Exhibition Paper: Edible? Viviane Le Courtois

Wesley Grover

ARTH 3539

Professor van Lil


Viviane Le Courtois’ installation exhibition Edible? is a unique experience that showcases the artist’s work with food over the past 22 years. Before seeing Edible? at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, I was unfamiliar with Le Courtois’ work and, to be perfectly honest, had never really seen an installation art exhibit firsthand. I was not sure what to expect and the only knowledge I had going into the museum was that food was the medium. Immediately upon arriving I realized that Edible? was not merely constructed of food, but incorporated almost every facet of human interaction with it from the beginning of production to post-consumption. The exhibit defined the entire building’s atmosphere and created a friendly environment that invited the audience to engage with and even become a part of the work. After leaving Edible?  I felt it was a successful exhibition because it appealed to a diverse audience, effectively communicated a message, and created a unique experience that cannot be replicated.

In order to fully understand the depth of this exhibit it is important to remember that it is comprised of Le Courtois’ work over the past two decades. When she began working with food in the 1990’s Le Courtois was still living in France, where she was born and began her career before moving to the United States (www.bmoca.org). By viewing her artistic development over a period of time, the audience was able to track Le Courtois’ evolution as an artist as she explored new mediums. This included plants, sculpture, photographs, video and audio recording, drawings, and food, among others. The wide range illustrated how the entire exhibit has been constructed over many years, as technology and food production has evolved. Many of these pieces have been exhibited around the world, but this specific installation was created for BMoCA. As described on BMoCA.org, this was “the first opportunity to experience a large selection from this body of work in context.”

It is a daunting task to describe everything that Edible? had to offer and do it justice. This is partly due to the broad range of subject and material, but also because there was a certain ambiance that cannot be explained, what Walter Benjamin referred to as the “aura of art” (www.marxists.org). However, I will do my best to describe the exhibit and my experience with it as accurately as possible. As I entered the exhibit I was immediately offered a porcelain mug (made by Le Courtois) and invited to pick my own tea from The Garden of Earthly Delights, which was cultivated by the artist and setup in the middle of the room. As I helped myself to a cup and sat down on the rugs and pillows that made up a seating area around the garden, I realized that I had already become a part of the exhibit. I was not just engaging with it, but consuming it as I sipped my tea. It was a very cozy setup in The Garden of Earthly Delights and I mingled with other visitors on the pillows for a time. It was not until after leaving that I noticed it was the artwork, and more importantly our interaction with it, that brought the audience together. Without my knowledge, Le Courtois used food to get me acquainted with strangers and engage with them. It was an effective method to demonstrate the power of food and get the audience comfortable, but this was just the beginning of the artist’s social commentary.

After a few minutes on the pillows I ventured out to the rest of the exhibition. As I walked through Le Courtois’ various projects I was overwhelmed by the depth and complexity of her work. She did not simply gather a bunch of materials, throw them together, and call it art. Rather, she undertook procedures that require time and knowledge, such as growing vegetables or brewing kombucha. She took pictures, shot videos, sketched drawings, sculpted clay, and even created new techniques using junk food. One of my favorite parts of the exhibit was the Pickles series, which was inspired by Le Courtois’ mother who “had a tendency to keep pickle jars long after the contents had been consumed” (www.bmoca.org). These jars did not contain pickles, but random objects that she associated with her mother. I really enjoyed this series because it was the most personal and conveyed an intimate memory. The purpose of “pickling” foods is to preserve them; however, Le Courtois was doing it to preserve a memory her mother, specifically, how her mother interacted with food. I felt that this piece was important to the exhibit as a whole because it humanized the artist and offered incite in to her own experience with food and consumption. Furthermore, the repetition in this series was representative of the entire exhibit. Le Courtois uses repetition to illustrate the mass amounts of consumption and waste that is created in the world. People are usually unaware how much they really consume, but by juxtaposing all of the jars the artist forces the viewer to recognize it. Observing the long process and many stages of food production, I could not help but contemplate my own habits of consumption afterward.

Another piece that I particularly enjoyed was a group of small statues made from candy, titled Little Fat Kids.  Though her materials were unconventional, Le Courtois used a traditional method to create these “little fat kids”; she melted the candy and would then cast it in a mold. All of the statues were identical except for their color. I believe this was meant to demonstrate that although they appear different at first glance, they are not really. They are all just “little fat kids” being mass-produced. In my opinion, Le Courtois chose candy as the material for this project for several reasons. First, it suggests that we all become consumers at a very young age. Candy implies happiness, youth, and immaturity. The statues indicate that we become a product of our own consumption and it overtakes our bodies; it is deeply rooted within our society. Furthermore, the arrangement of the statues in rows also comments on the means of production. The large corporations that produce candy do not view their customers as people, but as “little fat kids”. The statues are consumers lining up for candy and appear fresh off the assembly line themselves. This illustrates how people become obsessed with consumption to the point that it defines who they are.

As I continued walking through the exhibition I could not help but observe the audience and their reaction to it. There was a diverse group of guests comprised of different ethnicities, ages, and social statuses. Everyone seemed to have a positive response to the exhibit, but what I found most interesting was how they expressed it. A group of people in their twenties sat around The Garden of Earthly Delights, discussing the work for most of the time I was there. Eager to demonstrate their knowledge they were in the in the thick of it, right in the very heart of the installation. Older couples cautiously worked the perimeter, occasionally venturing in to the garden, as they took in the exhibit. They were not as quick to touch and engage with the work as the younger generation that demands constant stimulation. And then there was the group of little kids, dragged to the museum by their parents, who appeared to get a sugar-high from the mere sight of candy, as they ran through the exhibit full of naïve excitement. The kind that can only be described as “a kid in a candy store”. As I observed this I could not help but feel that we were all truly a part of the exhibition. It would not be complete without us going through it: using, consuming, and at the end of the day, when the tea exits our bodies, producing more waste from it. We are all conditioned to ignore our patterns of consumption, however it was impossible to do so at Edible?. For the fifteen minutes, half-hour, or however long that a visitor spends in the exhibition, they are forced to confront their own personal consumption and reflect on how it has shaped them.








2 Responses

  1. This sounds like a really interesting gallery, not only in concerns to the pieces themselves, but the social commentary that is being made. Your description of the pieces are really vivid. I’ll have to go check this exhibit out.

  2. This sounds like a great exhibition, and quite the experience! I really like how you described the audience’s interaction with the installation space, and your own. I like the idea that museum goers are part of the art as well.

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