Shape of Appetite

Wallpaper, books and magazines, single-channel video, color, sound, 29:00 minutes, 2017

Food carving, an ancient art, involves meticulously shaping vegetables and fruits into animal or flower forms, predominantly practiced in Chinese and Asian cuisine. These elaborate, handcrafted food embellishments prioritize aesthetics over efficiency, defying capitalist logic. In their collaborative project, Tang Han and Xiaopeng Zhou ventured into the culinary world, engaging various kitchen professionals in China and across the global Chinese diaspora. They documented video testimonials in both private and restaurant kitchen spaces. Their subjects spanned a wide spectrum of culinary expertise, including seasoned Chinese chefs, food carving virtuosos, molecular gastronomy specialists, young chefs from the post 1990s generation, and catering instructors. Their accounts revealed insights into the evolving catering industry, strategies to combat marketization, debates over “new” versus “traditional” cuisine, and poignant tales of families dispersed due to worker migration. The project investigates how shifts in national policies, demographics, and markets over recent decades have directly and indirectly impacted the local catering industry in China. It also examines how Western culinary influences have shaped the aesthetics of food presentation. The artists aimed to comprehend consumption aesthetics from the practitioners’ perspective, probing changes in consumer preferences and aesthetic shifts in dietary choices amidst rapid economic development.