You Are What You Eat: Martynka Wawrzyniak’s Sustenance-Inspired Self Portrait

Artsy Editorial
Sep 16, 2014 9:48PM

We are what we eat and what we eat is who we are, as Martynka Wawrzyniak’s abstract self-portrait demonstrates at New York’s envoy enterprises. For “Feed,” Wawrzyniak created a 100-foot-long cocoon-like installation consisting of 365 cloth napkins, each subtly stained with the food she ate during a year’s worth of dinners. An equal number of paper lunch napkins were chronologically arranged in frames, to record the imprint of her lips after drinking her morning green juice. Alongside this evidence of the food that became part of herself, Wawrzyniak presented two sculptures made from a food that she abstains from eating. A golden candy cast of the inside of her mouth and a white sugarpaste imprint of her belly serve as her negative self-portrait. She invites viewers to taste these sculptures in order to distance themselves from her. Not included in the show is a video filmed by Wawrzyniak’s husband, photographer Richard Kern, documenting Wawrzyniak wiping her mouth with the blank white cover of her fat 365-page limited edition book during many family meals and chafing her lips from repeated rubbing. Here, Wawrzyniak reveals why recording the passage of food through her lips offers us insight into her identity and, by extension, our own relationships with the substances that sustain us.

Ana Finel Honigman: How conscious are you of your food choices? Do you subscribe to any particular food ideology or dietary regime? Are you a raw food person, for example?

Martynka Wawrzyniak: I am very conscious of my food choices. I have been a vegan since I was 12 years old and have figured out my own dietary regime through carefully listening to my body over the years and figuring out what works best for it. I eat seasonally and locally as much as I can, favoring mostly raw foods in the spring and summer and incorporating more cooked foods in the colder seasons. I apply some of the principles of the alkaline diet and ayurveda and eat a lot of homemade fermented foods.

AFH: As a slender woman, do you think people are especially interested in what you eat and don’t eat? Could this series work as well, do you think, if you had a different body type?

MW: My physical appearance is insignificant as I am not physically represented in this self-portrait—the portrait is stripped down to the residue of my corporeal experiences. It is also a very literal interpretation of the phrase “you are what you eat.” People constantly ask me what I eat as they think my choices must be very limited being a vegan. Now they can study the captions in the Dinner 02.01.2013 –01.31.2014 book and discover the vast variety of ingredients. The book is a diary of a year of my life with daily entries indicating the location of each meal as well as an untraditional recipe book stripped down to nothing but an index of ingredients. Each of the books has a unique food stained cover, from me using the white cloth bookcase to wipe my mouth like a dinner napkin.

AFH: What are you considerations when you eat? Do you privilege nutrition over taste? What flavors or types of food excite you most?

MW: Taste is of utmost importance. Preparing food and eating is one of my biggest pleasures and escapes. I have a plant-based diet so I am very excited and inspired by the bounty of fresh produce at the local farmers market. Vegetables picked fresh from the field are still charged with the energy from the sun and earth—making them inherently more flavorful and nutritious. I pay attention to getting the correct balance of nutrients but I am certainly not into consuming bland health food. I follow my intuition; if you are in tune with your body it will crave the flavors and foods your body requires.

AFH: Why did you select candy and sugar as the materials for your sculptures?

MW: The sculptures are negative imprints of parts of my body associated with the intake and digestion of food. I wanted to make them out of edible materials, inviting the viewer to consume the pieces.  I don’t eat any processed sugar; since it is so foreign to me I have always been fascinated by candy. Sugar is seductive and desirable, dangerous and addictive. I find the medium sexual and inviting. 

AFH: What do you think can be gleaned about your identity—lifestyle and personality—from these napkins?

MW: The napkins are an index of my daily experiences. The viewer can examine this forensic evidence and do their own detective work to paint a picture of my life and personality.

Ana Finel Honigman

Martynka Wawrzyniak: FEED” is on view at envoy enterprises, New York, Sept. 7th–Oct. 12th, 2014.

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Artsy Editorial