Exhibition review: Viviane Le Courtois: Edible?

Danielle Austin

Exhibition review: Viviane Le Courtois: Edible?




Viviane Le Courtois was born in France iMany of her installations were made from found objects, sound, animations, sculptures, videos, and lights. She collects various objects from different places she travels such as t-shirts, socks, shoes, weeds, junk mail, lint, and even pickled objects. Much of her work is focused around food. Recently, Courtois has included a series of Kombucha etchings into her work. She tries to connect art to everyday life and explores the social aspects of eating.  (http://www.vivianelecourtois.com/bio.html, http://www.bmoca.org/2012/02/viviane-le-courtois-edible/)

One of her most interesting works at the museum was her piece “The Garden of Earthly Delights”. This particular piece consisted of wooden, square crates that held roughly six potted plants each. Not every plant in the room was edible, but one of the crates was specifically planted so that viewers could pick the leaves and put them into cups Courtois had made. The cups were then filled with hot water and the leaves turned the water into tea. When the viewers were done with their tea, they were allowed to throw their cup against the far right wall and it would shatter and land on top of the large pile of the other shattered cups. On the floor on “The Garden of Earthly Delights” room are woven rugs. Courtois wove the rugs from old t-shirts she asked people in her community to donate. Mounted on the far left wall, there are a series of Kombucha etchings. Courtois made these etchings by placing live Kombucha cultures, which come from the Kombucha mushroom, onto metal plates. The active cultures produce an acid that eroded the plates and caused the design of their growth to appear on the plate. Courtois then scraped the dried Kombucha mushroom cultures from the plate and proceeded to cover the plate in ink. She then proceeds to create ink prints from the residue left over from the Kombucha mushrooms. Her Kombucha etchings were probably the most interesting thing to me in her exhibition. These whimsical prints almost look like watercolor that has been applied to very wet paper yet they were made from a living organism. (http://blogs.westword.com/showandtell/2010/11/viviane_le_courtois_redline.php)

Another eye-catching work at Courtois’ “Edible?” exhibition was her piece “Pickles”. This particular piece is from the early 2000’s and was a tribute to her mother. Before her mother passed away, she would collect pickle jars after the jars were empty. Courtois filled these jars with various liquids and objects and displayed them on shelves. The contents of the jars are anything from a disassembled Barbie to old pretzels and bugs. Besides “The Room of Earthly Delights”, I found this piece to be the second most interesting. There are so many jars displayed on shelves that almost reach the ceiling. One could stand in front of those shelves for an undetermined amount of time trying to figure out what was in each of the jars. Most of the objects in the jars are recognizable but there are a few in which the viewer could only guess the contents.

To the Left of “Pickles”, in the doorway, Courtois created a series called “Candy Curtains”. This piece consists of various pieces of candy threaded through with a piece of fishing line to create multiple, long strands of candy. These were then hung up in a doorway in the exhibition area. I believe that these curtains are an illusion to the amount of food people in Western culture waste or take for granted. The idea that one would make curtains out of something edible instead of eating it creates tension for the consumer world and what the product was meant for.

Courtois’ piece “Candybore” is a video installation consisting of a clay animation face that continuously eats different types of candy for two minutes and six seconds. I found this work intriguing not only because of the impressive animation, but the humor I found in it as well. The video had audio that went along with it and it was a series loud, obnoxious chewing sounds. The expression on the clay figure’s face, along with the clay hand continuously pushing different types of junk food into its mouth struck something within me and I could not bring myself to walk away from this animation for quite some time. I feel as though this piece is successful because it captures the viewer’s attention not only with the humorous face but also with the underlying filth the viewer might associate with it.

