Le Courtois Exhibit (Chanel Host)

MarlenaChanel Host

ARTH 3539 Van Lil

BMOCA Exhibition

4/30/12

Tea Time with Le Courtois

Vivian Le Courtois is a French born artist who has been working with food as both a medium and inspiration for her artworks for over 22 years. She now works around the world, but lives and teaches in Denver. Her interest in food and other objects of daily life concerns the social connotations, and often times, injustices that can be suggested by these items.

Le Courtois explains in her artist statement, “many of my works indirectly criticize global contemporary society including wastefulness, environmental negligence, digital invasion, pharmaceutical foods or lack of observation.” Her mixed media exhibition Edible? at BOMCA indulges in her interest in food. As a visitor to the exhibit it becomes more obvious how food is an integral part of Le Courtois social exploration and criticism.

You first enter the exhibit into what Le Courtois calls The Garden of Earthly Delights. The large entry room to BMOCA has been transformed into a sort of greenhouse, with plant feeders spread throughout the room and lights hanging low above the plants in the place of sunlight. I was immediately caught off guard by the irony of having just left the beautiful boulder creek area only to enter into a controlled, planted world indoors. At first it is difficult to decide how to navigate the room and what to do with the plants. I began by walking around them; along the wall are a series of prints made to mimic the natural forms Kombucha makes. In the corner was an actual jar of homemade Kombucha.

I continued to avoid the central planted area and moved to the second gallery room in which I saw Le Courtois piece, Batons de Reglisse Maches (Chewed Licorice Sticks).  The description of the piece read, “licorice sticks sculpted with the movement of chewing,” I found it interesting that she used the word ”sculpted” to describe the action of chewing. This is a novel way of approaching sculpture, especially those that involve food as being able to be sculpted by the action of chewing.  The licorice sticks were displayed behind a glass frame in a long room on the wall. Without having looked at the title of the piece it would be difficult for a viewer to deduce what exactly they were looking at, at first it appears to be some sticks framed in a line. Once again le Courtois incorporated a mixed media element to this piece, which made it all the more engaging. At the end of the chewed sticks was a video of Le Courtois chewing each stick. The video element, like the actual jar of Kombucha in the previous piece, added to my involvement and understanding of the piece. I still felt as though I was missing the over arching tone and purpose of her works. The next few pieces I saw, and more importantly the way other visitors were engaging with them, really helped me understand Le Courtois social motive.

After walking through a beaded curtain made entirely of different types of candy I saw a giant orange obese figure sprawled on the white pedestal. Shane The Obese Marshmallow Teenager is the first piece, which really struck me as applicable to a social issue concerning food, obesity. The figure Shane is extremely disturbing, as it lies slumped equally resembling a fat man reclined on a couch or possibly a waterlogged body of someone who has drowned. In either case the image is unsettling and opens a door for a discussion of how food can distort the body or the self in our culture. The giant swollen Shane was so eye catching that I complete passed by the large hanging piece of butchered “meat” made of red Cheetos Le Courtois calls Cheetovore. The piece was contradictory in that itresembles a large chunk of cows’ meat in a slaughterhouse, but it is made instead of fake red Cheetos.  One message that comes form this opposition is that we are eating less natural food sources and turning to fatty, factory-made, chemical injected, dyed foods as a major part of our diets. This piece fits nicely with the Shane piece which acts as a visual result of what happens when people eat Cheetos as if they are a substitute for a nice piece of red meat.

