Viviane Le Courtois: Edible? (Camille Paley)

Camille Paley

Exhibition Paper

Viviane Le Courtois: Edible?

For my exhibition paper I decided to visit the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art to check out Viviane Le Courtois’ ongoing body of work. Edible? is a compilation of the artist’s work over the past twenty-two years. Since the nineties Le Courtois has been fascinated about using food as a medium and as a way to convey consumer culture. Many of her pieces deal with the implications of food in certain cultures and the various methods of preparing food within various cultures. Almost all of Le Courtois’ work are time-based and deal with the transience of food and the way individuals experience meals.

The first piece I encountered upon entering BMOCA was Le Courtois’ most recent installation The Garden of Earthly Delights. Visitors of the museum were invited to enjoy a cup of tea and sit amongst one another on small knitted rugs. Guests drank their tea out of clay cups and the tea was brewed with herbs that grew in tiny vessels around the installation. The entire room was fragrant with rosemary, mint, and other herbs, which contributed to the ambience and serenity of the setting. The beautiful rugs that were placed around the room were actually made by the artist herself. Le Courtois asked the people in her surrounding community to donate old dark-colored t-shirts, which she then cut into strips and wove into round rugs. In addition, Le Courtois used the leftover t-shirts as draping over the parts of the ceiling. All of the elements that made up this installation were reminiscent of ancient cultures that gathered, prepared their food, and enjoyed their meals in the midst of each others company. I thought this presented an intriguing aspect about American culture that is rarely mentioned. Individuals in American society are so concerned by restraints of time, we rarely converse over food and drinks. The Garden of Earthly Delights invited visitors to take a minute to relax, socialize with their friends and family, and enter a state of tranquility. After guests finished their tea and conversations, they were encouraged to pelt their clay cups against a wall facing the installation. The red clay that the cups were composed of made lasting impressions against the stark white wall of the museum. At the foot of the wall fragments of the cups were layered in a massive pile. I thought this was an interesting choice because it broke the calm atmosphere the artist tried so hard to achieve.

Against the two back walls of the installation a series of black and white prints were displayed. The prints were of a process Le Courtois discovered and documented. Le Courtois found out that kombucha mushrooms are so acidic that they are capable of producing non-toxic etchings. She placed a layer of the kombucha mushrooms on a metal plate and let the natural process of erosion occur. After, she removed the mushroom and wiped the plate with ink. The result of the meticulous process was extremely detailed etchings. It was fascinating how these prints were so intricate that they looked similar to plant cells when viewed under a microscope. Le Courtois has made over 40 plates since manufacturing the process in 2004. In between the two sets of prints there was a huge pot of kombucha sitting on a pedestal. The kombucha had been growing in the museum for over a month and layers of the mushrooms covered the top of the glass jar. While the smell of the liquid was poignant and somewhat disgusting, I was able to learn about the process of how kombucha drinks are made. Apparently, a layer of mushroom grows over the liquid and then you remove the debris and consume the remnants.

Beyond The Garden of Earthly Delights I made my way into the next room of the museum that housed a collection of Le Courtois’ previous works. The first piece I encountered was titled Batons de Reglisse Maches (Chewed Licorice Sticks) from 1990. From a distance I thought these fragments were little bones from an animal but when I looked closer I realized what the artist had done. Le Courtois took sticks of licorice root and gnawed on the ends of the objects until they were frayed and worn. Even though the remains were somewhat grotesque looking, I was strangely drawn to the glass display that housed the old licorice as if they were rare artifacts. Our culture is so dependent on processed foods that most people would not even recognize what a licorice root was if it was in front of them. I feel as though Le Courtois was commenting on this realization and demonstrating that food can be consumed directly from the earth, and this can often provide more nourishment than we receive from the products we buy at the grocery store.