Courtois’ piece “Shane The Obese Marshmallow Teenager” was a sculpture that would have stood at about four feet tall if it had not been on a pedestal. This particular sculpture was a colorful, stocky figure that looked as though it was cast in some sort of plastic and then covered in mini marshmallows. I was unsure how I felt about this piece other than the fact that I wanted to touch it, but refrained. To me, this particular sculpture seemed to be commenting on the obesity of teens and children due to the mass production of junk foods. For many generations people have been exposed to the easy-to-obtain junk food consumerist market and I believe that Courtois’ “Shane The Obese Marshmallow Teenager” was a commentary on the laziness of Western culture. Another piece I felt went along the same commentary as “Shane The Obese Marshmallow Teenager” was Courtois’ “Little Fat Kids”. In this particular work, Courtois melted down different candies and cast the candies into little, fat figurines that stand about six inches high. Because each of these figurines is made from a different type of candy, they are each a different shininess and color. Some of them have more of a matt finish while others are glossy. A few seem to be somewhat transparent, while others are completely opaque. From the title and the mediums chosen, I feel as though “Little Fat Kids” shares roughly the same themes and commentaries as her other works she has chosen to produce completely out of candy. Since much of her work deals with consumerism, it is only natural that she should have all spectrums of food included.

Another video installation of the other side of the gallery from “Candybore” was Courtois’ video installation, “Generations of Peelings”. This particular work was fabricated to honor Courtois’ heritage and honor multiple generations of women peeling potatoes in her family. The installation consists of Courtois peeling an unknown number of potatoes. It is clear though, from the massive pile of dried potato skins lying on recycled potato sacks underneath the video, that Courtois peeled quite a few potatoes to honor her heritage before ending this particular performance.

Recently, Courtois has become more and more interested in interactive projects. She organized a series of events where she prepared food for a number of people. One of her best-known works of this type is “How to Eat an Artichoke”. This piece was completed in 2010 but the remnants of this project were displayed in her “Edible?” exhibition. Dried artichoke leaves were presented on suspended tears in the chronological order in which one would peel and eat an artichoke. I was unaware that this particular work was an interactive performance piece, essentially, until having read some of Courtois’ biography on the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art website. After discovering the projects origins, it became much more interesting to me. I can only imagine being a person at this interactive artwork and being instructed on how to eat an artichoke.

Overall, I found Courtois’ exhibition to be very interesting. It was the first exhibition I had ever been to at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art as well as the first exhibition I have ever been to where the majority of the pieces were made out of food. Courtois’ style of making art has opened my eyes to new possible mediums and her uniqueness and creativity are things I aspire to have.







4 Responses

  1. I think you did a really good job of describing not only the pieces themselves, but also the way that the curators at BMOCA chose to display them in the room. I also really enjoyed this exhibit and i like that your paper covers how some of the pieces made you feel.

  2. Your descriptions of these pieces makes me regret my impulsive judgement that edible art was going to be, well, too kitschy and lame. I can tell that a lot of the works in the show (specifically the Kambucha etchings, I’m on the same page with you) commanded a great deal of visual power, and the food as material seems very French. I spent four months there last semester and got a “taste” (get it!? haa) of the brazen confidence with which certain French people enjoy critiquing Western, yes, but more specifically American culture. I find some of the titles of these pieces along with their material obviousness to be too didactic. At some point, which I believe the obese marshmallow guy is past, the work is so liiteral that it may aw well have been written. Did this factor into your opinions at all?

  3. I really enjoyed reading your paper. Because I also went to this exhibit, I felt that you did a wonderful job describing each piece. I also really enjoyed, as other stated above, that you put your own thoughts on each piece along with outside information. For example, how described the “Garden of Earthy Delights” and found information about how she made the rugs from t-shirts that she collected from her community. I feel like this added a lot of depth to your paper and made it more interesting to read. I do have to say though, you should have read over your paper because there are a few, and by few I mean a very small amount, typos. Over all, I really liked the layout of your paper, it was very nice!

  4. What an interesting premise for a show. Food and culture are powerful binaries in the contemporary art world. I was actually present during the artichoke performance. It was very ritualistic and scared the way the leaves were displayed. The artist did an excellent job creating a feeling of love and community.

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