Georgescu-Exhibition Paper

Dora Georgescu

Exhibition Paper

Viviane Le Courtois: Edible?

The aptly named Edible? by French artist Viviane Le Courtois, explores the world of what we can, do, and probably should not, eat. Currently showing at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, the exhibition features a wide variety of pieces, which are both inspired by and often created out of food. Central among the themes explored by Le Courtois are the rituals of preparing and eating food, the contrast between natural and synthetic food, and austerity and gluttony.

Edible? opens rather intuitively, with a look at food at its source. In a room full of locally sourced herbs, the audience is invited to pick and prepare their own cups of tea, brewed in primitive, low-fired clay cups supplied by the artist. The interactive piece, collectively titled The Garden of Earthy Delights, serves to introduce the audience to Le Courtois’ exploration of our relationship with food. The herbs on display are all potent and distinct, and aside from simply being fun, the piece succeeds in highlighting the natural origins of food, and its interactive nature lends itself well to the intimate and at times base connection between food and man that Le Courtois’ examines throughout the collection. After finishing their tea, the audience is invited to hurl their clay cups against a wall, and the resulting pile of broken earthenware emphasizes the organic nature of food. The pile of shattered cups resembles soil, red from the unglazed clay, and the ashes to ashes, food back to mulch motif isn’t lost on the audience who helps to create it.

At the other end of the room that houses The Garden of Earthy Delights, is a series of etchings that Le Courtois produced by using stains of Kombucha, a mushroom used in brewing a type of fermented tea that shares the fungi’s name. The rusty brown etchings recall images of cells seen through the microscopes in high school biology courses, both random and intensely intricate in their growth. A large jar of the fermenting tea, its top thick with the mushroom cultures, sits at the end of the series of etchings and reminds the viewer again of the natural, living element of what we eat and drink.

As you progress through the exhibition you can notice a shift in Le Courtois’ focus from where the food originates, to how it is prepared. A video installation titled Generations of Peelings presents what appears to be an endless loop (although in reality, it lasts only 30 minutes) of potatoes being peeled. Below the screen, several sacs contain an impressive accumulation of potato peelings. The piece is a riff on the theme of tradition, as Le Courtois looks back to the generations of women in her family that spent so many hours peeling the humble tuber. Much like the accumulated potatoes peels before us, history is thick with the rituals and traditions of families, especially in relation to the preparation of nourishment. 

Another shift takes us to the process of food consumption. A number of different pieces center on the act of chewing food, including a dozen chewed up licorice sticks prepared (with what one imagines is considerable effort) by the artist herself, a film of her chewing said sticks, and a number of metal castings taken from apple cores left behind by different individuals. The works illustrate the immediacy of consumption, and the intensely personal, and somewhat grotesquely intimate act of eating. The food being eaten is simple; licorice sticks and apples rather than finely prepared cuisine.  None of the subjects exhibit the glamour or beauty of food, and the lack of such qualities allows Le Courtois to reveal the ritualistic and rudimentary act of consumption. The apple castings show the teeth marks and varying appetites of the different people who ate them, evoking the crunching, mashing, sloshing; the crude and humble process that is eating.

While consumption is a concept familiar to all viewers, Le Courtois delves into the less familiar with her eclectic collections displayed in an adjacent room. Upon two sets of shelves, rest numerous jars containing a bizarre assortment of toys, foods, and other every day items.  These items are not simply contained, however. They have been altered by the fluid in which they swim. Food is molded and objects are disintegrated; these are no longer every day objects, but rather seemingly hazardous metamorphoses. Le Courtois created this collection with her mother, who had always held on to useless items, in mind. Aside from this personal influence, Le Courtois also aimed to comment on contemporary society, specifically perhaps on the degree of wastefulness existent in this consumer world (“Exhibitions Resume Statement”).

