As an artist who often uses food as a medium, I've spent a lifetime building a memory bank of meals and food experiences to draw on for my work. I've erected a 60-foot wall with more than 1,500 doughnuts screwed to it for viewers to remove and eat. I've made a series of "drinking paintings," giant blank canvases with a spigot in the center of each one that viewers press to dispense cocktails. I've cast my own head in Fontina cheese, pointed heat guns at it and let it drip onto a pedestal of crackers.
All of this somehow led me deep into the Costa Rican rain forest, where I found myself milking a cow to make cheese, then learning how to mold the cheese into a perfect cylinder. I was staying at Monte Azul, a new eco-resort in a 125-acre private nature preserve near Chirripó National Park. My editors at F&W had sent me to Monte Azul because it was a place for visiting artists to stay, work and teach workshops to hotel guests. They were curious to know what, if anything, would inspire me.
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When conceptualizing a new project, I usually look to art history and art institutions, rather than vacation, for inspiration. I was less interested in Monte Azul's artist-run paper-making and screen-printing workshops and more intrigued by the local, artisanal classes, like cheesemaking. My teacher, Wilberth Mata Zúñiga, has traveled to Switzerland to compare techniques with his Alpine counterparts. His operation is so sustainable that he converts the dung from the cows into gas to heat the milk.