Edible? Katie Hitch

Viviane Le Courtois’s show Edible? at the Boulder Contemporary art museum displays an intriguing combination between food and art. She is inspired by her surroundings and creates art that is relatable to both people inside and outside of the art world. Le Courtois also specializes in utilizing a wide array of materials, which includes videos, photos, prints, interactive installations, collected materials, sounds, sculptures, and of course food related materials. “Viviane Le Courtois received her Diplôme National Supérieur d’Expression Plastique (MFA) in Sculpture/Installations from the International School of Art and Research in Nice, France in 1992.” In 1994 she moved to the US and received an MA in art history at the University of Denver in 2000. She has been working in Denver under residency as well as teaching ever since.

Upon first arrival at the Edible? exhibit at the BMoCA I couldn’t help but be drawn to the exhibits initial setup. In the first, more central part of the room, you get to see all the sprouts, vegetables, and herbs that Le Courtois has grown herself. This is part of a larger installation called The Garden of Earthly Delights, which invites museum goers to sit down and relax while enjoying some tea and herbs that the artist grew. I discovered that on certain days the artist is in the museum tending to the gardens as well as pouring tea for the visitors. This would be a special event that allows one to talk to the artist first hand and experience this interactive installation with her. The Garden of Earthly Delights is meant to signify the tradition of gatherings, and is reenacted by Le Courtois to promote the behaviors of people mingling and interacting. After one finishes their tea, which is provided in a ceramic mug, they are instructed to throw it at the wall across from the various gardens. There is already a mass pileup of broken ceramic mugs on the ground, with bits of red ceramic residue on the wall as well. One aspect that is unique about this piece is that it was specifically created for the Boulder Museum of contemporary art. I think it is a perfect location for the exhibit. Behind the garden setup on the wall opposite of the broken ceramic mugs hangs etchings done of the kombucha mushroom.  These etchings are incredibly intricate and beautiful to gaze upon. They reminded me of microscopic life forms that can be seen on a Petri dish.  Apparently the artist developed her own technique for creating these etchings, which includes a non-toxic process. Included next to the etchings is the jar of the kombucha mushrooms. Upon first glance, it might be difficult to distinguish what is in the jar because it seems to bubble from time to time and doesn’t even resemble a mushroom.  It is fascinating to see the products and process that goes into Le Courtois’s work. It is almost as if she is sharing with us her diary because she includes such personal and inclusive information about her art processes.

The next area of the exhibit that I explored included sculptures of apple cores cast in iron that had been chewed by multiple people. Le Courtois wanted to discover the many ways one can devour an apple, which were eaten by participants in an event at the University of Denver. The results are evident, in that each apple core looks significantly different from the previous core. I really enjoyed the aesthetics of this piece as well as the meaning behind the work. I think it brings people together by showing the differences of people in terms of each unique eating habit as well as commenting upon the waste in some of these eating styles.  I also think the fact that she cast them in iron added immensely to the work because of its lasting quality. There are multiple ways to consume an apple, and Le Courtois accurately demonstrates this. The adjacent room is a complete switch from healthy and organic materials to candy and unhealthy sweets. This is immediately evident from the candy curtain that perfectly separates the two categories.  Once I saw Candy Curtains, which was made out of fishing line and various candies, I was instantly more intrigued by the exhibit. I then observed Cheetovore, the hanging flaming hot cheeto sculpture that reminded me of a piece of meat hanging in a butcher’s freezer. The correlation in my head between butchered meat and unhealthy junk food really disgusted me and I couldn’t help separate the two.

Next to the cheeto creation, the sculpture of an obese person sprawled out made me further recognize how disgusting the foods we eat can be.  This grotesque sculpture called Venus of Consumption portrays its name with ease.  While viewing this work I couldn’t help but think that under the yarn stitching there was an obscene amount of lard. I couldn’t contain my imagination while I pondered over the possible gross materials that could be hidden in the sculpture Venus of Consumption is a mixed media work created in 2010 of an undistinguished obese person that is an obvious reference to the nude paintings and sculptures of Venus. This piece portrays Le Courtois view on society today and how unhealthy we are. In fact, the entire back area of the exhibit is dedicated to over consumption and binge eating, which is relevant to American society today. Similar to Venus of Consumption is the sculpture Shane, which shows an obese figure with puffy checks made out of mini marshmallows. I thought this piece was a more delicate example of consumption because of its light colors and playful use of food. However, the use of repetition is still clear in all her candy and junk food works. The work that ties in all the obese sculptures is Candyvore, a short animation of a white pudgy face devouring various candies. The candies can be seen as the only colorful aspect and this emphasizes the obsessive gluttony of the figure. The video is played on a loop with a repeating soundtrack of chewing food that can be heard throughout the museum.

