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Friday, January 15, 2021

Fine Arts

Visiting artists tell stories of neighborhoods through fruits

Lemons - feature

Visiting artists opened a lemonade stand on Saturday at the Blaffer Art Museum in exchange to hear attendants’ personal stories. Visitors were also encouraged to draw self-portraits. | Diana Nguyen/The Daily Cougar

In the simple culinary sense, a fruit is usually any sweet-tasting plant product, which is good for one’s health. Los Angeles-based artist group Fallen Fruit takes fruit to another level, breaking free of being merely the healthy portion of the food pyramid.

As part of the Blaffer Art Museum’s Visiting Artist and Scholar series, artists David Burns and Austin Young spoke Thursday afternoon on how their art collaboration Fallen Fruit started, how their projects interact with the community and how it expanded throughout the nation.

It started in 2004 in their old neighborhood, Silverlake, Los Angeles. Burns and Young noticed how overlooked the fruit trees in public spaces were — how nobody would walk in the neighborhood and take advantage of these bountiful fruit trees, instead driving to the grocery store to buy fruits. They began to map out where the fruit trees in public spaces in Los Angeles were and soon expanded throughout the nation, documenting their adventures. Thus, their project Public Fruit Maps started. Public Fruit Maps is one of Fallen Fruit’s core projects and has been exhibited in museums and gallery exhibitions internationally.

Throughout the artist talk, Burns and Young described their various projects, including their Public Fruit Jam, a social experiment in 2006 which asked people to sit with others they do not know and make jam with them. Fallen Fruit often collaborates with the community, creating works to reimagine public interactions with the margins of urban space.

“The reason why we use fruit and what we learn from it is, it is a subject of something, and at the same time it is an object. It is a symbol,” Burns said. “It is one of the only things in the world that is transnational and it is completely generational. It is one of the few things on this planet that can be celebrated by everyone and that everyone has a childhood memory of. We’re actually not thinking of the actions we make as much as we’re thinking about the materiality we’re transforming.”

Visitors, such as photography and digital media senior Brenda Franco, responded positively to the artists’ work.

“I was not quite sure what the artist talk was about, but once they began to explain their work, I was pleasantly surprised to find the amount of layer and meaning it had. I enjoyed how they were really interested in creating community-based artwork, but also creating awareness along with it,” Franco said. “They touched upon broad audiences from galleries and museumgoers to the everyday citygoer. I think seeing how they found meaning in every detail of their work was inspiring because it meant they were truly invested in what they are doing.”

In continuation to the artists’ visit at UH, Fallen Fruit held a social Thursday night exhibiting their collective called Neighborhood Infusions, in which they served participants types of vodka and invited them to share their own stories about Houston neighborhoods. The vodkas displayed were infused with fruits gathered in various neighborhoods, exploring the essence of the place with more of a focus on the fruit itself than simply being an alcoholic beverage.

On Saturday afternoon, Fallen Fruit held a lemonade stand in front of the Blaffer Art Museum, asking participants to create self-portraits on lemons using black Sharpies in exchange for a glass of lemonade. Unlike the average lemonade stand, the artists asked participants to speak into a voice recorder and share stories of the best and worst days of their lives.

“I was invited through Blaffer’s Facebook event and thought I would be drawing random things on lemons, not my self-portrait,” said education junior Angela Nguyen.

“I don’t draw faces very well but went for the challenge and I think I look rather … kiddish. It’s a cartoon version of me, something a five-year-old could have drawn, but I enjoyed the event. The lemonade was delicious.”

From projects like Public Fruit Maps or their series of narrative photographs and iconic colorful fruit wallpaper, one thing is for sure: Fallen Fruit’s artists Burns, Young and Matias Viegener — who wasn’t present during the Blaffer events — are passionate about bringing awareness to the relationship with fruits and the world around.

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