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If you squint at a world map while hungry, Japanese artist Tomoyuki Koseko realized earlier this year, the shapes of countries start to look like cuts of meat: The island of Cuba is a strip of bacon; Finland is a fat sirloin steak; Taiwan is a filet of beef.
In Japan, drawing this kind of visual comparison between two objects is at the root of the concept of mitate (見立て), which has been used in traditional art practices, like ukiyo-e prints, for centuries. There’s no direct English translation for the word “mitate” — roughly, it means “look and compare pictures” — and its definition shifts depending on context, but it broadly refers to the use of indirect visual metaphors and allusions to lend an image multiple layers of meaning. Koseko, explaining it to Hyperallergic, calls it “classical Japanese thinking about making something look like something else.” When you see a cloud and think it looks like a rabbit, for example, you’re engaging in a form of mitate-thinking. When it comes to maps, the most common mitate-esque observation is to see Italy as a boot.
Inspired by his meat-map comparison, Koseko embarked on a “little experiment about mitate.” The result, MimeticMaps, is an art book consisting of maps manipulated to look like meat.
None of the images in the book are made from actual photographs of meat. Instead, Koseko painted topographical maps red, and then used Adobe Illustrator to manipulate these images to make them look more like meat. He added packaging stickers, like those in the meat aisle of a grocery store. It’s an absurd study on habits of perception, a series of playful visual puns.
The visual metaphor worked right down to the details: “I noticed that the images of lakes and rivers in Finland’s map looked just like the fat of the meat in sirloin steak,” Koseko says. In his red prints, he kept the lakes and rivers white to signify fatty meat. And he didn’t stop at basic meat cuts: He replicated his image of Finland-as-sirloin steak and arranged it like slices in a fanned circle to create a Finland shabu-shabu.
Next time you’re in the meat aisle at the grocery store, try an experiment in mitate and see if you can find your favorite country.