Viviane Le Courtois Exhibition

Megan Watry

ARTH 3539

4/18/12

Viviane Le Courtois Exhibition

            Viviane Le Courtois has been engrossed with food for over twenty-two years. She has roamed the world looking at how people prepare and consume their food. Society is built around food and the kitchen. People talk, laugh, and enjoy each other’s company, all while eating food. Viviane is fascinated with how society is connected with food. Viviane deals with food preparation, ceremonial foods, consuming foods, how relaxation can be related to food, sustenance from food, over-eating, and under-eating in her two exhibitions called Edible? and The Garden of Earthly Delights. Everyone deals with food on a daily basis and therefore people don’t think about the connections between people and food. Viviane is increasing our awareness of this topic.

When the viewer first walks into Viviane’s exhibition, they pass though a collection of herbs growing together in small plots. Around these plots are rugs with small tables. Viewers are welcome to select some herbs and the artist will make them a pot of tea. Viewers can then sit down, relax, and reflect. On the walls of the room are etchings of Kombucha mushrooms that Viviane has grown herself. Viviane creates an area where people can think and relax. This exhibition expresses that food is not all about consuming but also about how food can create a setting. Food can create settings that are relaxing, exciting, joyful, and places for people to connect. Viviane creates a place where people can relax and experience a new emotion with food.

The viewer then walks into the next exhibition where Viviane has set up different sculptures about food and how people relate to food. Viviane concentrates on food consumption in this exhibition. She conveys this with strings of candy and people made out of marshmallows. In the background there is a video with a putty-like person chewing continuously. The viewer is plagued with people eating healthy and unhealthy food. Viewers begin to realize how often food is in our lives. People snack, eat sweets, and consume prepared food. Viviane clearly expresses people’s necessity and connection to food.

I found Viviane’s exhibitions absolutely fascinating. Viviane conveys the connection of people to food clearly by creating an atmosphere of relaxation and exploration. I love herbs. I love the smell and the flavor. I became very relaxed in Viviane’s exhibition. Viviane doesn’t just explore food. Viviane sets up her exhibition so that the viewer sees that food is not just about consumption but also about socializing and individual reflection. Viviane accomplished this by putting rugs in the center of the room for the viewers to sit down, rest, contemplate, and drink tea. I observed many people in the exhibition drinking tea and contemplating while sitting on Viviane’s rugs. Viviane sets up the viewer to understand that there are different ways of seeing how food is related to people. This includes relaxation, socializing, and entertainment. Once viewers walk through this room and understand that food and people are related in many ways, they are ready to see the rest of Viviane’s exhibition. I noticed that I too was beginning to think about food in a different way than just consumption. Viviane helped to open my eyes to the different ways food can relate to people.

In the next room, Viviane shows the viewers another connection between food and people, consumption and preparation. I was surprised how well Viviane conveyed consumption and preparation. Viviane had a range of art pieces from cast iron apples to little people made of melted candy. In this room, it was not just about continuous eating but also about preparing food and having food around us constantly. Viviane sets up a video with people peeling potatoes. This video helped me to remember, especially with our take-out foods, that food takes time to prepare. Women would sit around for hours preparing a healthy meal for their family. Viviane also had a curtain of candy, which got me thinking about how food is always around people. In my dorm room, I have snacks waiting for me when I get even slightly hungry. Food was not always sitting around for people to eat. People had to work, in the past, to eat. People had to go to the market or farm their own food. Food was not readily available in the past like it is today. Viviane illustrates this clearly in her second exhibition by presenting how available food is today.

One piece in particular that I really enjoyed is Viviane’s piece made in 2003 called “Pickled.” In this piece, Viviane collects old pickling jars, puts objects in these jars, and fills them with liquid. Viviane’s mom passed away a couple of years ago and would collect pickling jars even after they were empty. This piece was unique because Viviane not only put candy and food in the jars, but she also put kids’ toys in the jars. The pickling jars became a collection of Viviane’s childhood and her memories of her mom. It was so fascinating looking at every single pickling jar and seeing something different in each and every jar. Every single jar produced an emotion ranging from disgust to happy memories. Many of the jars actually reminded me of my childhood and the toys I used to play with. I really like this piece because the viewer can relate really well to Viviane’s fascination for collecting childhood memories. People have so many childhood memories; sometimes it is hard to collect them all. Viviane’s piece reproduces this childhood memory collection and helps the viewer to think about food in a new way: bringing family together.

