The Nostalgia of Food

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I would be participating in the first public showing of my work as part of a group show called The Nostalgia of Food which opened on February 5th at Studio 126 in Vancouver's Chinatown. The show features a number of Vancouver food photographers, illustrators, and other artists all contemplating the theme of Nostalgia of Food. In total there are 15 artists showing more than 30 works, three of which I'm very pleased to say are by yours truly.

It was lovely to see such a great turnout for the opening night. I was truly overwhelmed by the great turnout  of Vancouverites that came out to support the show, on what was possibly one of the rainiest nights of the year. It was a night of  was good food, wine, conversation, friends, family and beautiful art from all the participants.

Naturally, the theme appealed to me. As readers of this blog will know, I do tend toward the nostalgic from time to time. It's sometimes said that nostalgia can hold us back and I'm very conscious of that but somehow I've found a way to make nostalgia drive me forward. Many of my own food memories are the subjects of this blog and they inspire both my writing and my photography work. In a way, I could say my own sense of nostalgia has opened up new avenues for me. I'm frequently surprised and delighted how often people respond to my posts with "my mum used to make that" or "that makes me remember".

I’m also interested by the cultural iconography of nostalgia as it relates to food. Does a home-made pickle made by a grandmother taste better than one made by a professional in a state-of-the art facility? Are we responding to the taste of the pickle or the experience or memory? How is that we can imagine these cues from experiences that may or may not have occurred. Are we being true to the real experience?  Or do we all attribute meaning to our memories that may not be there? No one in my family ever made pickles but I imagine them in an old-fashioned way. Why is that? 

One of my works on display, shown above, is called Rashers and Eggs. With this piece as with much of my photography, I'm exploring the simplicity of these ingredients which recalls a simpler time, when these items were the product of the farmhouse, not the factory. How many of us have actual memories of eating this way? Or are we responding to a collective imagined experience? Why do we long for that simpler time? Is it because it is just that? Simpler.

The whole experience of showing was an interesting one, from selecting the works to be included, to determining how I wanted them to be framed or even if I wanted to frame them. In the end, I decided that as they were to be offered for sale, I wanted to offer them as I envisioned them being hung on the wall. Because my photographs are printed on a fine art paper with a lot of texture, I wanted the edge of the piece to be visible and so I decided to float them on a back matt. I really like this effect because it feels natural and in keeping with my work.

One of the best  parts  in this whole process was being introduced to Anna and Ryan at Studio 126. Not only do they promote local artists and artisans but they are also artisans themselves, making the most stunning furniture out of reclaimed wood and welded metal, which is also for sale in their shop. They have created a beautiful space to sell and show not only their own work but the work of others. Being in their space is a nostalgic experience in itself. The room is stripped to the bare bones highlighting the old exposed brick and steel beams and it makes me think of the secrets of history that live within those walls. It's a lovely place to stop in, say hi and just enjoy a quiet moment looking at beautiful things. 

So all in all, the experience has been a lovely one which in years to come I know I'll look back on with a new sense of nostalgia for that time when I put up work for my first art show.

The Nostalgia of Food runs until March 1st at Studio 126, 126 Pender Street, Vancouver

Opening Times: Wednesday - Saturday 12-6pm

There's also a series of workshops associated with the event involving pattern making with food and preserving. More details are available on the Studio 126 website.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you with your thoughts on nostalgia. Are there any foods or eating experiences that spark particular memories for you? Does nostalgia hold you back or drive you forward?

 

UPDATE: The show has concluded. If you are interested in purchasing one of my fine art prints, you can contact me helena@myendlesspicnic.com.

 

A New Year and Nostalgia

This will be the my first post of the new year and while custom tells me I should be looking forward to things ahead (more on that later), it is in fact nostalgia that occupies my mind. 

Two weeks ago my family celebrated a special anniversary – 40 years since our arrival in Canada. Naturally, this has brought on lots of memories and we have been reminiscing with my parents about what it was like to travel to Canada from Europe with 3 little kids and to begin a new life in a new land. We arrived in Edmonton en route to Yellowknife, north of the 60th Parallel, and the first order of business was to go to the Hudson’s Bay and buy snowsuits for all and our new life as Canadians in the North.

Yellowknife was filled with interesting people who all seemed to be from other parts and brought with them their food and traditions. My character being what it is, my thoughts turn to the things that we ate. With relatively less fresh food available north of 60°, we ate a lot of frozen things and a salad meant iceberg lettuce and a pale beef steak tomato.(Readers of this blog will know I'm not a particular fan of salad anyway). But there were some spectacular things as well. We had a lovely friend who taught us how to make rose petal jelly from the pink petals of the wild roses that grew rampant along the roads. We ate them on tiny scotch pancakes as kids and I long for the taste of them still, all these years later.

Reliving more recent history, I’ve also been making empanada, trying desperately to replicate the most excellent crust the ones we had last summer in Spain. While the testing is enjoyable, I’m not there yet. I hope to share soon. For now here’s a peek at some of the process. Why is it we try to recapture that experience?

The dough, before kneading.
My version of Empanada Gallega pre-oven.

My version of Empanada Gallega pre-oven.

La empanada de Begoña. The one I dream about.

La empanada de Begoña. The one I dream about.

As for what lies ahead? More nostalgia actually.

I’m thrilled to be participating in The Nostalgia of Food, a group art exhibition exploring the theme of nostalgia as it relates to our food and food experiences, featuring photography, painting, illustration and sculpture.

The show was imagined by Joey Armstrong, herself a talented photographer,  responsible for curating the show along with Anna of Studio 126, a furniture studio and gallery in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

Although Joey and I had been following each other on Instagram, we’d never met until I attended an exhibition of her work during the East Van Culture Crawl. When she mentioned the theme of this new show to me, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Because like come on, nostalgia is sort of my whole thing. Right? I’m honoured to be a part of this show, of the new relationships it has opened up and excited to see the work from the other artists attending. We've had some interesting conversations about the personal nature of nostalgia - what may be nostalgic for one person, may not be for another. 

I’ll have three works for sale, one of which, Pickling, is featured on the show’s poster below,designed by Joey. I’m touched that this image was picked to promote the show.

The Nostalgia of Food - Mark your calendars. Photo by Helena McMurdo / Design by Joey Armstrong

The Nostalgia of Food - Mark your calendars. Photo by Helena McMurdo / Design by Joey Armstrong

For me, pickles are in their very essence a nostalgic food item. They reflect a former time where preserving food in this way was a necessary part of life. It seems like everyone has story about their Grandma’s pickles and how good they were. In fact, I never made pickles growing up, but this image reflects much of the way I expected that experience would have been if I had.  That’s the funny thing about nostalgia – how much of it is real? How much of it is imagined or borrowed? Certain foods just seem to be imbued with more nostalgia than others. Today we have other ways of preserving food and we may make pickles for different reasons. Perhaps one of them is to recollect part of that way of life and recall a simpler time. They still taste pretty good too.

The Nostalgia of Food's opening reception takes place on February 5th at Studio 126, 126 E Pender, Vancouver from 7-10 pm. The show will continue until March 1st. I hope that those of you in Vancouver can drop by. For more info and to register for free tickets, visit the Eventbrite page.

So here's to nostalgia and good things ahead.