Artists Rachael Grice & Rekha Ramachandran are in the process of creating their project for Grow Op, the Gladstone’s urbanism, landscape design and contemporary art exhibition. The pair will be showcasing “Mille Aliments,” a meditation on food and the labour that goes into cultivating what we consume. This project takes the form of a tapestry, made out of slices of fruits and vegetables which have been dehydrated and hand-sewn together. Each row is made up of a different fruit or vegetable, and when sewn together, the tapestry recalls imagery of a garden, small farm, or landscape. Read the artists expand on the inspiration behind and process of their work below.
Can you tell us a bit about Mille Aliments – how the idea formed and what the process of creating the piece will entail?
Mille Aliments takes the form of a tapestry, made out of slices of fruits and vegetables which have been dehydrated and hand-sewn together. We were thinking a lot about our relationship to the food we consume. There is this ongoing tension where, culturally, there is a lot of discussion around where and how our food is produced, yet a disconnection remains, and the labour used to cultivate our food often continues to be invisible. When purchasing food at the grocery store, thoughts come up about each item we place into our basket –how far it travels to get to us and how little we know about how it’s produced. While we are witnessing a return to the idea of buying food that is produced locally and/or directly from the farmer, it’s not always an accessible option due to affordability, and availability through the winter months. There are also issues of poor working conditions, wages, and rights for migrant workers here in Ontario, and of unpaid labour on small, organic farms, so it’s a complicated relationship.
We both are drawn to working with textiles and wanted to draw on the tactile qualities of the food, and so we came to this idea of creating a tapestry out of dried fruits and vegetables. Slicing, drying, and sewing each piece of food onto the cheesecloth takes food that we purchase ready to eat, and transforms it into a drawn out process. The format of the tapestry allows for the labour to be visible or tangible. The name Mille Aliments comes from the term ‘millefleur’, which refers to a style used in tapestry where the background is covered with many different flowers and plants.
We hand slice each piece of fruit or vegetable and dehydrate them. It takes a lot of trial and error to get the right moisture level for each fruit and vegetable; we want them to be dry, but not brittle, so that we can sew through them. They each have to dry for several hours and we spend a lot of time taking care, so that each individual piece is properly dried. Once a piece is “canvas” ready, we sew it onto the cheesecloth canvas using silk thread. The fruits and vegetables are sewn in family rows.
How has our relationship to food changed as a society, and why do you feel it is important to educate people on this? What role can art play in doing so?
I don’t think we are educating so much as trying to create a space for people to reflect on their own consumption habits. Because food is something we interact with so often each day, we don’t necessarily remain mindful one hundred percent of the time. Especially in an urban setting like Toronto, food is often expected to be easily and quickly accessible. We are trying to slow down this interaction. Seeing these fruits and vegetables displayed in an unfamiliar way is a reminder of the life and journey that these foods have had before arriving at the store, market, or on our plates.
Grow Op seeks to question our conceptions culture and nature, what about this mandate did you align with?
We’re excited to be part of an exhibition that seeks to question our conceptions, culture, and nature as humans. Oftentimes the process of making art begins with questioning. We grapple with the questions and their answers, and at times they intensify or transform. Mille Aliments seeks to question our relationship with food. It is a product of simple questions like, ‘Where does our food come from?’, ‘How does it make it to the table?’. And then what do we do with the answers, what does our awareness mean? As we bring up these questions we can’t help but notice a common thread in the answers; they’re not simple, and are tied up in systems of agriculture, cultural and societal pressures, economics, biology, geography, etc.
Grow Op tends to be very informative for attendees, what do you want people to take away from Mille Aliments?
We are trying to engage attendees in a sensory experience while bringing attention and intention to the daily practices around food consumption.
Check out “Mille Aliments” on at Grow Op 2017!
April 19th – April 23rd, 2017
Wed Apr. 19, 7-9pm | Thurs Apr. 20, 11-10pm | Fri Apr. 21, 11-10pm | Sat Apr. 22, 10am-9pm | Sun Apr. 23, 10-5pm
Learn more here!