Arden Surdam is an L.A. based interdisciplinary artist working primarily in photography and digital media. She received her BA in Visual Arts from Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH and her MFA from CalArts in 2015.  She was recently named winner of Focus Photo L.A. at Photo Basel and has been an artist in residence at the School of Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Artfarm, Marquette, NE; and the Hilltop Residency, Val Verde, CA, among other venues. Surdam is actively involved in The Feminist Works Program Lecture Series at CalArts, Valencia, CA. Her work has been featured in Whitewall Magazine, BlouinArtInfo and The Eye of Photography.



Los Angeles | July/August, 2016
In the Studio: Arden Surdam
By: Catherine Wagley

The All-American Sun Oven “helps you harness the power of the sun” in order to meet “the unique cooking needs of an American family.” Paul M. Munsen, founder of Sun Ovens International, wears a red, white, and blue polo shirt as he explains this in a YouTube tutorial playing on artist Arden Surdam’s desktop. Surdam has a well-used All-American Sun Oven tucked against the wall of her East L.A. studio. She first saw one a few years ago, when she was visiting a farm along the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. The oven consists of a glass-covered chamber and aluminum reflectors that fold open to catch and direct sunlight into the chamber. It also has a focusing cube, with two holes. When the sun shines through one hole into the other, the oven is getting optimal sunlight. “It looked like a camera to me,” Surdam recalls. “And I thought, well, why don’t I combine food and [photo] chemistry.”

Surdam, who was still in graduate school at CalArts at that point, had already been working with food. For one project, she enlisted a Beverly Hills baker to help her print photographs of meat onto red velvet cakes. She installed the cakes in a campus gallery and invited visitors to see and then eat them. A line formed before the gallery doors opened. One woman brought her own ice cream. “They literally consumed my work,” Surdam recalls. “It was something of a spectacle.” That prompted her to wonder if she could make photography and cooking more entwined.

She acquired a sun oven with the help of grant money and began putting food and photo chemicals on thick, handmade Japanese paper, which she then puts in the oven, exposing them to the sun to “develop.” She calls this project How to Tell When It’s Done.One image, a bacon cyanotype, is deeply blue. Another, Walk of Shame, hangs in her studio, a space with backyard sun access that she found after finishing school in 2015. She used the body of a squid and tannic acid to make it, and it looks like a swelling sea of green ooze, interrupted by cracked brown. “The excrement of the oven,” Surdam jokes. A Polaroid she took of the cooking process reveals how messy it can be: she has put food, oils, and chemicals onto paper inside the oven and on each of the light-reflecting panels. Raw meat, egg yolk, avocado, bread, and colored fluids mingle.

After they’re developed, Surdam scans her food-soaked images and enlarges them, so that they’re closer to the scale of a human body. “A lot of my work is about fetish,” she reflects. Food fetishes interest her, as do body fetishes and artworks themselves as fetish objects. In her studio now, she has large, colorful, messily abstract prints from the sun oven series on two walls. A flat file in the corner holds the now-smelly originals, many of which look like paintings. She plans to install this work at the artist-run Situation Room in L.A. in September and wants to do it in a way that reveals the unruliness of the process. Maybe the enlarged prints and food-soaked originals will mingle. “Right now, what interests me the most are artists working in multiple ways that aren’t medium specific,” Surdam says. She adds, of the impulses behind her own work, “It feels more about the possibility of photography.”



