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Arden Surdam is a photographer by training, but since beginning grad school at CalArts in 2013 she’s mostly been cooking. Surdam’s most recent experiments with food and photography are currently on view at The Situation Room, a renovated garage nestled in an artfully landscaped backyard in Glassell Park. The checklist reads like a cook book: Baby Octopus, Cyanotype, Olive Oil. Instead of tossing her ingredients in a frying pan, Surdam puts them on a sheet of photo paper and leaves them outside to rot. As the food decomposes, it reacts with the photo chemicals to create an image. The result is surprisingly painterly and evokes what one might expect to see under a microscope: blooming whorls of biomorphic shapes on shifting aquatic waves.
Presented in the exhibition in backlit open air vitrines covered in a thick layer of agar, the effect is numinous—artifacts on glowing altars, miraculous images conjured from mundane materials. While the majority of the foodstuffs have been removed, some organic matter still remains, decomposing over time and likely to present a distinct odor to those visiting during the final days of the show.
The images themselves will also degrade during this process, flouting the art historical narrative of the everlasting art object. Instead, they are content to live out their natural role in the circle of life—just like the cup of yogurt in your fridge. This fleeting moment, captured, adds an additional poignancy to Surdam’s project. In an art world that can sometimes feel dominated by mega-galleries, privately financed vanity museums, and the proliferation of commerce-on-steroids art fairs, this embrace of an art object’s potential for ephemerality is gratifying.
Arden Surdam: Solid Liquid runs September 8-September 30, 2016 at The Situation Room (2313 Norwalk Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90041)