Artists Put Primal, Pleasurable Food Play At Forefront of Exhibition

Folks attending the opening party of the photography exhibition can fork out a reasonable fee to be hand-fed the same kinds of dishes featured in the photos

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Sammi Sowerby RADII Tatler
2:45 PM HKT, Fri November 4, 2022 3 mins read

Underpinned by the spirit of rebellion, this photo series proves that artists often do the opposite of what their parents told them as children: Photographer Jennifer Tang and food designer Alison Tan have been playing with food.

Comprised of 40 digital photos, feed me. is on display at Soho House, Hong Kong from November 4 - 14, 2022.

The photography exhibition is Tang’s first, although you wouldn’t know it from perusing her arresting portfolio. The seed of an idea was planted two years ago, and it all began with a pomegranate.

“One night I was really hungry, and I was just snacking on pomegranate. Like, really hungrily,” Tang told RADII. As anyone who enjoyed the Mediterranean fruit will know, it doesn’t exactly make for dainty eating. “(My friend and I) made a huge mess,” recalled the photographer.

It was in the midst of this feast that the two were struck by the visceral nature of eating. Tang then knew that she wanted to capture the act on camera.

“These are not the usual photos you’ll see at Soho House,” she acknowledged. After all, the prestigious group of private members’ clubs, which has branches in some of the world’s buzziest cities, from Bangkok to Berlin, might be more inclined towards wildlife or fashion photography.

“But I wanted to bring something new. They’re not the ‘cleanest’ photos. They’re kind of raw, but that’s what I want to do with my photography — show people pure emotions.”

In order to realize feed me., the photographer, whose speciality lies in portraiture, roped in a different kind of expert, one whose medium is food: her fellow Hong Konger Tan, the founder of film-inspired supper club Savour Cinema, was named one of Asia’s Most Influential tastemakers in 2021. The self-described ‘experimental feeder’ fulfilled the role of food designer for the photography exhibition.

“A food designer seeks to make visible the myriad strands of meaning behind everything we eat, and how we eat it,” explained Tan. “In this project, Jennifer wanted to capture a playful, frenzied feeding that’s a departure from dining etiquette.”

The five food items featured in feed me. weren’t selected at random, but serve the purpose of storytelling.

“I started with (a list of) food that I wanted to see people eat,” said Tang. “Later on, it was like, how do we present these foods? Maybe we should match each with a certain character, and build their backstory.”

Tan added, “We created different characters and used the food sets to bring them to life, to transgress against some expectation of how they’d eat.”

Fun fact for our readers: While spaghetti and meatballs were initially on the duo’s ‘menu,’ they finally decided that the idea was “too basic.”

“If you Google ‘messy eating,’ the first things you’ll see are like kids with meat or sticky bolognese sauce all over their faces,” laughed Tang.

feed me. jennifer tang alison tan jello

Koi fish or jǐn lǐ (锦鲤)-shaped gelatin, and sausages and instant noodles suspended in jello

In the end, they ended up with a much more interesting creation than spaghetti and meatballs: “I wanted like the classic, crazy, 1950s American SpaghettiO jello, but it was Alison’s idea to bring the idea closer to home by using something we (Chinese) eat more often, instant noodles and sausages — classic picnic food.”

One dish in particular lends the photography project a sense of locality: “The duck feet, that one just screams Hong Kong to me,” said Tang proudly. “The model is mixed, and that kind of fits into the East and West (narrative), and his styling was based on (Hong Kong superstar) Leslie Cheung.”

In addition to readying their models for the shoot, Tang and Tan also had to think about their ‘inanimate models.’ Luckily then, for Tan’s prowess at the stove.

“I made everything from scratch!” she said. While Hong Kong is home to thousands of dim sum restaurants, the food designer eschewed takeout for the sake of quality control: “I wanted to control the texture and color of the duck feet dish, so I made it myself — and packed it for Jennifer, who had it as a late night snack after the shoot. At one point, three of us women on the shoot were stood around eating duck feet, spitting out the bones with relish to be used as props in the set.”

feed me alison tan

Alison Tan, food designer cum model for feed me.

Those in attendance at feed me.’s opening party on Friday, November 4 at 7:30 PM will have the unique privilege of participating in a work of performance art titled ‘i feed you.’

“I told Alison, ‘Hey, we need to feed some people. They’re gonna be here from 7:30 PM, like right after work,” regaled Tang. “And she said, ‘Oh, why don’t we just feed them, like literally feed them. For a donation of 100 HKD (approximately 12.74 USD), we hand-feed them for three minutes.’”

“The 100 HKD donation for the ‘i feed you.’ performance will go towards covering the material expenses of the (self-funded) shoot production,” said Tan.

In an Instagram post by the food designer, she deliciously sums up what’s to come: “What unfolds is a play between trust & vulnerability, delight & disgust, structure & chaos.”

Images courtesy of Jennifer Tang

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