Producing good food is certainly an art, but can food be art?
That's what artist Tiffany Singh and chef Ed Verner, from Parnell restaurant-of-the-moment Pasture, have been exploring in a rare collaboration.
Both acknowledge a range of herbs, spices, vegetables and even sea snails were used to make pigments before modern dyes and paints were created. But Pasture to Paper, part of Auckland's Artweek, looks at how unique artworks can be created when chefs and artists collaborate. It also aims to put a new spin on food ethics and sustainability by using art to clearly show the relationship between what we grow and eat.
Pasture's seasonal menus are inspired by the colours and textures of nature and ingredients for its distinctive dishes are hunted, gathered, fermented, pickled and preserved using traditional techniques. Singh, who has exhibited work throughout New Zealand and often works on community art projects, has taken the found and foraged ingredients to make pigments used in a series of artworks.
"I came for dinner one night and other diners must have thought I had the worst table manners ever," she says. "I kept putting my fingers in the food, wetting it and then smearing it onto the pages of my notebook and then writing things down."
Singh has watered down Pasture's green sauce, with parsley as a main ingredient, and used it to stain and dye paper. She's also investigated questions like whether charcoal from the restaurant's fire can be used for a black pigment.
"It's about paying attention to the things that are often overlooked - like wood sorrel - and the natural beauty that surrounds us and what it can provide in terms of sustainability and wellbeing.
"That type of knowledge was historically so well-known, but now there's been such a change in the way we live and eat - everything is packaged and processed - so that traditional knowledge has been lost."
The most famous natural dye was probably Tyrian purple, favoured by ancient Roman emperors and made by crushing and boiling sea snails. It took around 10,000 Mediterranean Murex to make enough dye for one toga, meaning it was more than worth its weight in gold, while tempera, with egg yolk as a binder, was the main method of painting until oil paint was invented.
Once Singh completes Pasture to Paper, she'll take part in Art for Food to help families and individuals in need. She's produced dozens of hand-made organic beeswax figurines which she'll swap for a 450g tin of salmon to be donated to the Auckland City Mission foodbank. Those who want to give more can buy, through St Matthew-in-the-City church, a family food parcel which feeds two adults and two children for $65 or a solo food parcel for $23 in exchange for multiple artworks.
Singh sets up shop under the pohutukawa tree on the corner of Federal and Hobson Streets, close to the Auckland City Mission, from 5 - 9.30pm on Wednesday. Auckland Artweek is from October 8 - 16; more details see www.artweekauckland.co.nz