Sun, Aug 05, 2001 - Page 19 News List

Dig in to a feast of art and flesh

With luxuriant colors and suggestively portrayed foods, Deng Wen-jen revels in pleasures of the palate and the flesh


Deng Wen-jen's Festin-Metamorphose II.


Festin, the new painting exhibition at Chu Wei Studio, is unconventional in many ways. Displaying various food dishes on canvas and opening the exhibition with an outdoor barbecue party, the energetic and hospitable artist Deng Wen-jen (鄧文貞) intends the show to be a fun time instead of the all-too-common solemn art event.

Most of the exhibits in Festin appeared in previous exhibitions in Paris and Bordeaux. But this exhibition includes a number of new pieces that help provide a broader view of her work.

The four series in Festin are all related to food. A gourmet herself, Deng learned to cook during her seven years studying oil painting in France. Her interest in cooking and eating soon began to show in her works.

Making food the subject of her paintings is also the artist's attempt to draw back into galleries a public that has long been distanced from contemporary art because they "can't understand what they see," she said. "Food in my works carries the familiarity of daily life. I want to show people that contemporary art doesn't have to be over people's head," she added.

The first series Creative Recipes (創意食譜) shows seven dishes of Deng's own invention and their recipes. In playing with the names of indigenous French ingredients which have many different definitions, Deng exhibits the strong influence of French culture.

In one painting, a human foot is served in a plate next to a dish of leg of pork. In another, a female breast floats in a steamer of steamed duplings. "Some people sensed brutality or cannibalism in these misplaced bodyparts, but they are just my random associations with food," Deng said.

At first sight, the works in the Eat. Drink. Men. Women (飲食男女) series also deal with food. The tables, covered with an exquisite table cloth, piled with meat, corn and fruits piece together images of men, women and their relations. In these paintings, men made of meat and women made of fruit and vegetables are entwined on tables clothed with a sea of frolicking sperm and eggs. Symbols of genitals abound: halved peaches, onions, papayas and peas to signify woman; pig head, suasages and chives portray man.

Nevertheless, these paintings with flaming colors and vibrant composition seem to celebrate life and intimacy between individuals in the guise of eroticism. Quoting French philosopher Georges Bataille, Deng said that eroticism exists only in solitude. People find it difficult to talk about sex or to show it in public. "But I want to place sex in the foreground while showing my emotions underneath," she said.

In the Pied de Lotus (三寸金蓮) series and Formosa -- The Love of Food (福爾摩沙 -- 食物戀), Deng's embroidery in the shape of tiny shoes forms part of the dishes on canvas. "Bound feet are the epitome of ancient Chinese fetishism about women's feet. The same idea can be found in Greene Brothers' Cinderalla," Deng said.

Sexual desire is explicitly shown in connection with desire for food through the paintings' luxuriant colors, reminiscent of traditional Chinese paper cut-outs, and the bright, lively embroidery.

Some viewers to the exhibition, appalled by the clear references to sex, wonder whether the paintings are indecent. This reaction surprised Deng. "It seems that Taiwanese are too sexually repressed to appreciate art. In France, no one questioned the properness of my works." Deng said.

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