Still Life: the food bowl


Still Life: The Food Bowl (2011)

materials: Murray River Salt

dimenions: life size

From ancient Mesopotamia over four thousand years ago to present-day Australia, salinity has posed a major problem for civilisations throughout history. Along the Murray-Darling basin, known as Australia’s ‘food bowl’ as it produces up to 90 per cent of Australia’s fresh food, 550 000 tonnes of salt is pumped out of the ground every year to try and stem the increasing rise of highly saline groundwater.

Still Life: The Food Bowl is made from this groundwater salt. It draws on still life as an artistic tradition that emerged as current agricultural practices were being developed, bringing new food produce to the tables of a rising European bourgeois class. The still life themes of consumption, luxury, vanity and mortality are reenacted, now entirely from salt. The stark white salt works bring us back to the environmental cost of agricultural production and link up with historical associations of salt—as a powerful, sacred substance that maintains life by enabling food preservation, but also induces the death of ecosystems and the collapse of empires. Salt becomes a metaphor for the rise and fall of civilisations throughout history, and the issues of environmental decline, climate change, and food security that face us on a global scale today.

Supported by the Australian Network for Art and Technology, Sunrise 21 and Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre in association with the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body. This body of work emerged from a Synapse residency in Mildura. Special thanks to Helen Vivian and Ross Lake, curator and director of Palimpsest, Mildura.