July 23, 2021 The Welly On a Plate team

It All Felt Too Hard - Food meets felt

Over the years, Visa Wellington On a Plate has presented gastronomic-inspired art through various mediums (photography, miniature sculpture, crocheted couture, etc.) by an array of talented artists, who are captured by the culinary. And this year, the world of food meets felt!

Australian-based artist, @imakesoftfood, a.k.a. Chloe A. Smith, combines the worlds of felt and food with delicate and not-so edible renditions of your favourite culinary delights. 

Her free, week-long exhibition, It All Felt Too Hard, is exhibiting at Te Auaha as part of Visa Wellington On a Plate's annual foodie-inspired art exhibition in the first week of the festival (2-8 August). 

From pavlova to antipasti platters to rotting bananas and mouldy bread, I Make Soft Food creates meticulously-crafted and often darkly humorous, soft-sculptural replicas of the delicious to the mundane. Aiming to change people's perceptions of perfect and natural food, she juxtaposes the "fresh" alongside the jarring experience of the imperfect by creating food with faults, with some slowly “succumbing” to decomposition.

With nine new pieces, especially created for the exhibition, as well as nine existing pieces, this is the first time I Make Soft Food is showing her felt food within New Zealand. 

We chatted to @imakesoftfood about the fuzzy world of felty food, and what you can expect to find at It All Felt Too Hard

When did you start to create felt art and how did you learn? Did you teach yourself? How arduous is the process of creating a piece?

I started making sculptures from felt around seven years ago. It all started as a bit of fun. I was just mucking around in my studio with fabrics and started making a series of cockroaches out of felt. From there it developed into where things are today. It can be a pretty arduous process, mainly for how long things can take, but the challenge of working out how to make particular patterns and shapes is what will keep me distracted in my studio for days on end.

What made you decide to start creating felt food?

Food has always been a subject of fascination for me. I come from a Chinese/Australian background so food has always been a massive tool for communication in my family. It’s kind of everything. So when it came to my art practice, it seemed like a no-brainer that it would involve food. To me, food is connected to all aspects of life, it’s full of drama and romance and tension and humour and has been an endless source of inspiration on account of that.

How long does it take you to make a single piece?

It can take an incredibly long time. Some pieces have taken several months. Often it will take me a while to work out how to achieve a certain texture out of the wool so there can be a long period of experimentation.

What inspires you to make your next piece? How do you decide to create, say, a tin of anchovies?

That’s a good question. I’m not really sure I know the answer to that. I’m drawn to shape and colour and particularly intrigued by textures that might be really challenging to replicate in felt. Like the folds in the red cabbage or the mottled yellow bits on a gourd. I find wandering around international supermarkets and delis hugely inspiring, but I’m also very inspired by pretty much anyone else who works with colour and shape. I read a lot of graphic novels and love bright, bold films that cover topics about nostalgia or memory. I’m inspired by chefs who like to push boundaries of what ingredients are capable of. I guess I consider myself to be doing a similar thing. Just with wool instead of say, pastry or chocolate.

What is the inspiration behind the exhibition, It All Felt Too Hard? Some of the food will be in decomposition? Tell us a bit about the concept behind it.

I was motivated by a few different things. I wanted many of the pieces in the exhibition to have a sense of being “a bit off” or “not quite right” so that people would have to spend a bit longer looking at them. Obviously there is the double-take that people do with my work where they think it is real and then realise it isn’t and that illusion is always part of it. But I wanted to take it one step further with some of the pieces and push them a bit further into a kind of strange and awkward space, have them dip into stories adjacent to our food memories or experiences. I also, and this is something that I’m always interested in exploring in my work, wanted to elevate many everyday items to a place of considered beauty. I feel there is so much beauty to be found in the mundane and regular things around us.

You're making nine pieces especially for It All Felt Too Hard? Can you give us a clue as to what they may be?

Think: forgotten party platters, abandoned vegetables and a couple of NZ favourites.

Is this the first overseas exhibition you're exhibiting, and is this the first culinary festival to approach you to put on an exhibition? 

I had a show in Japan a few years back. It was really well received. I made a lot of pieces in response to things I found in the supermarkets there. It was a really inspiring place for colours and shapes and obviously food. But this is the first culinary festival I've exhibited for.

What is your favourite piece you've made?

I often know a piece is really working when it’s sitting in my studio and I think “Wo left this bread here?" or if I start to get really hungry making something. I think the antipasto platter in this show really had that effect on me.

Check out @imakesoftfood’s exhibition, It All Felt Too Hard, a free Visa Wellington On a Plate art exhibition, at Te Auaha on 65 Dixon Street, Te Aro from 2-8 August. 

Work up an appetite at her exhibition, and then follow up by dining on the real (perfect and unmouldy) versions at participating Visa Wellington On a Plate venues.