I’m not usually the kind of person that would look at a scrap piece of wood too closely. It wouldn’t catch my attention, and even if it did, I doubt I’d see more than its potential utility in construction or value to a beach bonfire.
Of course, that changed after I met Adeleine Daysor.
Daysor, 28, is a relatively new presence in the US art scene, having only recently arrived here from her home country of Singapore. She uses pieces of scrap wood to create abstract sculptures that are largely open to interpretation, and then marries them to food. It’s an odd relationship, and one that I didn’t fully understand at first, but have come to genuinely appreciate. The fact is, with Daysor’s art, the sculpture is really not the point at all.
Daysor gravitated to food imagery in her work because it was a way to transcend cultural differences. Even though food around the world is different, everyone in every country does have to eat. As such, there is no culture without food, nor is a there food without culture.
When Daysor narrowed her focus from a broad spectrum of culinary interpretation to a more precise investigation of sushi and seafood, she was reacting to the materials she encountered rather than attempting to manifest an image that had already developed in her mind. The pieces of wood that later would become the physical presence of her pieces imposed themselves upon her imagination, rather than the other way around. What makes Daysor unique is that she strives to allow her viewers this same opportunity.
“I saw a crab in this block of wood, but someone else may see something different,” Daysor explains to me, “but not if I place my watercolor of the crab directly next to the wood block. Then it’s a crab to everyone.” This kind of orchestration, Daysor claims, leaves no space for art.
This is one of the most interesting aspects of Daysor’s work. She does not consider her sculpture, watercolor, or mixed media to be her art in its final sense. Rather, the products of her effort are the images and emotions that the physical props conjure in an observer’s mind. This approach lends itself to a feeling of fluidity and open-endedness that is often missing from the work of many artists. Daysor seems to view the pieces she creates as stepping stones in a longer path of the viewer’s understanding or realization. “A lot of what I’m dealing with is the history of items, objects, things,” she says. “I put them together in different combinations that become an object, and that object starts its own history. Objects are like culture, they evolve and change, but there’s always an origin, and I want people to think about that.”
Daysor’s shows are interactive events. They combine a smattering of actual, edible food with her sculptures and paintings, all of which depictions of food in various degrees of abstraction. With little or no explanation given, Daysor’s show is similar to a zen initiate’s first taste of koan meditation. In her effort to create fertile ground for personal reflection and interpretation, Daysor offers no guidance as to how the pieces should be approached or interpreted. The audience is immediately confronted with a pronounced sense of insecurity.
There are paintings on the wall, but are they related to the sculptures on the pedestals? If so, why aren’t they displayed together? Not to mention — there is an abundance of edible food mixed in with the artwork, but is it supposed to be eaten? Is the food being wasted? What would happen if I ate it?
Daysor smiles when I ask her about this. “The first time the salmon log cake [a sculpture that flanks slices of real salmon with two pieces of wood that masquerade as salmon] was displayed, I offered it to be eaten, and people ate it. Second time, I didn’t say no but didn’t say yes either, and no one ate it.” She pauses for a moment before adding, “I think they didn’t eat it because the real food next to the constructed objects puts food outside its natural context. Also, it’s playing with the rules – people don’t know if they can eat it, or should eat it, etc.”
Daysor allows these questions to bloom in the minds of her viewers and to play themselves out in a natural progression. Sometimes the food in her shows is consumed, sometimes it’s not. To Daysor, this is the core of her art. Without free interpretation and participation to give depth to the piece, the work is merely two-dimensional.
To me, Daysor’s work echoes one of the most fascinating aspects of sushi, seafood, and the ocean in general: the sense of limitless potential and possibility. The monsters that coil about the edges of ancient mariner’s maps were spawned from the same place that Daysor is urging her viewers to return to. The reflective sheen atop the world’s oceans provides an optimal setting to nurture the imagination. What incredible creatures and undiscovered treasures lie beneath the waves?
Daysor’s work encourages us to believe in the wondrous nature of our world. In order to ignite a passion for the ocean, one must truly believe in its magnificence. The depth and mystery of the ocean is indeed indescribable, but we have largely allowed this awe to be supplanted by more pedestrian interpretations of the ocean (like fish sticks, for example.)
It doesn’t matter if I see the same thing that you see in a given piece of wood or a passing cloud. What matters is that we open ourselves to whatever blossoms in our imagination. I am not satisfied with the idea that the entire world will be force-fed a single interpretation of our ocean. As I said — that way lies fish sticks.
We need our passion, our hope, and our powers of imagination all operating at full capacity if we are to save our planet. We need the ability to visualize an answer, to work together, and to believe in ourselves. We have to challenge the paradigm that got us into this mess, and anyone that can use a forlorn, castaway piece of wood to fuel their creativity is on the right track.