Viviane Le Courtois: Edible?

Viviane Le Courtois: Edible?

The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art opened an interesting exhibit on February 23, 2012, named Edible?, in which the French artist Viviane Le Courtois works entirely with food-related medium. Mainly a retrospective of her 22-year career so far, there is also an installation, The Garden of Earthy Delights, which was created specifically for this Boulder location. The reason for focusing on food is because she was a vegan and was very interested in her own relationship with food. Le Courtois grew up on a potato and artichoke farm, which greatly got her interested in food. Her main goal for this exhibit is to get people thinking about their own relationships with food: i.e. how we see our food, if we want to grow our own food, if we want to collaborate with friends and people when dealing with food, and to examine our own diets. Edible? wants to promote the creation of art, as we examine consumption, repetition in food preparation, ceremonial food offerings, and social aspects involved with eating.

Viviane Le Courtois

Beginning in 1989, Viviane Le Courtois has been making process-based and conceptual installations, but has been specifically working with food since 1990. She has worked with sculpture, performance, photographs, prints, videos, and interactive installations that connect to everyday life, such as eating, walking, the environment, and health issues. Born in France in 1969, she currently resides in Denver, but has travelled in more than 40 countries in the past 19 years. With a very impressive educational background, such as an MA in Art History and Masters of Fine Arts, she has been able to both curate and teach, when not working on her own art. In fact, much of her experiences with teaching young children have influenced her art, especially with Edible?, in which we will examine more closely later.

Dress

Starting from the earliest work in this retrospective, dated 1991, there is a piece that has stuck with me since I left. This is of a dress that the artist wore every day for one year in France. Originally white, it is now a darker colored cream, due to the fact that every day she would dye it with the rinds of the remainder of the fruit that she consumed. First off, this speaks to process that is valuable to much of her work. Secondly, I learned that this is a great tactic for people entering the desert for periods of time, because they can gnaw on the clothing and receive nutrients when there is a lack of plants to eat from. This was not a part of her reasoning, but is an interesting point that I learned from one of the employees.  Personally, I was so amazed that after a whole year that the dress was as clean as it looked! This piece shows how food is such a huge part of her whole existence that she even incorporated it into her clothing.

Offerings to Homeless on lower left
Cheetovore hanging in back

The second piece that I want to examine is that of the offerings to homeless people, which was created 10 years after the dress. On a journey she took to India, she learned about parts of that culture’s relations with food.  It is often that you will see offerings to the homeless made of rice, lentil, and curry that is placed in a banana leaf plate. When finished eating, the homeless will throw the ‘plates’ on the ground for the cows to eat, because they are so revered there. I thought it was so fascinating how she, who is someone that is interested in recycled material, was moved by this offering in India, because none of the materials used get wasted. Furthermore, it reminded me of how in India, clay tea pots get thrown out of train windows when finished drinking and ‘return to the land,’ which is echoed in this piece of hers and in The Garden of Earthy Delights, which we will examine later.

Jars

The next room had three large pieces, a clay-motion video, and jars of food and other objects. All of these were created in the span of 2002- 2006. The jars are interesting because they speak to another part of food culture, which is the act of preservation, and the process of jarring and canning foods. For the inspiration, her mother had a weird hoarding thing in which she saved every jar of pickles she ever purchased and kept them with the leftover pickle juice inside. As a means of remembering her mother and childhood, she continued to work with jarring to create this art. She jarred and bottled foods and children’s toys, ranging from odd sorts such as donuts to Barbie’s to M&Ms to Alien figurines. Le Courtois did this by adding the material, then water, food coloring, and wax on top to seal it. When looking at these, they are kind of gross and disturbing looking, and not appetizing at all. They remind me of something you’d see in a mad scientist’s lab versus a pantry. Perhaps she inherited some of her own food obsession from her mother’s own food obsession, because I learned from an employee that these are important to her because they remind her of her mother.

The three large sculptures in this room start with Cheetovore (pictured earlier), which is a large red, hanging sculpture of what looks to be a tamale or slab of meat. From the inside, there is a sound recording of a child chewing Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. This piece was made in the same year in which these Cheetos came out on the market, and within the group of children that she was teaching at the time, was a hugely popular food item. What is special about the recording is that she asked one of the children to let her record him eating them, and he ate freely as if he would eat when alone. This is because adults, when told they are being recorded, act differently, but children will carry on as they normally would. It is especially fun to hear the young boy expressively belch once every 6 minutes! The sounds of the chewing add to the overall experience of this exhibit, because it can be heard in the background at all times.