My favorite aspect of the entire exhibit was the work Pickles. I immensely enjoyed this work because I felt I could relate to it the most. One of the reasons is because I make my own specimen jar type creations and understand the process of making them.  The other reason is because this work brings up feelings of nostalgia, which I believe deals with the fact that the artist placed Barbie dolls and trolls in the jars. It is almost as if she is forever memorializing her childhood by placing them in (typically) formaldehyde infused jars. By doing this, Le Courtois can gaze upon her collection of memorable items for as long as desired. Also, I enjoyed how there were multiple jars to view; I spent the most time in the museum looking at the various jarred creations. Her combined interest in both junk foods items and nostalgic childhood items resonated with me and I found the connection between the two to work effortlessly. The creatures and food products come alive and become objects of scientific investigation. They can also be seen as portraying the aspect of decay in our society and how we eat artificial food that shouldn’t even be considered edible in the first place. This is a brilliant example of how the title of the exhibit Edible? comes to play.

The next portion of the museum that I was intrigued by consisted of a video of Le Courtois peeling potatoes, showing only her hands. She commented on how potatoes are an important food because they can feed so many people and that the act of peeling potatoes is seen as a domestic tradition and part of the artists heritage.  Le Courtois stated how peeling potatoes is like making sculptures, its an act that concentrates on the hands and the process one goes through to get the desired results. Underneath the looped video contains dried up potato peelings bunched together on the floor. This is another example of Le Courtois work that emphasizes repetition and the aspect of transformation.

I think the exhibit Edible? does a brilliant job of getting its viewers to contemplate the issue of American eating habits. The location of this health conscious exhibit works well and it further promotes eating organic foods. Le Courtois work is intriguing because if seen out of the gallery setting one wouldn’t necessarily call what she does art. The fact that her work is placed inside the white cube reinforces her works as art. I think this exhibit is fascinating and makes one look at the food they consume quite differently.  Her works deal with the themes of obsession, gluttony, and repetition and the fact that she works with food solidifies these themes.




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5 Responses

  1. I found your description of this exhibition to be interesting. It seems as though Lecourtois has a fantastic ability to actively involve her viewer into her work. Specifically, asking viewers to drink her tea and throw cups at a wall. The nature of her work is interesting in how short lived it is. Food degrades, especially healthy food. It’ll be particularly interesting to see how long the unhealthy food lasts compared to the healthy, and how we are putting those things in our bodies. I think this project would have been better if it were put in perspective of another exhibit relating to eating, or even relating to just eating disorders. I think juxtaposing the issue of eating too much and eating too little would be very relevant because our society is so obsessed with control and precision.

    Anna Cook

  2. I also visited this exhibition, so what I find so successful in your essay is how many works you describe, and in such detail! I think you really took the time to analyze so many of her works. Commenting on how the Boulder location of the exhibition effects the audience and their response is important to consider, and I didn’t think of it when I was there. The stereotypical health conscious Boulder resident most likely responses better to her work, and it might not be as well received in other places; I liked this commentary in your essay.

  3. I haven’t had the chance to visit this exhibit, but, after reading your review, I really hope I can check it out. I think the initial entry into the museum sounds very interesting, with direct interaction with the artist, the herbs that she grew, and the participation in throwing the mugs against the wall. I don’t think I’ve participated in a museum exhibition in that way before, so it would be fun to enter into the show with such an invested series of actions. From your description, this show sounds like it really makes sense that it’s presented in Boulder. I think the variety of works sounds very interesting, and the Boulder community would really be able to appreciate the themes/ commentaries being made on gluttony, consumerism, and health. I also appreciated your description of the placement of junk food with the barbies/ nostalgic childhood items. I think these items really say a lot about the materiality and consumerism in America, as well as the lack of patience, appreciation, and oneness with nature in the US, especially in young people today. This show sounds meaningful, in presenting important topics through aesthetically interesting materials and presentations. Great review!

  4. I haven’t seen this exhibit yet, but you definitely have inspired me to hurry up and go! I really like the fact that she is actually in the gallery tending her garden and interacting with the audience. I think that says a lot about the artist and the actual exhibition. I think that the artist being in their own gallery adds something extra to the show.

  5. Katie,
    your paper is very insightful and informational. I liked your interpretations of the pieces, specifically the “pickles” piece. During my visit, I found that when people were throwing their cups at the wall, it kind of broke the peacefulness of the tea ceremony… but nonetheless, it effectively represented “consumption.” I think that your essay sufficiently highlights the issues underlying health and overconsumption. Nice paper indeed!

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