Our relationship with food recreated as the Last Supper by Wellington artist

Food 21/08/2018

A Wellington artist has recreated one of the most famous meals and paintings of all time, with a live team of diners.

The Last Supper forms part of a new exhibition for Wellington On a Plate, which aims to get people thinking about our relationship with food.

"There is a lot of culture that goes with food - identity, rituals - and I wanted to explore all of that," says artist Raul Ortega Ayala.

Combining a meal with performance art, the Last Supper was recreated for 12 people, who went from strangers to friends.

"You can see slowly how they transform with the food. It's people that don't necessarily know each other, and the food works as this sort of chemical process that starts to make people interact," says Ortega Ayala.

"Every day since, I've thought about the connections I made with people, and I really feel like I walk around feeling more positively connected to people," says participant Lisa Martin.

Ortega Ayala, a Massey University art lecturer, put on The Last Supper at the Millers O'Brien Gallery. Diners were served the meal and encouraged to interact - all while being filmed.

"You forgot [about the cameras] pretty quickly after a couple of glasses of wine!" said one participant, Martin.

He prepared the five-course dinner as close to what the original might have been as possible - serving dishes like Maror salad and a leg of lamb, pouring Galilean wine - and even washing the diners' feet.

"Having your feet washed, being touched by somebody that I didn't know - I didn't really know Raul at all - was really touching. I was quite stunned at how touched I was," says Martin.

Ortega Ayala reproduced the famous meal to get people thinking about the relationships and rituals we have with food - beyond bodily sustenance.

"If I asked you for example, what you had for breakfast 15 days ago, you probably wouldn't remember - but if I asked you what you had on your birthday, you probably would," he says.

And as far as memorable meals go, The Last Supper was an easy choice to replicate.

"I think in terms of art, it's one of the most depicted meals, or one of the meals that people would remember," he says.

The film and remnants of The Last Supper form the centrepiece of his debut solo New Zealand exhibition Food for Thought.

Other installations on display include thousands of people throwing tomatoes at each other at Spain's La Tomatina festival, and a professional hot-dog "gurgitator" eating 40 hot-dogs in 10 minutes. The exhibition demonstrates how food can bring people together, or how we waste it.

"The amount of energy that is put into producing food, but at the same time the amount of waste that comes out of cities, is incredible," Ortega Ayala says.

And while the Last Supper meal took place on August 10, Food for Thought runs until August 25 - meaning the wasted leftovers remain in the gallery to decay, becoming their own work of art.