Lives and works in Los Angeles


2015       MFA California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA
2010      BA Visual Arts, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH


2017       Hold Your Breath, Sloan Projects, Santa Monica, CA
2016      Solid Liquid, The Situation Room, Los Angeles, CA
              2017, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA
              Seconds, Sloan Projects, Los Angeles, CA
              Photo Focus LA
2015      Studio Cooking, in collaboration with Meghan Gordon, Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena, CA
              Fragment, UCLA Wight Biennial, Los Angeles, CA, 2015
              GLAMFA, 10th Annual Greater Los Angeles Master of Fine Arts Exhibition, Long Beach, CA
              Focus Photo L.A., Photo Basel, Ackermannshof Basel, Switzerland
              Untitled, 2015 CalArts MFA Show, Los Angeles, CA
              Introducing! Young California Photographer Award, Paris Photo, Los Angeles, CA
              Chasing Unicorns: Mythologies of Progress in American Landscapes, AEStudios, New York, NY
              How to Tell When Its Done, MFA Thesis Exhibition, CalArts, Valencia, CA
              Photo LA, 24th Annual International Photographic Exposition, Los Angeles, CA
               Art about Agriculture, Santa Paula Art Museum, CA
2014      The Body is a Machine, Queer Arts Collective, CalArts, Valencia, CA
              Pardon My Condition, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA
              MFA 2 Mid-Residency Exhibition, CalArts, Valencia, CA
              To Tempt the Most Reluctant Appetites, MFA Mid-Res Solo Exhibition, CalArts, Valencia, CA
              Brand New Second Hand, SOME TIMES with Meghan Gordon, Los Angeles, CA
2013       Ecology is Dead, CalArts, Valencia, CA
               Untitled ArtProjects, Los Angeles, CA
2012       East End Photographers’ Group, Fall Exhibition, Southampton, NY
2011       Humankind, NYC PhotoFestival, PowerHouse Books, Brooklyn, NY
2010      Honey & Wounds, with Yujean Parks, Fisher Gallery, Oberlin, OH
2009     Six Principal Observations on Human Behavior, Coup d’oeil Art Consortium, New Orleans, LA
              PhotoNOLA, Jupiter Art Projects, Artist Collective, New Orleans, LA


2015 Women's Center for Creative Work Residency at the Armory, Pasadena, CA
              Grand Prize Winner, Focus Photo LA, Los Angeles, CA
              Finalist, Paris Photo LA Introducing! Young California Photographer Award, Los Angeles, CA
              Dean’s Reserve Grant, CalArts, Valencia, CA
              Equity & Diversity Grant, CalArts, Valencia CA
              The Feminist Works Program, Lecture Series in collaboration w/ Hannah Plotke & Anna Knecht, CalArts, Valencia, CA
2014      A Lived Practice: Artists as Changemakers, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
              Artist in Residence, ArtFarm, Marquette, NE
              Artist in Residence, Hilltop Residency, Val Verde, CA
              Student Affairs Project Grant, CalArts, Valencia, CA


Wagley, Catherine, In the Studio, Photograph Magazine
Alessi, Andrea, 
Taste, ArtSlant Los Angeles, June 2016
Dennis, Caitlin, 
Emerging Los Angeles Artists, FLAUNT Magazine, March 2016
Howard, Ellie, 
Studio Cooking at Armory Center for the Arts, Elephant Magazine, November 2016
Alessi, Andrea, 
What Do Artists Eat?, ArtSlant Los Angeles, November 2016
Yurshanksy, Jenny, 
Mystic Pizza, Notes On Looking, November 2016
Linkof, Ryan, 
Fragment, UCLA Fragment Exhibition Catalog, September 2015
Bartlett, Claudia, Special Exhibition: Focuse photo l.a., Photo Basel Catalog, June 2015
Lehrer-Graiwer, Sarah, The New Just-Past: 2015, The 2015 CalArts MFA Show Catalog, June 2015
Weisner, Christoph, INTRODUCING! PARIS PHOTO J. P. MORGAN, Paris Photo Catalog, April, 2015
Mermea, Jacqueline, Highlights from Paris Photo LA, BlouinArtInfo, May 1st, 2015
Paris Photo La: Introducing! Finalist: Arden Ellis Surdam, The Eye of Photography, April 28, 2015
Jordan, Eliza, Mythical Millenial Mindsets in “Chasing Unicorns,” Whitewall Magazine, April 21, 2011


Artist's Website