"Add Color" China Plate by May Sun: The Future of Digital Food Plating?

“Add Color” China Plate by May Sun: The Future of Digital Food Plating?

Ralph Caplan said when it comes to your life, there is no such thing as design; There is only redesign.

In her work, Add Color, May Sun has blended a paper plate with the form of an artist pallet to create an eating surface that plays off of the idea that food can be a work of art. May Sun researched the history of plates—from ceramic surfaces of ancient China to modern disposable plates, and found that while throughout history the plate is connected by the function of holding or serving food, the myriad variations of plates carry different meanings and serve different social purposes. In the case of some traditional ceramic plates, for example, the plate might be designed with detailed decoration—as a sign of status, a connection to tradition, or to tell a story; the paper plate, on the other hand, is purely functional, and does not aim to carry any deeper meaning.

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While she appreciated the idea that traditional decorations can bring some expression or a deeper layer of meaning to a meal, May found that when a plate has decoration, this decoration takes the focus—rather than the food on the plate. This is where she introduces the iconic symbol of an artist pallet: the shape playfully implies that the food is like an artist’s paint, which gives the plate an expressive quality,= but also keeps the focus on the food…the colorful part of the item. To explore this idea (and to show some of her process), May created a screencast video, revealing the painstaking process of using the “images of food” as a painting material.

Of course, this took much longer than painting with actual food, but abstracting the “paint” one layer away—as literal, digital Photoshop layers—forced her to think of, and use, the images of food as raw images as opposed to raw food. Connecting the physical and the digital in this way gave a new perspective of the product and its use, and introduced the notion of speculative “food printers” which compose food “paintings” on the plate. If this kind of digital manufacture and “plating” of food is in our future, it is arguable that designers of these devices may in fact use tools exactly like Photoshop to sketch out their designs. In this work, May Sun investigates what that future may look like.

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