“Fabricated Foods” and “Fishbowl”

These works by Thomas Blanchard were exhibited as the Como Como exhibition at the Centre d’exposition de Saint-Hyacinthe in 2006. (Como Como is a play on words, translating from Latin to “how I eat”).

These photographs are very darkly surreal in nature, employing the techniques of juxtaposition and decontextualization to make the ordinary appear alien. The combination of eggs, chicken’s feet and a glass fishbowl for example bring together the domesticating glass, the familiar food of the egg, and the grotesque reminder of the original animal. The resultant photographs are uncanny, with an initial sense of familiarity quickly overruled by discomfort. The modern food here takes on a very disturbing character, one that demands a reexamination of what is considered normal, or perhaps more accurately, not considered at all, when it comes to food consumption. On a conceptual level, Surrealist goals of undermining social structure and convention and allowing repressed thoughts to rise to the surface are very much present.  The exhibition page describes Blanchard’s work as follows:

Thomas Blanchard hails from Rochester, New York, but lives and works in Toronto. He holds degrees in fine arts, photography, geology and political science. His photographs have been shown in Canada and the United States. Reflecting his social and political interests, Blanchard’s practice is characterized by commentary, irony and investigation. At he is showing Fabricated Food, a series of photographs of tabletop installations made with edibles. The pictures are accompanied by information on the impact of globalizing the agribusiness, the environmental repercussions of industrial farming and health problems caused by additives such as the sweeteners and artificial colours that pervade the North American diet. In addressing health and environmental concerns, the artist seeks to raises the veil on the North American food industry. He is also exhibiting pictures from the series Fishbowl, which tackles issues including industrial livestock farming.

It is interesting to note that the photographs were not exhibited as stand-alone works: even as alternative modes of communication, the addition of traditional information was considered necessary to effectively convey the ideas present. The information given not only suggests the inadequacy of the images alone, but also narrows the possible readings of the work to a prescribed discourse- effective in the sense of sparking the desired conversation, but limiting the perceived complexity of the topic.

The food industry is presented as (negatively) impacting the environment, health, and global business, and raising ethical concerns like animal rights. Animals, plants and synthetic products appear comparable, pointing to how detached finished food products have become from their diverse sources. Problems, repercussions and impact make for a very imbalanced scale that wipes out the motivations behind industry changes: exposing the horror only. With this one-sidedness, it is difficult to imagine alternative models or specific areas with potential for positive change. This work deals with what is, but does not seek a solution or even an underlying problem.  Issues are placed with the industry side of the system, while targeting an audience of primarily consumers- a call to outrage and consciousness rather than personal responsibility or action.

As a call to outrage, however, this is a viscerally effective work. If one looks at an image that represents the state of modern food and feels an instinctual twinge of disgust, it becomes impossible not to interrogate why those feelings don’t normally arise when looking at food and whether they are a more logical response to normalized conditions. The images evoke a disturbed gut reaction, and the factual accompaniment provokes a reflection onto the modern experience of food.