Food + Art

Photographer Isabella Cassini Loves Getting Messy with Food

In her debut art exhibition, Smash Love Eat!, Cassini showcases the joy of breaking bowls and cups. And now, Gregory Gourdet is getting involved.

By Katherine Chew Hamilton August 19, 2021

Teacups crash in one of Cassini's photographs

Portland photographer Isabella Cassini isn’t a big fan of arranging food perfectly on a plate. Instead, she prefers to smash those plates. In her debut exhibition, Smash Love Eat!, Cassini showcases shattering teacups with tea flying in every direction, bowls of Froot Loops falling to the floor, and spaghetti and wine colliding. 

Cassini captures the beauty in fallen Froot Loops

“I think broken things are beautiful ... it's okay to make a mess and it's okay to spill milk,” says Cassini.

The heartbreak in a smashed cake

Sometimes, Cassini's smashing takes on a more painful tone, like a crushed heart-shaped cake with “I Love You” scribbled on it. Other times she takes a more meditative approach, creating kaleidoscope-like images with arrangements of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. In one photo, she dissects a dish down to its components: a burger with its bun, patty, lettuce, and tomato suspended above one another. The backdrop for the show is a gritty, repurposed Slabtown warehouse at 1520 NW 20th Ave, offering a stark contrast between the colorful, carefully composed prints and the run-down venue.

A kaleidoscope-like arrangement inspired by grapefruit

For Cassini, who has called Portland home for the last four years, this show is her major foray out of the world of commercial photography, where she did projects for brands including Gallo Salame, into the fine art world. Beyond the photographs, some of the works also have an multisensory component—some of her kaleidoscope images are labeled “Smell-O-Vision,” and Cassini sprays carefully chosen perfumes from House of Perfume on Hawthorne to accompany the photos. And on September 17, Cassini will host Portland star chef Gregory Gourdet for a special interactive event involving food—stay tuned for further details.

Meanwhile, you can check out Cassini’s show on Friday evenings from 7–10 p.m., plus Saturdays and Sundays from noon–3 p.m. The show runs into September (end date TBD). Take a look at one of her photos and learn more about the happy, messy process behind it (scroll all the way to the bottom for a very cool behind-the-scenes video).

Spaghetti meets wine in Cassini's art.

“A couple years ago I built these nine foot tall ramps. I built them out of two by fours. I'd never picked up a drill before.... I put an ad on Craigslist to see if someone random could help me. The ramp’s purpose is to shoot food down the ramp and have them collide into each other. You can imagine how odd the ad read on Craigslist. I've tried various different ways in which to capture the image, or release the shutter. One has been through sound; that one hasn't been very effective. One is through a laser beam.”

Cassini's ramps are built for making food collide.

“There's so many physics at play that I wasn't even really aware of when you're dealing with throwing two different objects down ... the precision that it would take for them to hit at exactly the same time.... But the trial and error is the fun part. You just make a giant mess everywhere.

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