REVIEW: An art for the nose and the stomach

Emily Murayama. Photo: Caledonia Maxwell, 2019

Emily Murayama recently exhibited Midnight Snack at 310 New Cross Road and gave us a brief glimpse of more recent work in her studios. Each work combines its subject matter, what we currently think of as ‘food’, with carefully made videos, allusions to roots, and a sprinkling of domesticity. While Emily considers various titles for her latest work, we will take a closer look at its ingredients.

The subject matter (matter) here is the remnants of what may have been yesterday’s salad. Fragments of onions, garlic, a potato, leeks, growing around the fractured white goods, some in soil, others in water. The majority of the alliums (the technical term for onions, garlic) have been chopped, are shrivelling, but all bear the evidence of growing. Even if just through decomposition, these morsels of allium sativums (sativum: cultivated, sativa – feminine, sativus – masculine) demonstrate their contribution to the future. From bulbs they grew into a form we find edible; they’re chopped, peeled, picked, pickled and here exhibited next to antiquated domestic tools and speculative hydro-technology. The matter-ial beauty of the tear-inducing roots, eternal in that each will visibly decompose and feed more life, or reproduce itself in shoots and spores, is juxtaposed by the sterility of plastic fridges. Connecting these elements are glimmers of domesticity, the private realm, the place where we take family and commodity and live. The videos animate the scene, providing space to think about our own roots, layers, matter, entropic, journey.

Emily Murayama. Photo: Caledonia Maxwell, 2019

Entering the studio space, concrete floor, scarred white walls, low light, luminescence from hydroponics (and a desk lamp), recalls entry into a grow house (speaking on behalf of a friend). In that laboratory, an emphatically anti-state act is being performed, the politics of which are troubling, especially in light of the increase in decriminalisation and legalisation (at varying rates) for possession or growing of cannabis occurring in America since 2012. This is an extreme implication of the visual aesthetics of Emily’s piece, but a demonstration of how her simple work is able to shed (LED) light on elements of the contemporary moment way beyond the wall of the studio in which she works. Where the re-presenting of discarded food stuffs triggers a mild revolution in the viewer’s head, so its consequence is that other plants, commodities and technologies can be reconsidered outside of the repressive system of state-approved meaning and into more productive configurations.

Emily Murayama’s Midnight Snack at 310 New Cross Road © Caledonia Maxwell, 2019

This was a beautifully experiential work, with space and subject being given equal consideration. The work stimulates the nose and stomach before the eyes – the delicate aroma of garlic and onion adds the physical sensation of nourishment, site of the meal. The plants show matter in ecological form, the videos in technological, and the white goods show matter chemically reformed into plastic, indigestible, finite. Emily’s work presents them together as a quiet invitation to de-, then re-contextualise vegetable life through the choking fog of the Anthropocene. Each form speaks about contemporary moments in a quietly unflinching manner. We look forward to seeing more from this artist in the future.

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