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Natalie Kauffman Artist Statement- “Canned Memoryscapes”


It all started with maple syrup. Maple syrup for me – the real kind, not the corn syrup, fake crappy kind – brings me to a happy place when I eat it. Even just the smell of it. It’s almost as though the taste of it makes my brain think I’m in a log cabin somewhere in the woods, wearing plaid and sitting by a wood stove. Is it because I’ve eaten maple syrup in a setting like this? Actually, I think I can honestly say that I don’t believe I’ve ever been in a log cabin in the woods, wearing plaid, sitting beside a wood stove, with my trusty workhorse outside, eating maple syrup, (although I have been in cottages and camping many times, but they’re not the places in my mind when I eat maple syrup). So, it’s not a memory per se, but a kind of wishful memory that gets conjured up when I consume maple syrup. It’s like that can, you know the one, the red cabin in the snowy forest of Quebec, with the guy outside, in red plaid, with his horse, has become a part of my “Canadian” identity and nostalgia, even though it’s not an actual experience that I’ve had. But I’ve seen that can so many times throughout my life, that the image feels part of my experience.  How curious.


This got me to think about other “memories” or rather, manufactured memories, that I have from my past…and even my present. How picking up a package, a can, a jar of something, particularly one with a place or a scene on it, holds much more weight than the actual physical item itself.


I created these paintings based around this concept of “canned memories” or the way in which we experience a food largely because of its packaging, and how that shapes our experience of the food itself, and how much of our experience of the food is being shaped for us.


Of the paintings in this series, all of them have an attachment of some kind to a memory, a time in my life, or to an experience of nostalgia; something I didn’t really experience but I kind of do experience because of the image on the product.


The sardines perhaps have a pretty powerful connection to a place and time in my life. When I was 19, I travelled on my own throughout parts of Europe and Israel and Egypt for 4 months. The entire time, I had my emergency meal with me, should I find myself stranded somewhere without a way to get food. The can of sardines that I painted was that emergency meal…never opened. Recently, as we were preparing for a move, I went through a lot of my old letters and memorabilia and because I keep EVERYTHING, there was the can of sardines from almost 30 years ago! Did I mention that I keep everything? So, this can actually does hold a lot of real memories with it. The expression that I chose to write on the painting is not what is on the actual can, but a line inspired from a Sinead O’Connor song, which I believe she was referencing Icarus and his wings made of wax, which melted as he flew to close to the sun, and thereby falling into the sea. The sardines are from Portugal, so I wrote “Voar mais perto do sol/mar”, “Fly closer to the sun/sea”. The idea being that we always have choices in life; to fly closer to the sun, or the sea, and the consequences that come with those choices.  


On a different level, I was drawn to the landscape images of these products. Some more obvious than others but all nonetheless intriguing. All of them were created by an artist before they became a package to advertise the food item contained within them. I wanted to blow these images up so we really see them for more than their label but perhaps can see the place that they’re based on, the story it’s telling. Then in turn, these packaged landscapes and scenes hold very different meanings and stories for the viewer. For instance, the Green Giant, for me is about my time as a 4, 5, 6-year-old living with my Mom in our one-bedroom apartment at York University, where she was a student. I have fond memories of eating creamed corn from that can …where the food was grown in lovely green pastures and looked over by a jolly green, larger-than-life man, draped in an outfit made of leaves. So healthy! Zooming in on the landscape, and less on him or the description of what is inside is my attempt to look deeper, dig further into our layers of memory of things, places, people, experiences, that are contained in seemingly mundane food products such as a can of creamed corn. When I shared this story and showed this painting to a friend, she shared her interpretation of the can of Green Giant that she received when she became a Canadian citizen and was given a can of Green Giant  to signify a “Canadian” food item and a sample of what “we” eat here in Canada.


The lines that I painted on all of the paintings are about different things. In each painting the colour has a particular significance, whether to the time period of my memory or an aesthetic choice. Lines in sequence however make me think of coding, like the bar coding on all our products, and how memory is a kind of coding, and how we become coded or branded with certain products that we use. The lines also prevent the viewer from entering too far into the scene, serving as a barrier if you will, which reminds us that the scene is manufactured, and perhaps our memories are somewhat manufactured as well. And perhaps that’s what makes them so beautiful, we can edit out the stuff we don’t like. Just like on the packaging, we don’t have to see the mega farms where the food is actually grown or the factories where the ingredients is made in gigantic proportions into the food we consume. We can ignore the small print on the side listing the ingredients unpronounceable to us or the quantities of salt, sugar, and just focus on the nice image, the place it takes us too. That's what memory does; it taints the bitterness of the truth. 

Update as of June 2020: As a new initiative, for each piece that I sell, 10% will go towards Oceana - the largest international organization focused solely on ocean conservation, and The Nature Conservancy of Canada which leads and inspires others to join them in creating a legacy for future generations by conserving important natural areas and biological diversity across all regions of Canada. 

Thanks for your support!


Natalie Kauffman

(Originally written Sept 2019)




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