David Datuna: The Hungry Artist

He made headlines all over the world and shocked the contemporary art market. No, we’re not talking about Maurizio Cattelan’s infamous “taped banana” (formally titled Comedian), but about David Datuna (b. Georgia, 1974). But he is inextricably linked to Cattalan. During Art Basel Miami Beach 2019, he embarked on a public act which he called, “his work of him in the work”: a performance called Hungry Artist (2019-2021), where he dismounted Cattelan’s $120,000 banana and consumed it.

Datuna is a Georgian-American artist who lives in New York best-known his series Viewpoint of Millions: positive and negatives optical lenses suspended on a layered image. Painting, photography, and now venturing into NFTs, his practice is provocative, while the different materials assembled present another identity and value to the finished product.

FRONTRUNNER speaks to Datuna, as he now takes on his next challenge: fighting Stage IV cancer.

Photo courtesy of the artist

 

During Art Basel Miami Beach 2019, you literally ate Comedian, a work by Maurizio Cattelan. An action or a provocation? Why did you do that? 

Neither. It was a spontaneous reaction to something I felt was outrageous. In the face of world hunger, how is it possible someone is selling banana for $120,000 for profit and not charity? I felt it was a bad message for society. So, I ate it.

As a “hungry artist”, what did it taste like? Would you do it again? 

Bananas are wonderful and healthy for you, it tasted fantastic!

What was Cattelan’s reaction? Do you know? 

I have never spoken to Maurizio, though we spoke through art in my performance. I have a lot of respect for him and his work.

How was your technique conceived for the Viewpoint of Millions series?

When I first arrived in the US, I worked at an eyeglass store to support myself as an artist. For me, lenses became a sense of identity with an individual and their unique viewpoint. One day, I began to experiment with them in my art in various ways as an expression of that individuality.

David Datuna
Hope (2021)
Mixed media
Image courtesy of the artist

 

Your works are mainly inspired by politics and social issues, with interventions of different materials and technologies, including Google Glass. You’ve now launched a new NFT collection. Tell us about it.

I often use art as a platform for awareness and societal change. I was drawn to work with Dole on this NFT project to help further the conversation, and raise funds for global hunger issues. The need for good nutrition has never been greater, with nearly one-quarter of the world’s population experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity and, globally, one-third of food produced for human consumption lost or wasted. It was a natural fit to collaborate with a brand that can, literally, eat its purpose.

I also hope to raise awareness of ways to use food waste, and that’s how I chose the four fruits for my NFT collection (banana, avocado, peach and pineapple). Avocado pits can be used to make eco-friendly, biodegradable cutlery. Peach pits can be used to make flooring. Pineapples and banana peels can be used as biofuel. We need to think differently, and I’m hoping this collaboration will further inspire Dole to explore some of these ideas. The series also includes a physical sculpture – blending digital and physical – inspired by my performance at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2019. It’s a five-part instalment representing people coming together to take a bite out of hunger and find ways to end food waste. Proceeds from the auction will support theBoys & Girls Clubs of America’s work to eliminate food insecurity and provide good nutrition. In the four animations: the Earth is at first tranquil, with peaceful sounds of nature. When humans enter the equation, disruption. I then appear, the fruit is consumed and the seeds, peels and parts return to the land with zero waste. The fifth work completes the story of hope. We learn from our mistakes and collectively change as a global community, symbolised by the four fruits coming together. The fused prism of repurposed eyeglass lenses represents the global community coming together, and their viewpoint and perspective will inevitably contribute to a new and equitable future for all.

In your opinion, what’s missing in art today?

More of a love and passion for the art, less of an emphasis on money or how much it can be sold for. Money, money, money…it’s too much of a focus.

If you had to give a synonym for “art”, what could it be for you? 

Imagination, I guess. Our imaginations have the ability to collectively solve or create anything, from creative expression to real-world solutions. Today, as I battle Stage IV cancer, I imagine a better world every day for my fifteen year-old son, David, Jr. I see hope in the face of the pandemic. As with my art, people will come together with new and creative viewpoints to solve problems in the world. The past eighteen months has given this planet a lesson in what it takes to work together, to solve a global problem. Let’s hope it’s just the beginning.

David Datuna
Peace (2017)
Mixed media
Image courtesy of the artist

 

What would you like to achieve in the future? What’s next for you?

I really hope the messages I’m leaving behind in my art will provoke conversations about change in the future. I’m very optimistic of a bright future with today’s youth full of brilliant ideas, sitting clearly in the driver’s seat. To appreciate life, family, friends and love for one another each and every day.

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