Le Courtois furthered this notion of consumer culture through a performance called Cueillettes (Forages). Ten self-portraits from the performance in 1992 at the Villa Arson in Nice, France hung on the wall adjacent to the Batons de Reglisse Maches. The gelatin silver prints documented the week that Le Courtois only consumed food she foraged for in nature. Le Courtois is sitting in the photographs and feeds herself an array of seaweeds, chestnuts, berries, and herbs. The manner in which she eats her food is suggestive of ancient cultures of gathers that sat on the floor and fed themselves with their hands. In addition to commenting on our cultures dependence of packaged foods, I think it also demonstrates how far removed we are from how we experience food. Le Courtois appears as though she is engaging all of her senses while she eats and is taking the time to thoroughly take pleasure in the different items she is ingesting, as well as providing nourishment for her body.

Beyond these sentimental pieces began a series of works that conveyed excess and gluttony. The first objects I encountered provided a segway into this new realm. Hung from the ceiling were Candy Curtains created in 2008. The curtains were made from fishing wire strung with various candies from marshmallows to gummy worms. In my opinion the Candy Curtains expressed a child fantasy similar to the theme of the board game “Candy Land” or the movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” While the curtains were alluring because of the bright colors and different textures, they also were unsettling because they required an outrageous amount of candy to be made.

As I was admiring the different strings of the Candy Curtains, I was distracted by an obnoxious crunching noise. The sound drew me to Le Courtois’ next sculpture, Cheetovore. The sculpture was made in 2002 and was composed of a giant paper mache object coated in flaming hot cheetos. The huge mass was dangling from the ceiling and resembled a raw piece of meat that you would find in a butcher’s shop. As if this iconography was not alarming enough, the sound of a person munching on cheetos radiated from the sculpture’s interior. I believe this conveyed the act of a person repetitively snacking and how unpleasant the rhythmic sound becomes over time. Even though Cheetovore was somewhat irritating to stand in front of, I thought it also incorporated a sort of humor and light heartedness because we have all experienced a time when we were frustrated by the sound of people chewing.

The next sculpture I was confronted by was the Venus of Consumption made in 2010. This giant woman made of bright orange acrylic yarn was definitely my favorite piece at BMOCA. The obese knitted woman was sloppily strewn across a pedestal and positioned in a reclining manner. I love the comedic symbolism behind this Venus. In Western culture when we think of Venus, goddess of love and beauty, we instantly picture an idealized woman depicted in the paintings such as those of Botticelli. Venus is often placed on a rug or cushion is a seductive fashion and usually has a sensual gaze. This sculpture completely flips that notion and indentifies a modern Venus overcome by obesity. The rippled woman is too large to even prop her self up and she hangs disgruntled over the pedestal. While I find the Venus of Consumption very humorous, it also touches on the increasing rate of obesity in American society and the harmful aspects of the disease.

Another massive sculpture that hinted at the relevance of obesity in children, was the marshmallow boy named Shane. Le Courtois made a pudgy paper mache boy and covered the entire surface of his body in pastel colored marshmallows. I enjoyed hearing peoples’ comments on the sculpture as they walked by. One old woman with her grandchild said she thought the sculpture was “very cute.” This was extremely funny to me because while the sculpture is appealing because of the colorful candy surface, the message behind it is kind of grotesque. Shane made me think of the poor eating habits of some children who are not taught proper nutrition.

Going to BMOCA and seeing the span of Viviane Le Courtois’ work made me fall in love with this artist. While a lot of her pieces incorporate humor, such as The Venus of Consumption, they also speak to issues of consumer culture and the absurd eating habits of our society. Past some of her sillier works, Le Courtois also displayed some very sweet, sentimental pieces such as How to Eat an Artichoke?. I admire how Le Courtois integrates her background and her family into her work, yet still allows the audience to be able to identify with the message. When you are around Le Courtois installations, sculptures, and performances it is impossible to not interact and feel a connection to her work. In the future I hope to follow Viviane Le Courtois’ art and I cannot wait to see what kind of material she comes up with.


One Response

  1. You did a really nice job of analyzing and summarizing the exhibtion. You had some interesting observations. I particularly like your comment, “I thought this was an interesting choice because it broke the calm atmosphere the artist tried so hard to achieve.” I was good point that I hadn’t thought of. It is strange that she tried so hard to create a peaceful and natural environment, only to have that destroyed every few minutes by someone throwing a clay pot. Do you think she is trying to say anything by that? Perhaps that even when people try to live a healthy and peaceful life, they can never fully escape the evil of the outside world?

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