From a futuristic feast that is to be seen but not eaten, to a famine stricken fairy tale forest, Anna Williams seeks to re-evluate the very sustenance we need in order to survive. The Voracity journeys through a tantalising scope of visual landscapes from wild fantasy to harsh reality, exploring man’s primal needs and instincts. Yet, these instincts become entwined with the flagrant impieties of desire, temptation and excess, creating a turbulent yet enchanting expedition.
“All men are hungry. They always have been,” Anna Williams quotes M.F.K. Fisher in her work. This hunger, as Williams shows, can manifest itself as a whole range of tempestuous desires. Each of the eleven series documents a voracious desire for more, yet at the heart of each lies the single, fundamental desire for survival. This single innate desire can become entrenched in superfluity and extravagance if resources are abundant, or move in a very different direction in face of scarcity.
Fill Of Love weaves together the excessive desire for both food and sexual passion, in a provocative assessment of cardinal sin. Williams creates a sexual potency deriving from food, with images of intoxicating absinthe and aphrodisiac infused oysters. Its dark colours heighten this provocative aura, together with the vivid textures of furrowed velvets, silks and chain mail. The dark foods are exotic in origin – chocolate, coffee beans, red wine, pomegranates, cherries, liquorice – all imported from foreign lands and hinting at wealth.
This luxury of abundance has created an almost narcissistic carelessness. Rather than any humbling appreciation, food appears simply as an elaborate embellishment, inherent to the sexually charged game underway and discarded whimsically in a pile of lavish waste alongside the Chanel handbag and stilettos. The importance of these two acts so fundamental to man’s existence is somehow weakened.
Similarly to Fill of Love, Undone shows a copiousness of food, yet the contrast could not be stronger. The food is fresh and organic, and despite its apparent abundance, nothing appears to be wasted. A clean, natural world is brought into the domestic area, creating a life seemingly of purity, hinting even at chastity with the crisp white linen and clothing. Instead of food and lust mingling together into an intoxicating aphrodisiac, this food is entirely removed from any of those instincts or feelings.
Yet the reoccurring green drinks in both series form a significant connection, despite their contrasting properties. Both the intoxication absinthe and the purifying green smoothie have been freshly made, and each female sips it in a moment of apparent solitary reflection. The opening text of Undone furthers this tie, with “yesterday’s ruin“ and “a return to the most elemental,” hinting at the suggestion of two halves of the same thing (the night before, the morning after.)
“The tangle of sleep unravels yesterday’s ruin. She seeks something simple, raw and perfect in its crudeness. A return to the most elemental.”
At the other end of the spectrum arises the scenario of scarcity, probing the question of what might happen if resources physically fade away. How to Shoot A Wolf is based on the cook book by M. Fisher, 1942, published at the height of WW2 food shortages and rations. Innovative and imaginative in an otherwise bleak and hopeless time, Fisher wonders how to defeat the “metaphorical wolf of hunger” that swept the nation. In this series, rotten food is mixed in amongst salvageable food in an attempt to make the most of what is there. With this scarcity of recourse comes an abundance of creativity. As the photos show, this is not simply just with food but also with one’s time and imagination, as suggested by the typewriters and papers, old photos and art books that litter the tables.
A Princely Feast tells the fairy tale of a royal family venturing into the woods in search of the witch they believe has cast a terrible famine upon the land. It offers wisdom to the characters of some of the other series: “You cannot take and take and take and expect more in return. This is lost on quick human thought, but present in the slow growth of other living things. Reap, wait, sow.” It is a chastising caution to our mindless, careless over-consumping ways. Here, we see a humbling admiration of those so used to wealth and comfort in the face of nature. Although the white, cuddly animals being played with eventually end up on the very same peoples’ plates, the images reveal a delicate relationship of respect, responsibility and gratitude – so alien from the cold, automated processes of factory food supply.
It’s the same kind of attitude and relationship seen in Seven Steps, which documents the film crews’ own story in the Catskill Mountains whilst filming a shoot. The series maps the progression from scenes of fishing and hunting to a gathering around the bonfire, until it appears on the table as a delectable feast. Far from the alienating opulence of imported, exotic foods in Fill Of Love, where the characters neither care nor worry themselves about how it was attained, the people here must immerse themselves in nature and overcome it in order to ensure that food is on their table.
Yet, rather than insinuating hardship, the series highlights a peaceful, admirable way of living – one that has been chosen by the participants rather than inflicted out of necessity. It’s a bold and conscious decision, made all the more daring in face of the dark, ominous opening photo. It recalls Thoreau’s retreat to Walden woods, albeit perhaps a little less eloquent, as they proclaim, “We went upstate because of an idea and a feeling – to explore that sense of local trust and local ingredients.” This desire to move away from the mass produced quality of a corporate dominated food market is also a longing to align oneself with the natural order of the food chain. Unlike the synthetic self-imposed deprivation of natural light in Fill Of Love, here is a darkness native to a landscape removed from mankind and its glaring cities.
“The Catskills have stayed a certain way for so long because you really have to commit to this place to find all of its treasures. You have to promise to do good things with all it has to offer, before it lets you in and it’s like this for everything.”