An Audain Art Museum Special Exhibition

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Ornamental Cookery: An Intimate Look at Taste
Story by Katherine Fawcett | Photos Joern Rohde

Svava Tergesen: Ornamental Cookery, a new installation in the stunning upstairs gallery of the Audain Art Museum (AAM), is a feast for the eyes that’s elegant, tasty-looking, and thought-provoking. It draws the viewer close with hunger and curiosity, then asks hard questions about beauty, manipulation, femininity, and expectations. I took in the exhibition just before lunch, and I must admit, after the tour, I side-eyed my sandwich before I ate it.

Photographer, food sculptor, and visionary Svava Tergesen is an emerging Vancouver-based artist whose work turns the mundane into the surreal. Her incredible food creations start with arranging, cutting, weaving, and intentionally setting food in striking ways, sometimes reminiscent of fabrics such as quilts, lace, and knitwear. The sculptures are then photographed and mixed with collage, layered, and spliced. The vintage colours and vibe of the photos harken back to a 1950s-style Good Housekeeping magazine, and the compositions imagine new lives for everyday domestic objects.

From left: Svava Tergesen, Country Farmhouse Arrangement, 2022, archival pigment print, Private collection. Svava Tergesen, Princess Cake, 2021, archival pigment print, Courtesy of the Artist and Nikki Peck.
From left: Svava Tergesen, Toffee Rose and Guanciale, 2023, archival pigment print, Courtesy of the Artist. Svava Tergesen, Galas, Heirloom Tomato, 2022, archival pigment print, Courtesy of the Artist.
In the gallery are several giant vinyl reproductions of Tergesen’s work and some small pieces that are somewhat reminiscent of traditional still-life food photography but have nothing of the abundance of cornucopia-style food photos. “There’s definitely a commentary on food scarcity here,” said Elyse Feaver, engagement and volunteer manager at the AAM. “Scant resources are used, but in powerful and striking ways.”

The details in Tergesen's pieces are astonishing and also somewhat creepy. We are constantly reminded that food, although glamourized, rots, decays, and goes away. “It's all quite ephemeral,” said Feaver. In one piece, a chunk of Arctic char skin is grafted onto an apple shaped like a flower. In another, a delicate red rose is overlaid with an intricate lace-work pattern made of chorizo and various pieces of meat. From afar, the photo looks stylish and elegant. However, up close, the viewer not only questions their judgment, but they might also make other plans for lunch.

The exhibition, on display until June 11, was organized by Capture Photography Festival and the AAM. A featured exhibition for the 2023 festival, it was curated by the festival’s executive director, Emily Lee Wall.

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