These collections reminded me of the French-born American artist, Arman, that I studied and whose works I had the privilege to see while in Paris.  Arman is perhaps best known for his “accumulations”, which are endless collections of various objects. A subset of these accumulations is “Les Poubelles” (meaning The Trash in French), which are containers packed with debris. In order to create “Les Poubelles”, Arman systematically scoured the streets of Paris to collect trash left behind by others. By displaying the trash that he found, he reveals the hidden and the personal symbols of humanity. Furthermore, he makes a powerful statement about the material world in which we live. Seeing every-day items that we all use, put together in their most raw form is shocking and lends questions of the materialism in today’s world. Taking the collections to another level, he found a way to contain food in a specific substance and display it in glass containers. It is with these displays, that his works are especially tied to that of Le Courtois. Both artists capture an expression of the degradation of life and a reminder of the biological, chemical, and physical condition of the human condition, while reminding us of the extent of materialism in today’s society.

Le Courtois’ jars are just the beginning of a collection of works representing human gluttony and food gone wrong. Venus of Consumption is an ironic twist on the classical ideal of beauty. A reclining oversized figure made of orange yarn is the idealization of excess, rather than of beauty as a title with the name Venus might initially imply. This Venus reclines in the center of the room much as the Venuses of old do in their paintings, but the androgynous grotesque form, not unlike a pile of half stuffed sausages, reminds us that consumption is not always a beautiful thing. While the Venus is not made of food, the dayglow orange yarn reflects the oversaturated colors of the artificial sugary treats that Le Courtois uses in some of her other pieces. A thick clear plastic coating furthers the impression that the Venus itself is made of candy; it is what it eats.

The room housing the Venus is full of other pieces that both critique and pay homage to our invention and corruption of what we eat. The opening to the room is framed by Candy Curtains, which as their name implies are strings of brightly colored sweets, fashioned into hanging curtains like those that enclose the scenes of Persian pleasure gardens in classical paintings. On the other side of these candied shrouds hangs Cheetovore, a faux carcass constructed from the puffed cornmeal snack. Cheetovore depicts our replacement of the natural with the artificial in a more violent way than the candy pieces. The image of a blood red animal carcass hanging from the ceiling evokes feelings of domination, and the spoils of the hunt, but the material used to create the piece is more readily associated with orange stained fingers and the great American couch potato. In the same room as Cheetovore and the Venus of Consumption, are a number of other figures that are also made out of what might be called synthesized food. Shane is a lumpy and once again androgynous figure constructed out of pastel colored marshmallows. While the figure is quite large, it is not as big as the Venus, and its from is more angular and rigid than the reclining fatty. Shane’s angles might indicate that he was carved from stone rather than mallow, and he conjures up images of titans, golems, and other monolithic mud-men.  Little Fat Kids is a series of well… little fat kids. Made from rubberish candy poured into molds in the form of chubby young children, the group of figurines stand about six inches high. Grouped in neat rows, the rotund figures remind one of the terracotta Chinese warriors, more likely unearthed from a box of Mike & Ike’s than an emperor’s tomb.

Le Courtois both highlights and contrasts the theme of materialism present in these pieces with Offerings for the Homeless, a series of small plates containing dried

rice, lentils and spices upon orange Indian fabric. Unlike the jars, there is no variety and no abundance upon these plates. They are symbolic of a world which most of us do not know, a world in which scraps of food and other “useless” items do not exist because everything matters. With this simple offering, Le Courtois reminds us of those who share neither our possessions, nor our gluttony.

With her wide variety of mediums and techniques, Le Courtois address more than just the superficial aesthetics of culinary artistry and edible delights. She uses something that is familiar and essential for all human life to explore topics that are equally fundamental to understanding of life and what sustains it. I was not sure what to expect when I went to see Edible? but I was pleasantly surprised by Le Courtois’ insightful ideas so creatively expressed. I didn’t leave the exhibit hungry but I certainly got some food for thought.

Bibliography

“Arman.” Le Site De Robert. Web. 15 Apr. 2012.

“Exhibitions Resume Statement.” Viviane Le Courtois Art. Web. 15 Apr. 2012.

2 Responses

  1. I really enjoyed reading your review of this exhibition, and I now plan to see it. Working with a unique media like food questions out consumerist culture in an intimate way not easily demonstrated by other methods. I like especially that the artist highlights the positive and negative aspects of consumerist culture through the consumption of food.

  2. I like how you wrote this review. It was very clear and easy to follow. I think you did a great job explaining every detail of this exhibition.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: