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 with 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, the 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.
Happy New Year 🌈/// My first post in 2017 is a tribute to the Pioneer Cabin Tree, who (yes, trees have soul too) sadly fell during the storm yesterday. I have never visited it, but its images I have seen online have always been a wonder. /// The Pioneer Cabin Tree in California was estimated to be more than 1,000 years old. In the 1880s, a tunnel was cut through the tree for the tourists to pass on. Later cars were also allowed to drive through as part of the Big Trees Trial. /// Love goes to the Pioneer Cabin Tree. I believe its soul will always remain in the Calaberas Big Trees State Park. 🙏❤️#mundanematters #pioneercabintree
MNN: 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.
How things go wrong: started chewing Jacqui @cinnabar_dream's home-grown parsley > decide to make a Nick Cave (artist) figure inspired by @simplesimonsaw > start to form into a baby chicken > end up looking like a poisoned Cookie Monster i.e. green, no arms, legs become chicken legs etc. But it is fluffy. 😨#mundanematters
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 the 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 healthy — 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.
Slow and steady wins the race. 🐢👸🏻 /// In a life of seemingly endless work yet to be done, it is the best to take it slowly. Listen to peaceful music, meditate, breathe, do yoga, share beautiful time with friends and family (in my case, thanks to Nico @coolasafoxau and Richard @sydneycool and @yuvi_thu @andrewhardjasudarma @roomten_ this week), eat good food, laugh, play with your pet. What wins is your heart. ❤️🌻 #mundanematters
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 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.
Finally it rained. 🙏💧/// This lotus pod is the size of a shower head. The seeds have become dried and dark, unlike the lotus seeds my mum put in the soup. /// I have never had lotus seed pods at home. I bet many people are the same. They all went crazy for them at the Saturday farmers' market. 😍 #mundanematters #sustainablefarming
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 the emotion. It is a peaceful exercise.
Leftover eggplant leave ready to 'walk' to Saskia's @thejamalchemist compost. 🦆🐾 /// The most fascinating thing about these 'feet' is their texture that resembles real birds' feet. If we look closely, we can surprise ourselves with many hidden connections in nature. 🍄👀#mundanematters #uglyfruitandveg
Do you have ideas in the moment, or do you plan out each new piece?
Definitely in the moment. I often leave it till 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.
Volume up. I have a sleeping problem: I fall asleep within two minutes if I am plugged into hypnotising sounds. If not, I cannot sleep. I feel my heart beats, my eyes wide open. /// But when I sleep - I sleep so much you can't believe. Full 8 hours a day, long afternoon naps on the weekend. Yet I still feel I haven't slept. I go everywhere and see everyone in my dreams. /// The other night I dreamt about many closed doors in front of me. I tried pushing one and it opened. I then had to climb up a lot of gigantic rocks to find a book. /// Some nights I wake up to feed Colour. Last night Anett woke me up to kill a cockroach. My only dream is to have a non-disrupted, peaceful deep sleep for a night. 😭💔 #mundanematters Music: Sam Gallaitry. Photo by Anett.
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, ha ha!), 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.
This post is for Anett on our third year anniversary.❤️/// We have always received compliments about us being such a cute couple. People like to make friends with us; friends often feel happy around us. But I want to be honest - there is really no such thing as the perfect love and relationship. Because of our extremely different personalities (as you can see, a cat and a bird), my stupidity, her ignorance, often we find ourselves struggle to be with each other. But the next day, we are happily together again after we communicate. /// We didn't start our relationship with inexplainable sparks and energy, but we feel our love stronger and stronger everyday. I believe people are together for higher purpose, be it learning from each other, or carrying a mission together, or in my belief, paying each other's debt from past life. /// I can't be more grateful to share this journey with Anett - my companion, lover and angel. 👼❤️#mundanematters #loveislove🌈
Tell us about the workshops 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!
Squashes from Saturday's farmers' market. These squashes are more likely to be found at the farmers' markets since the supermarkets wouldn't stock them because of the cosmestic standards. /// Instead of the usual round shape, they are almost square. The colours are uneven, but you know that this is nature. Nature is unpredictable. Everything it creates is unique. 🦁🍃 #mundanematters #uglyfruitandveg
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 habit. 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.
Volume up: 🐙/// To live with joy is also to embrace with fear. To not escape it and to know whatever happens, there are always solutions. But one can only learn it through many ups and downs in life. It is the most important that when we are up, we share the joy with others; when we are down, we enjoy the present and seek inner peace within ourselves. 🦋🙏 #mundanematters music: Caribou
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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.
What would you create an Instagram project about?