renounce such works as art, whilst whining about an ignorant public. Why feign ignorance? Is it because the artefact is short-lived, hence no resale value? Are these works too pretty for contemporary art? Is it because she did not graduate from art school? Is it because the statements do not include art speak mumbo jumbo? In this age where unfinished plates of food pass off as art, I much prefer looking at flower petals arrangements that represent birds, by a well-travelled Malaysian.

31 Days of Food Creativity Series: Day 27