During a recent visit to Milan I was surprised to see this creature welcome me at the city’s Milano Malpensa airport. It is a giant figure dressed in a costume that reminded me of Renaissance armour and male fancy dress. The creature holds a woven basket filled with fruits in its right hand, and its head is adorned by a cooking pot almost bursting with its vegetable contents. Although designed to have the body and hands of a human being, the creature´s face is constituted of a variety of fruits and vegetables – clearly reminiscent of the paintings by the sixteenth-century artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo.
Slightly confused by this vegetable man, I approached his pedestal, on which was emblazoned the official logo of next year´s Expo taking place in Milan from May until October. The creature’s label explained:
The Food People
[…] The fruits of the earth and the basic elements of nutrition are interpreted in their physical and real transposition of [the] human figure. The guardians of food and of fruits of agric[u]lture become witnesses of nutrition and will welcome visitors of the Universal Exposition of Expo Milano 2015.
This slightly unclear explanation becomes clearer when looking closer at the motto of next year’s Expo chosen by its host country: Feeding the Planet – Energy for Life. According to the Expo website the motto was chosen to enable participants, visitors and organisers from all over the world to talk and think about issues of nutrition, resources of the planet and their sustainability. I wonder if the vegetable man, which by the way was designed by the internationally successful and Academy Award winning Italian production designer Dante Ferretti, will help in this dialogue and was designed to help encourage it.
The figure clearly refers to elements of nutrition – fruits and vegetables, as well as their gathering and preparation represented by the basket full of apples and the cooking pot. The figure as a whole thus presents food in abundance, but also food as necessary to a humans constitution. A creature between abundance and necessity? It is an uneasy tension that builds when thinking about it in this way. A tension that might lead one to think about the prosperity of food and water that is enjoyed in Europe for example, and the scarcity of both in other countries of the world.
It is unclear if l’Ortolino – the vegetable farmer – as the creature is named, was intended to express this tension, yet it does fit in perfectly with the theme of Milan’s Expo. One aspect that was intentional, however, is the reference to the Renaissance painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Famous for paintings that show portraits of men and women made of all natural materials such as flowers, fruits and vegetables, and wood, the reference to Arcimboldo is not simply visual. The painter was born in Milan, thus giving the reference a geographical dimension. Furthermore, referring to the relatively well-known work of a Renaissance painter also illustrates Italy’s continued pride in and identification with its artistic past. In this instance the past is used to welcome visitors from all over the world not only to the city of Milan, but also to a dialogue about past, present and future issues surrounding the sustained availability of food.
I found out later that this figure is actually part of a series of seven different sculptures designed by Ferretti, which not only act as a welcoming party in Milan, but also as Expo ambassadors in other countries. One figure was placed in a prominent square in Buenos Aires, while another two form part of a MoMA exhibition about Dante Ferretti in New York City. Therefore, The Food People are also designed to raise awareness, and international media as well public attention about the Expo Milano 2015 and its theme: Feeding the Planet – Energy for Life.
Have you seen any objects that intrigued you lately? Perhaps you have encountered something that piqued your curiosity in a museum or gallery (or in a shop or in the street?), or as part of your art or design practice, as part of your research, or as part of your daily life. Please don’t be shy! We welcome submissions on objects of all sorts, between 500 and 1,500 words, and we do ask that you own the rights to your images or use those belonging to the V&A. If you aren’t sure if your idea is right for our column, it certainly never hurts to ask, so please get in touch with us: email@example.com
Luisa Coscarelli –
Luisa did her BA in History of Art and German Literature at the Humboldt University in Berlin. Although completing it with a focus on contemporary art, she has now joined the Renaissance strand and is now interested in the relationship between smell and design. For her dissertation, Luisa is asking questions about ‘smelly objects’, and how olfactory environments were designed in the Renaissance period.
© Luisa Coscarelli 2014. All Rights Reserved.