'Ham and Cheese Toastie' Food Photography
Let us consider Henry Thompson’s Ham and Cheese Toastie (2020) as a ‘readymade’.
A readymade is an ordinary manufactured object designated by the artist as a work of art. A famous example of a readymade is Marcel Duchamp’s work titled Fountain (1917), which consists of a urinal with the signature R.Mutt written on the side. It is one of the most important artworks of the 20st century, and of all time, as it launched the idea that mundane everyday objects can be used analogously to consider vast philosophical questions.
There is a flavor of the absurd about Thompson’s Ham and Cheese Toastie (2020) and it certainly has all the ingredients of a ‘readymade’. While this is an impeccably made toastie, photographed at the optimal moment to capture the melting of rich and luxurious looking cheddar…I am wondering, where is the ham? Is the piece demonstrating an intentional ploy between image and word? Is it challenging the viewer to question the chasm between the object and that, which describes it?
Thompson’s work, presented here, is reminiscent of surrealist artist René Magritte’s famous painting, The Treachery of Images, which depicts a pipe. Underneath Magritte has painted the words, ‘Ceci n'est pas une pipe’ (french for ‘This is not a pipe’). Magritte’s painting considers the idea of perception and reality-how we come to believe something - how we position one truth above another. He asks why we prioritise verbal over visual or vice versa.
Essentially Magritte is drawing attention to the absurdity of how we use signs, symbols and words to describe objects to each other, using the mundane, everyday object of the pipe to launch a musing on the infinite topic of how we, as humans go about constructing our own reality.
Today’s world of ceaseless image circulation, as well as the proliferation of images that have been manipulated, altered and enhanced, has brought new significance to Magritte’s work.
Thompson celebrates the Dadaist elements of Duchamp and Magritte’s work by presenting us with a similarly mundane yet epiphanic object –the cheese toastie.
Then with the promise of ham, he instills a contradiction between the title of the work and what it describes. In doing so, he underscores the absurdity of our visual experience or as Magritte calls it, the treachery of images.
Ingrid Lyons is a freelance writer and curator, currently living and working in London. Lyons has written gallery texts and exhibition catalogue texts for many of Ireland’s leading artists, having worked at two of Ireland's foremost art galleries, the Douglas Hyde and Kevin Kavanagh.
She has written for numerous online and printed publications including the Irish Arts Review and Circa Magazine.
Lyons also writes fiction, an example of which can be read in Proud and Strong All Day Long, a short story to accompany images of paintings by Kathy Tynan, published by Kevin Kavanagh.
Ingrid Lyons is currently working on a collection of short stories and a series of freelance curatorial projects.