Elizabeth Willing:
The Art of Hosting

Elizabeth Willing uses food as both the material and subject for her objects and performances, prompting viewers to think about the experiences surrounding food.

FEATURE by Hamish Sawyer FEBRUARY 2020

Elizabeth Willing’s participatory artwork Pick-me-up (2019) does just that. On first glance the work appears to be a minimal painting with a metallic red surface; closer inspection reveals the painting is in fact a grid of individually wrapped Kinder chocolates. The audience is invited to open one of the wrappers and eat its contents. The work is consumed over the duration of the exhibition (although it rarely lasts that long), leaving only the torn foil wrappers.

There is a long and rich relationship between contemporary art and food, from Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s notorious 1930 Manifesto of Futurist Cooking to Janine Antoni’s gnawed chocolate and lard sculptures of the early 1990s, and even Comedian, Maurizio Cattelan’s banana-and-duct-tape readymade that caused a sensation at Art Basel Miami Beach in December 2019.

Few artists, however, have demonstrated a sustained and meaningful engagement with food as Elizabeth Willing has. Since graduating from the Queensland University of Technology in 2009, the Brisbane-based artist has consistently used food as both material and subject for her interdisciplinary practice encompassing sculpture, drawing, collage, video and performance.

Willing describes her interest in food as being “through the mother, chef and machine”: drawing upon stories of her grandmother’s cooking, reflecting the traditional, maternal role of nurturer and feeder within families. Conversely, the artist is fascinated by haute cuisine, still largely the domain of male chefs, which allows her to consider food trends and the performance of dining. As Pick-me-up demonstrates, Willing also works with the highly processed, artificial products of industrial food manufacture.

Research forms the backbone of Willing’s practice. During 2019, the artist undertook a three-month residency at the Australian Wine Research Institute in Adelaide, facilitated by the Australian Network for Art & Technology; there . .. Subscribe to read this article in full