Venus of Consumption

Shane

The Venus of Consumption and Shane are the second and third large pieces in the third room. The Venus of Consumption is laying in the Venus pose, similar to that in the Venus of Urbino by Titian, but her body shape is more reminiscent of the Venus of Willendorf if she were lying on her side. Her body is made of yarn, and not of anything edible, and is covered in silicone and stuffed. All of the children she worked with in Denver inspired this because many of them were really fat. The third piece, Shane the Marshmallow Puff Kid, is of a young fat boy, and is made of tiny colored marshmallows. Continuing to focus on young fat children, she created a series called the Fat Kid Army (image at end) and is reminiscent of the Terra Cotta Warriors in China, for they all line up as if going to battle. They are made of melted down candy, such as suckers, or starburst, poured into the same mold, then rolled in powdered sugar. We see with these three works that there is a focus not only on the material being made of food, but also the effect on our bodies from over-consumption, as if the fat children in reality were made of the candy themselves.

After working with candy for about 10 years, Le Courtois decided that she had enough, and decided to return to her roots- no pun intended! She starts working with potatoes and artichokes, inspired by her childhood days on the family’s artichoke and potato farm. An exhibit she had in 2010 called How to Eat an Artichoke, which was at the RedLine gallery in Denver. She sat people dow and taught them how to eat artichokes correctly. After they were finished, shed collect the yucca bowls in which she asked the guests to put their leftovers, and would put them into hanging yucca baskets. It is very important to Viviane Le Courtois to be involved with the people when working on this piece. It made me think that since she was carrying out the serving part of the meal with the guests, that she was relating and expressing another big part of the food world, i.e. being served at restaurants and home dinners.

Potato Film

Next, she makes an hour-long film of her peeling potatoes and in front of it there was a years worth of potato peels! It is fascinating to watch, because it is so methodical. I found myself going into a trance with the same repetitive images being shown to me as she grabbed the potato, peeled it, and then moved it to the side. I could only assume that she was in the same state of Zen mindset while performing the act. You can see the peel pile getting slightly higher as her hands start to become out of focus, due to the camera being still and placed just a few inches above her workstation. You can also see the effects on the body of preparing food for so long as her hands started to get swollen and dirty from the excess dirt and peels that collected on them. I have since learned that the artist hosted potato-peeling parties, in which friends and guests would sit around talking and continuously peel potatoes. I asked an employee what they did with the potatoes when they were done, and he told me that she threw them away! I must admit I was quite shocked, because I would assume she wouldn’t want to waste anything, being so interested in recyclables as she is. However, the point of the parties and the video is to focus on the repetition and the process, and to see it as a social activity when people work on them together.

Garden of Earthy Delights

The most recent part of the Edible? Exhibit is that of The Garden of Earthy Delights, which is the largest room that is the first entered by viewers.  This is a living interactive installation that was created specifically for the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. Do not confuse the title with the famous painting Garden of Earthly Delights by Early Netherlandish master Hieronymus Bosch, for one ‘L’ can make a huge difference! It was important in her vision in this installation that people relax, interact with one another, and think about food. The lighting is quite low in this room, as it is placed just above the plants which are low to the ground. Viewers are invited by the employees to take a small tea pot, which was a low fire kiln pinch pot, and to hold it in your hands to warm it up. Next, you are taught how to pick and collect herbs to make our own tea. There are herbs such as mint, verbene, thyme, lemongrass, and rosemary in these small gardens. There are little stations on the ground that the guests can sit down and drink the tea. She made a rug out of recycled tee shirts and a small table made of concrete and beeswax that looks like a mushroom. The enjoyment of these personally created teas is important to this installation, especially while socially interacting with friends and strangers. I mentioned these small pinch pots earlier in this essay in relation to the offerings to homeless people artwork, where these pots are thrown out of the windows of trains. As part of the installation, we are also invited to throw the clay pots at a designated wall and see it crumble and collect on the ground. Not only are we referencing the ancient process of growing, collecting, and consuming these herbs when we make our own teas, but then we discard our cups in the same way in which the natives of India do. Speaking to her love of serving, she comes to this exhibit every Saturday between 1 and 3 pm to tend the plants, serve tea, and offer foods grown from her home garden.

The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art made such an interesting exhibit that even though it is in such a small space, one could spend hours inside thinking about the artwork that Viviane Le Courtois has dedicated the past 22 years to.  This essay only focuses on a few works that are exhibited, but there are many more that have not been mentioned that grabbed my attention for a long time. I think that this is definitely an exhibit that I will return to, due to the fact that it is so supportive of social interactions, that I can bring new people each time and have a different experience. I really think that her goal to have the guests and viewers be inspired to examine their own relationships with food was definitely reached, for I started remembering my childhood food patterns and the ways in which I cook and eat my food. I even immediately bought potatoes upon leaving the exhibit, due to the fact that I watched her peel potatoes for so long! She definitely engages all of the senses. We can hear the boy chewing in the background, we can smell and taste the herbs, we can see the different foods, and we can feel the clay pots. Edible? will be remembered not just by our minds, but our senses and tummies, too!

Fat Kid Army

Artichoke

 

2 Responses

  1. The potato film, for some unascertainable reason, filled me with an extreme sense of hunger. This was accompanied by a desire to immediately consume some sort of starchy snack. Like you, I seemed to have been affected my the rhythmic nature of her peeling. Interesting how this inspired a sense of hunger that was greater than was acquired while viewing the other pieces.

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