My favorite piece in the exhibit is on the wall directly behind the Shane figure and is entitled Pickles.  This work consists of over 200 pickling jars filled with an array of items including broken Barbies, marshmallow peeps, a stegosaurus, and unruly moldy food. From a distance the shelves of jars are colorful and invite curiosity, reminding me of a candy store. However, as you get closer a make out the oddities within the jars it becomes more like a strange cabinet of curiosities from long ago.  Severed heads, and grotesque foods turn your stomach and though its intriguing to look through each jar I began to feel a little sick. I think that the sickness or disgust at food, mold, fermenting Kombucha, and obese candy laden figures isan essential part to experiencing Le Courtois work. It is amazing to me how much she is able to comment on our social food practices, from preparation time, obesity, and candy to mold, fermentation, and chewed licorice.  I think as a whole her work is about questioning food we see everyday and investigating how we interact with it. Le Courtois reaffirms this idea in her artist statement, “ Addictions, collections or obsessive attachments to useless things such as food residues, single socks, empty pickle jars, junk food, weeds, plastic bags or junk mail fascinate me.”

While visit her exhibit I had two unique encounters which better helped me to understand the way her work with food is received and engages the viewers. My interaction was watching two seven and a nine year old boys explore the exhibit. The boys were entirely unruly as soon as they entered the exhibit and saw the plants growing they began to touch them and pull at them seeing if they were real. They next moved to the wall of destroyed pot fragments, picked up a fragment, and began drawing and writing their names on the wall with the reddish colored pot! The galleryattendants were extremely lackadaisical in trying to truly control the boys and their mother seemed to have little influence over both of them at the same time. As she tried to scold them for drawing on the wall they rushed into the room with Shane and the jars and the candy curtain where their sense of excitement was heighten two fold as seeing the Cheetos and candy sculptures. One of the boys tried to pull a cheeto off while they other one started to chew on the candy curtain. Later a saw the younger one get a marshmallow off another sculpture and eat it! They attendants soon escorted the women and her wild children out but what was intriguing about this interaction is how engaged the children were with Le Courtois’ work. Unlike a traditional gallery there were pot fragments spewing onto the floor with no barriers so they immediately tried to make their mark where the pots had been thrown. The candy and food was so tempting that any sense the boys had of respect for art flew out the window and their innate drive to enact gummy bears surpassed any kind of control. Though I, like others in the gallery, was at first mortified by their destruction of Le Courtois pieces I soon found out that Le Courtois was sitting only feet away on one of her mats watching the whole time!  My second encounter was with Le Courtois who serves tea and samples of her gallery grown greens on Saturdays during the farmer’s market. I was able to sit on a small woven mat and Le Courtois served metea made from the herbs grown inside. I asked her how she felt about the boys running wild through her exhibit and she said she was pleased to see how they interacted with the various media exposed. She did not seem bothered by the fact that JAY was written in huge letters across the wall of her broken pot piece, though the assistants were trying to get it off the wall as we spoke.

When I first walked into The Garden of Earthly Delights I did not find anything special about it but after getting to experience it as an interactive installation as the artists intended it became a lot more intriguing than some sad looking plants trying to grow without real sunlight. It was wonderful to meet the artist and see her response to an array of viewers including myself.

Works cited

Le Courtois, Vivian. “Artist Statement.” Vivian Le Courtois. 2010. Web. 25 Apr. 2012. <“Viviane Le Courtois: Edible?” Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. Spring 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. .>.

“Viviane Le Courtois: Edible?” Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. Spring 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <http://www.bmoca.org/2012/02/viviane-le-courtois-edible/&gt;.

2 Responses

  1. Nicely written! I felt like you did a good job of describing not only the work but your experience throughout the entire exhibition as a whole. I really like the photographs that you put within your paper which create a good illustration of what it must have been like. I might have put them within the paper with the parts you were talking about that particular piece of the exhibit just for a visual aide but overall you did a great job!

  2. I love the idea of combining media and artwork. I think that “Chewed Licorice Sticks,” although rather strange, presents a novel idea relative to the creation of an artwork with an explanation as to its creation intrinsic in the piece. This idea of both the question and the answer present and for an audience to consume…pun intended in this case, provides an agent of depth that was previously unavailable to artists operating in mediums that aren’t easily assimilated with technology. This presents an interesting groundwork for pieces that combine the mediums of digital and analog in the future.

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