Artist Creates Ingenious Sculptures With Food

Danling Xiao's Mundane Matters project
Artist Danling Xiao created each of these sculptures from food in her Mundane Matters project.  Danling Xiao /

Danling Xiao was literally playing with her food one day — specifically, a pumpkin — as she was making her dinner. She was in a mood and ended up turning her veggie meal into a homicidal sculpture. And so began a creative odyssey that led the young designer to a larger creative project, Mundane Matters.

"The daily practice is to create one piece of fruit and vegetable sculpture, accompanied by writing, tapping into issues such as organic farming, ethical eating, and animal protection. All sculptures are eaten after photographed," writes Xiao on her site.

When she was 18, Guangdong, China, native moved to Australia, where she started off studying accounting in college. She switched to design, which is now her profession — and one she wants to use to make her more than 43,000 Instagram followers think. We talked to her about her art.

Treehugger: What was the fruit or veggie that inspired this project?

Danling Xiao: One veggie from the earliest creations was a half pumpkin. I thought its form looked like a Matryoshka doll before I cut it for dinner. Then I scooped out the seeds, filled it up with some rice, and made a face. Then I put a knife on her neck and squeezed tomato juice. I must have been in quite a dark mood at the time. It was just a playful thing for myself before or after dinner.

Why did you decide to keep going with your project after that first day of inspiration?

It actually took another two years for me to decide to make it a project. In 2015, I had to quit my full-time job for a break. All of a sudden I had a lot of time, I realized how much beauty in life I had missed. I started to cook more at home, go to my local organic farmers, eat healthily — that was when I got to make it a habit to take time to appreciate and discover what's in the most common thing we have in front of us, thus the name, Mundane Matters.

Have you been surprised by how many people love your work?

Yes and no, I guess. When I was only working in my tiny, dark kitchen, close friends showed a fondness for them and they always giggled when I showed them a funny one. But I wasn't expecting anything larger than this. It was an experiment to make it a proper project and I follow my gut to keep on creating what I believe in.

On the other side, I also believe if we bloom in our authentic self, others will also share the joy and light in the process. From that perspective, I am not surprised and I believe everyone can do the same.

There must have been days you just didn't feel like doing the project. How did you keep yourself motivated?

There are lots of days like this, like all the ups and downs in life. I am an emotional person and it is often easy to let that emotion influence the project. On days like these, I find practicing gratitude helps the most in motivating myself again. I am lucky to be able to work on my own project and help to make a positive impact in the world — even though I try very hard and the impact is tiny!

Making these food sculptures along with the writing has also become an emotional outlet for me. So in a way it is motivating because I get to escape to a piece of fruit or vegetable (from reality), write about how I feel, and let go of the emotion. It is a peaceful exercise.

Do you have ideas at the moment, or do you plan out each new piece?

Definitely at the moment. I often leave it until the end of the day to conclude what I've done or learned during the day. I come from a design and marketing background, which is also what I do during the day, so I guess professionally speaking, there is no content plan here at all. But over time I've learned to be more in peace and intuitive. Ideas come and go. But we can only catch it when we pay attention to our inner thoughts.

Do you see food differently now?

This project completely changes the way I approach food. I cannot believe it was me when I think about the days when I was working full-time. I'd say I had quite a healthy diet, but I never questioned where the produce came from, how much energy and labor it took to produce them, or how much waste it lost from the farm to our table, not to mention how much chemicals and hormones we were taking indirectly from the food we eat.

The research for this project and my slow living makes me a much more responsible person — being just responsible for my health, and friends' health too (because I have been brainwashing them, haha!), also for the people who put so much effort and love in their farms and our environment. I think to have considered behaviors towards food, we need a holistic solution. It starts with empathy and peace within ourselves. When we see the world differently, we will start to take action.

This change in me also inspired me to work on other meaningful projects including art installation, workshops, and events to help spread the inspiration, while still keeping my daily habit on Instagram.

Tell us about the workshops that you started.

To articulate the workshop, it is simply a two-hour concentrated experience of what I have experience in the past two years. How can it be possible? I doubted too until I saw my guests leaving my workshops with a smile and relaxation on their faces. It is said to be making sculptures out of fruits and veggies, but the knowledge and joy everyone shares is the most transforming.

I started these workshops with fellow artist Liane Rossler. Liane is a great inspiration in making a positive impact through creativity. She also has a beautiful garden where she nurtures her plants and composts her organic waste. We started in April 2016 at Liane's Superlocalstudio, an initiative to revitalize Sydney's neighborhoods. Soon we were invited to run these workshops at design festivals, social change festivals, and arts organizations. Over time we get to reiterate to make it a unique experience that no one has ever done before. I am now running private workshops for businesses too. I believe it is making an impact, even just helping to brighten up one person's day!

What's next for you and the project?

When I worked as a senior graphic designer, I questioned myself a lot — why was I making beautiful things that were meaningless to me? Unconsciously I think I started Mundane Matters to escape from reality. But the journey made me realize that my skills can actually help to make a meaningful change in people's life. Without these skills, Mundane Matters won't exist today. And that inspires me to help other businesses and individuals with their projects, through coaching or sharing my skills and knowledge.

On the other hand, I have teamed up with some of the great artists and designers to build an art installation that raises awareness about the waste we create from our eating habits. It is very exciting but I can't share too much yet.

Another exciting thing in the pipeline is a discussion panel I have been organizing at Vivid Sydney 2017, one of the largest arts festival in Sydney. The discussion panel features some of the most creative food talents in Sydney.

Xiao's project has clearly blossomed into other areas, and she continues to post on Instagram on a regular basis. "I hope my story will inspire others to let their hearts guide them in life and create work that benefits our planet. Like my Instagram initiative, it doesn't really matter the scale, it is the passion, an individual's effort that counts," she writes.