In 2004, LA based artists David Burns, Matias Viegener and Austin Young began imagining fruit as a lens through which to see the world. This is how they founded Fallen Fruit: an act uniting public space and communities of locals across the globe in the name of art and fruit.
Fallen Fruit describe their performances as a new way of experiencing the cities. In their nine years of activity they have created maps of magic neighborhoods, traced the presence of fruit trees across different areas from California to Spain, involved the locals into positive activism and organized exhibitions.
As David Burns puts it, “People have fear of fruit coming from public space, but this is only true for our generation. Our generation is the first to be totally disengaged from the food they eat.”
Creating loose connections based on random criteria, the three artists connect people who would have never gotten the chance to know each other. This is how neighbors with the same color eyes, can end up inventing the recipe for a lemon, fig and lavender marmalade out of neglected fruit and the common connotations. In one of their exhibitions for LACMA, the three artists mapped all the fruits in the museum’s permanent collection. What they realized was the idea of a history of art and fruit.
“Fruit is the number one food in the world of art. It can be symbolic or it can be seen as an object. It's transnational and transhistorical. It crosses all cultural boundaries.”
Bearing in mind this extensive fruit research, we asked Fallen Fruit a few questions about their favorite subject:
Which is your favorite fruit?
The loquat is our favorite fruit for Los Angeles, in part because it grows everywhere without anyone’s tending it. Every city has its iconic fruit, one that grows effortlessly and captures the spirit of the place. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, it’s the apricot and in Denmark we found small forests of feral plum trees. It’s tempting to value exotic fruits like mango or pineapples, but we like the loquat because we think it tells us something about where we live. We like to understand new places we visit by what thrives in that ecology. It's a symbol but it's also a reality.
How did fruit change throughout history according to your opinion?
Very interesting things happen to fruit in history. Often when fruits are first introduced they are luxury items and people see them as status objects. One example is all the citrus fruit and especially the peeled lemons in Dutch still lifes. Citrus fruits were tremendously expensive in Northern Europe, since they had to be grown in hot houses. What’s changed in the modern world is that fruit is relatively affordable, and we value it now because it is healthy and beautiful. Later still lives started to focus on the symbolism of generosity and bounty, and also the aesthetics of fruit. You still see fruit in contemporary art, and often it’s primarily there because its round and orange, or long, curved and yellow.
Is there specific cultural meaning to individual types of fruit?
Absolutely. Fruit is always filled with symbolism, especially in art. Think of the apple in all the Garden of Eden: it symbolizes temptation, a forbidden thing everyone desires. And even though it caused man to lose paradise, we still value it as a symbol of knowledge. We understand that sometimes we gain something in exchange for what is lost. Pears have a different symbolism, often an erotic one, and cherries or raspberries can symbolize innocence. When we call a car a lemon, or say that something was peachy, we’re pointing back to how humans make meaning from the things around them.
Which is the most interesting historical period in the depiction of fruit?
The 16th century is amazing because of all the still lifes being painted in Europe. Suddenly people began to pay attention to the natural world and examine how it affects their lives. Many early still lives have moral messages in them. They tell us not to overindulge in the tempting things of this world, because we have to remember God, and prepare for our death or afterlife. But eventually the genre gives way to just looking closely at what’s on the table, suggesting to us that we should value simple things and be thankful for what we have. In this way fruit is connected to the message of flowers — that beauty is fleeting and we should pay attention to it while it’s in front of us.
Do the communities involved in your performances see what they do as an art project?
We approach the work of Fallen Fruit as artists, but as long as we engage our participants, we don’t worry much about how they view the experience. Our work as artists is to engage the public and connect people to each other, to have them examine our neighborhoods, public space and the way we live. When we succeed in this, we think of it as successful art. As a by-product, we’re also expanding people’s ideas about art and what it can do. It’s not just that the modern world is changing, but the idea of art is as well.
What are you working on at the moment?
Lately we’ve been working on Fruit Meditations, in which we take the group of people through a progression of ideas about fruit, but also about what it means to live in the world and be connected with others. The fruit is symbolic, but in the end it’s a vehicle for our ideas. The “art,” so to speak, happens purely inside your head. It works on how we think, how we feel, and how we relate to each other.