After being snapped and uploaded to Instagram accounts, the work of food artists frequently ends up in the bellies of friends and family.
Not so for 25-year-old Malaysian-American artist Jamie Tan's creations.
In what might be a new standard for food artists everywhere, she’s sent her incredibly detailed cake sculptures down a completely different road: to be displayed in Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art, as one component of Argentinian sculptor Adrián Villar Rojas’ exhibition, Theatre of Disappearance.
Tan made more than 70 cakes for the exhibition, a process that involved baking at least five cakes every day in the few months prior.
Each cake stands as a mirror image of Rojas’ installation, which deals with how objects relate to their place in time and space.
Her works hardly look edible. Instead, they emulate the textures and appearances of naturally occurring geographical formations – jagged rocks, molten lava and swirle marble.
The cakes are designed to “create a conversation between both sedimentary forms and textures,” she says.
Tan discovered her love of art and sculpture while growing up in Malaysia. “I have always had a passion for sculptural art and enjoyed exploring various techniques during school,” she tells SBS.
“Since Malaysia is such a melting pot of craft and culture, I learned very early on how to draw from different inspirations and be resourceful with materials. This asset has definitely carried forward into my art practice today.”
The artist, who migrated to California from Kuala Lumpur to study experimental animation at the California Institute of Arts, refers to herself as the “untrained baker and mistake maker,” rallying against the long-touted belief that baking is an exact science.
“I prefer to take pleasure in happy accidents and culinary classes of taste and texture,” her website reads.
"Since Malaysia is such a melting pot of craft and culture, I learned very early on how to draw from different inspirations and be resourceful with materials."
It’s an ingrained part of her artistic practice that made her a good fit for Rojas, an artist who poses questions about the decomposition of organic materials through his site-specific installation.
Unlike other food art that ultimately finds its way into mouths and bellies, Tan’s cakes are designed to be displayed, not eaten.
Tan says she uses food as a medium because “the malleability of the ingredients makes for interesting challenges in structural form and aesthetic.
"It circles back to my thematic source of emotion – it is the root of all human connection. Just like memories, food is a direct symbol of passing time.
"Every ingredient I use is injected with flavour, and that flavour is marinated with a deeper meaning. Whenever I work with food, I have to take into account the fine narrative threads and how they speak to the larger concept.”
"Every ingredient I use is injected with flavour, and that flavour is marinated with a deeper meaning."
And while her cakes are certainly edible, she avoids ingredients that usually make cakes delicious in an attempt to stretch out their shelf lives.
She swaps butter for shortening oil, eggs for baking soda and bypasses artificial preservatives entirely.
"The cakes were created to retain most of their form while enduring a decelerated degradation process over the course of the exhibition,” she says.
“By the end of the seven month display, the cakes should evolve into objects that show the transition of time and moments passed.
"Adrián has been known to repurpose elements in his work, so who's to know where those cakes will end up!"