In the series, The Incredible Edibles, Nature is presented as innocent in a world of consumption, a world in which we humans rarely know the exact origin of the food we eat, and certainly don’t expect our meals to stare back at us from the plate. Out of scale and context, wild animals present themselves as fanciful and disquieting meals. A plate of pork & beans literally has a miniature pig amongst the beans, and on TV dinner trays readymade convenience meals offer up lamb stew and venison with gravy. In both cases, the meal is still in whole animal form, albeit in miniature, taken from life casts of plastic toys and ceramic figurines. While these works comment on the ubiquitous anthropomorphic ‘spokes-animal’ who is happy to be consumed - so often pictured on cereal boxes for example - these works also suggest a darker, more covert world of genetically modified foods and human attempts to create an artificial - more humanized - Nature.
These ceramic sculptures find their foundational inspiration in the rich history of functional and decorative ceramics that incorporate Nature’s creatures into the overall form. Platters by Renaissance ceramicist Bernard Palissy (1510-1590) present a living tableau of wild nature in relief on the dinner plate, and in many cultures and across time there are a wide array of examples of soup tureens, tea and coffee pots and other serving pieces made in the shape of vegetables and animals. Revealing a keen sense of irony, the history of ceramics shows evidence of artists using the functional form of the dinner service to comment on the complicated relationship between humans and food, and by extension the natural world. The contemporary expansion of genetically modified nature and 20th-century popular culture is brought into focus in the series title itself, The Incredible Edibles. First popular with children in the 1960’s, the edible version of Creepy Crawlers, Incredible Edibles was a quasi-scientific toy sold by Mattel with which kids could make zoological-shaped rubbery candy by pouring edible Gobble De-Goop into metal cooking molds and baking them in a miniature oven. Johnson created The Incredible Edibles series during a residency in the Arts/Industry program of the John Michael Kohler Art Center that takes place in the Kohler Company factory in Kohler, WI.
Each sculpture was created in one of two variations. The first version is hand-painted in naturalistic but somewhat unappetizing colors to approximate plastic fake food, and the second version is a black monochrome that draws parallels to elaborate, inedible and decorative urns, vases and centerpieces so much a part of the setting created for the fine dining experience in history.