Living Santa with Pain
Around the table
Discovering the art of PAIN was like opening the doors to a new world where everything could be reimagined.
As bread. PAIN is the experimental project by artist Elena Gallen and photographer Nerea López – a practice that challenges our ideas on the permanence of objects and the images that remain with us.
Thrilled by the possibilities of their art, we’ve teamed up to co-create a visual project where their world and ours meet around the dining table.
Continue reading to get inspired by their story.
How did the idea for PAIN come about?
This project was conceived during the confinement, a time when a sensation of impermanence reigned over society. According to the most alarmist versions, the collective crisis prophesied —in pure science fiction style— that the pandemic could jeopardize our survival as a species. In a time of such uncertainty, it seemed interesting to us to focus on the creation of impermanent sculptural objects whose transience in time could be comparable to ours as individuals in this uncertain new paradigm.
What kind of needs does this project answer to, when it comes to your artistry and self-expression?
PAIN gives us the possibility to investigate and experiment in an unexplored creative territory in which we have total creative freedom.
How was the process of choosing a material to work with? Or was bread the core of the idea from the start?
Yes, the project emerged to explore bread as a fundamental material to create furniture, everyday objects and sculptural pieces.
An obvious question: why bread?
We can go back to the time of the creation of the Valley of the Kings, in ancient Egypt, to find the first scenes of the making of bread. Bread is the most basic form of human food.
It’s cheap and accessible – and, beyond its culinary use, it remains largely unexplored.
Is redefining bread something you’re interested in doing with your work?
Our objects often seek a striking contrast between the natural and the artificial. We rarely we see organic matter taking the form of industrial objects such as design chairs, lamps, or tables. In addition to everyday and dysfunctional objects that refer to the everyday, as we look for inspiration in objects that accompanied us during the last few post-pandemic months. During this time, the home has become, more than ever, our refuge and our playground, so we decided to reinterpret some of these objects with a surreal, naturalist touch.
The material you work with is inherently tied to a moment, as it degrades – or rather evolves – with time. How does time, its passing and consequences, relate to the pieces that you do and your process of creating?
The photography we produce is not documentary, but artistic. It’s the image in itself that holds the value of the result of our work. We seek the optimal survival of the pieces through photographs, considering the possible exhibition purposes. But we are interested in investigating a possible medium-term conservation method for the objects. Which is not an easy task, because the spores of the fungi attack easily, especially in humid conditions, and the pieces have to be discarded quickly.
Do you bake this bread in a similar way as if it were to be eaten? If not, how is it different to table bread?
Yes and no. In most cases we do not use yeast, one of the key ingredients in traditional bread baking. This prevents the dough from deforming and allows the best possible control of the moulding of shapes.
This interview is part of a collaborative project with Santa. What elements of the brand do you feel connected to?
Santa values and creates connections with other artists to co-create projects. The new collection of linen tablewear is an element we’ve used to explore synergies around the dining table, where bread is the undisputed protagonist.
Speaking of connections, what kind of artists do you feel inspired by?
We’re most inspired by interior design, furniture design, craft objects and exhibition installations. But we keep an eye on profiles such as Farine Furniture, Laila Cooks or Aida Salán, who shed a light on bread as an artistic medium.
Do you think bread is so common that it’s never really paid attention to? Is this something that you consider in your work, and that you try to challenge? Please explain.
If you’re asking whether we use bread for subversive purposes, or if we’re trying to give some value back to the everyday, the ephemeral and the sustainable, there is something to that, of course. Contemporary artists tend to make use of plastic, fiberglass and other materials. For this reason, our commitment to using a natural organic material sets us aside from the current timeline, placing us in an alternative, discontinuous space-time.
In other cultures, bread is not such a quintessential part of every meal. How would you explain, to someone who’s not grown up with this custom, what bread represents in our food culture?
We would tell them to think of bread as a binder of moments, of human connections.
When you use bread as material for a sculpture, you change the usual way of interacting with it. It almost stops being food that’s supposed to be touched, torn apart, tasted and eaten, and it becomes an object to be looked at. What is it about this shift that interests you?
It is interesting that you comment on this. Unlike other creators who work with food, what we do cannot be classified as ‘food art’. Even though the pieces stand at the intersection between art and food, they are not edible. For us, flour is our material of choice, yet it does not detract any artistic value to our pieces: this choice does not determine the ultimate goal of a piece, and we don’t wish to place our work in the culinary sphere because of it.
How do you usually choose what kind of object you want to create with bread?
We started with bread reproductions of iconic pieces of furniture, such as the Thonet chair and the Noguchi table. We have also been trying to develop other pieces that bring a challenge to our process. Among our favourites, there are several series of lamps we had to design, manufacture, and assemble. We did every step by hand, including the electrical system, until we turned them into functional pieces.
From the bedroom to the table, Santa occupies a space in the everyday lives of people at home. So does bread: it’s an everyday necessity, a ritual almost, especially in Mediterranean cultures. What aspects of everyday rituals are you interested in?
Rituals make you feel grounded.
But, for us, moments are more important than rituals. Our goal is not to create lasting pieces that become a part of daily rituals. The goal of PAIN is to create unique moments and atmospheres that remain with us through photographs or videos.
CAPTURED BY @OUIAREPAIN