The Nostalgia of Food: An art exhibit review

  Studio 126 event

I quite enjoy art exhibits. And when a talented friend and colleague is exhibiting her work, I LOVE art exhibits! I’m like a new mom, so proud of and excited for the potential this may bring a deserving person. And when the theme is food….well!!!!

This was the case when I attended “The Nostalgia of Food” last week, an exhibit hosted by Studio 126 in Chinatown (the installation of which continues all month).

In addition to being in an amazing, inspiring but completely unassuming space, the exhibit promised to showcase what “the nostalgia of food” means to the fifteen different artists on display, from painters to photographers and more.

Helena McMurdo Photography

Photo: Helena McMurdo Photography

Presumably the theme “the nostalgia of food” would be about the memories and connections associated with food and its traditions from our families or our experiences. Let’s walk through one of the artists, Helena’s, take on it.

Helena McMurdo Photography

Helena McMurdo – “Weight and balance” – giclee

“This is the scale that used to sit in my grandparent’s bar in Spain. It stirs up very personal memories for me as I remember when their bar was a lively place with neighbours and customers coming and going to have a drink and to buy food. I think of the stories it could tell, and of the conversations between my grandmother and her customers, how the weight might have been ‘just over’ the requested amount. Contrast that with how we shop for food today, mostly alone, helping ourselves and with less interaction with the shopkeeper. The social and communicative nature of the trading of the past is changing. Now with her shop long gone, the scale sits as a sort of fruit bowl, not fulfilling its true potential, but as a beautiful reminder of a time and a way of consuming food.” 

Helena McMurdo Photography

Helena McMurdo – “Pickling”

It seems like pickles are essentially a nostalgic item. Mention pickles and everyone remembers their grandma’s pickles. Or do they? I never made pickles as kid and nor did anyone in my family but this is how I imagined it would be if I had. I’m 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?

Helena McMurdo Photography

Helena McMurdo – “Rashers and eggs”

The simplicity of these ingredients 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?

I hadn’t thought much about the exhibit before getting there – heck, I barely got out of the house after a full day of work, picking up kids, throwing dinner at the family and slapping on a coat of lipstick! So I let the above and other artists’ impressions and inspirations guide me, and soon I was conjuring up my own images of what this theme means to me.

For example, I didn’t realize until I was an adult how much nostalgia I generated from my parents having a garden when I was a kid and how the values locked deeply in that eventually propelled me to start a garden once I had my own family.

Think about Christmas dinner! That’s fodder for another post, there’s so much nostalgia tied up in certain Christmas traditions carried on mostly by my hubby’s side of the family.

And even on a much less obvious note, food nostalgia in our family could be contained in a notion as simple as the fact that we always take tuna sandwiches “in the pack” for our lunch on the ski hill. In fact, my sister was heard saying the other day that, “Skiing wouldn’t be the same without tuna fish sandwiches”! I’m not sure anyone besides my dad even likes them, but it’s a constant in an event that we hold dear and have greatly enjoyed together since childhood.

What sparks food nostalgia in your life? 

ps, In addition to her food photography work, Helena is the author of the blog, My Endless Picnic, and co-author of the South Granville Inhabiter blog. You can also find her on the usual social media spots: Facebook: Helena McMurdo Photography, Twitter (@missilenth) & Instagram (@missilenth). Because the “H” in her name in silent. 🙂

Studio 126 is located at 126 E Pender Street in Vancouver BC.

3 thoughts on “The Nostalgia of Food: An art exhibit review

  1. Helena

    Wendy! Thanks for sharing your take on nostalgia. I love this theme and that his sparked so many memories for so many people. It’s sometimes said that nostalgia can hold us back but I think in many cases it can also spur inspiration and moving forward. Look how it drove you to start your own garden. Love you my friend.

  2. Alan Riches

    I was once asked, “what is my favorite food”. After ponding the question briefly I replied “lobster”. The next question was “why”. My answer surprised me, “because of the person/persons I eat it with”. So my favorite food wasn’t because of the taste, color, texture, restaurant, event, although it included all those parameters, it was the people. The nostalgia and memories that are contained in the experience of eating lobster. It is special, just like the people.
    Thanks for listening, Alan


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