When thinking about food, viewers often don’t correlate food with cast iron. Viviane again gets her viewers to think about food in a different way by casting two foods in cast iron. One cast iron sculpture is made out of different sized apple cores and is called, “Apple Cores.” This piece, made in 2007, is made out of 5 or 6 eaten apple cores. Viviane invited different people to eat an apple, however much they wanted, and then taught them how to cast their eaten apple in iron. The viewers can see the bight marks on each of the apples, which are in various stages of being eaten. I like this piece a lot because when you think about an apple, you don’t think about iron. Because the apple is cast iron, the viewer is unable to imagine eating such an object. Viviane again causes the viewer to think about the relationship between food and edibility.

The other food that Viviane casts in iron, which was created in 2011, is called “Artichoke.” Instead of the food being partially eaten like the apples, the artichoke is uneaten. This whole artichoke is cast in iron, which creates a feeling of the food being untouchable. The concept of untouchable, uneatable, and inedible in relation to food, is a concept that not many people think about. The purpose of food is to eat it. The cast iron artichoke creates an irony about the purpose of food that the viewer must reckon with.

My favorite piece is the Kombucha Etchings. Viviane grows her own Kombucha, which is bacteria and yeast. Viviane then draws the Kombucha in its different stages as it grows. Viviane then takes acid to a metal plate to carve out her images. Viviane inks her plate and presses her paper onto the plate to create her image. Viviane has about thirty-something Kombucha etchings over a period of 3 years. My favorites are etchings number 9, 16, and 33. Every single Kombucha etching is different in its own abstract way. Kombucha, when drawn, can be turned into small bubbles, lines, and curves. The viewer doesn’t know what they are looking at until they walk over to the jar of Kombucha sitting in the corner. Each etching of Kombucha is different and unlike any of the other etchings. Each etching only happens once and is unique to the Kombucha at that time point. The Kombucha will never ever grow that way again. Viviane shows the viewers that food, as it grows, changes and is unique at that point in time. Food is ever changing as it grows.

Kombucha is a tea-based drink that is made of yeast and bacteria. This tea mold is used for medicinal purposes. Some of the health benefits are boosting the immune system, decreasing cancer, decreasing insomnia, increasing energy, improving skin elasticity, and assisting digestion. Kombucha juice can contain up to 1.5 percent of alcohol. The reason that Kombucha has health benefits is that one of the acids that it produces is glucuronic acid. Glucuronic acid is present in your liver. Extra glucuronic acid helps your liver during detoxification. The body is therefore healthier because the glucuronic acid helps to remove toxic material from your body. By decreasing toxins from your body, health benefits are reached. After drinking Kombucha tea, there are less harmful material in your body which increases things like your energy levels, digestion, and sleep.

Adverse health effects can also happen when drinking Kombucha tea. Kombucha must be kept in certain conditions including temperature and the correct ph level range. If the Kombucha is not kept at certain conditions, green and blue mold will grow on the Kombucha. If mold grows on the Kombucha, it must be tossed out. Someone who drinks moldy Kombucha tea that wasn’t kept at the right conditions will become sick. Kombucha tea can be really healthy for someone by cleaning their liver but drinking Kombucha tea kept at the wrong conditions can be hazardous to one’s health.

Viviane shows her viewers that some foods, like Kombucha, may seem healthy at first but if one looks closer at the facts, some foods may not be as healthy as they seem. Viviane’s exhibitions show her viewers that food is a complex topic. Food is related to society, emotions, food preparation, health benefits, consumption, and our concept of what food means. Food is not a simple topic, and Viviane does a magnificent job using her art to show viewers the complexity of food and how food is related to us.

One Response

  1. Megan I went to this exhibit as well and loved the Kombucha etchings as well but had no idea what Kombucha was. Eventually with the help of my iphone, I figured out what Le Courtois was doing. However, your look at the health benefits and risk of the mushroom is fascinating and adds so much depth to the piece. My appreciation of the piece is much more after know that information so thank you for putting in your review.
    The only thing that I interpreted very differently from you was Pickled. Although I knew the background of her childhood toys and how she was trying to evoke memories, I took the piece completely differently. The relation to science and artificiality that the jars had for me made me interpret it as a commentary on the artificiality that we are creating in our foods, especially since it was right across from Cheetovore.
    Overall, your review was really interesting and well informed!

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