Kathryn Anderson Edible?

Kathryn Anderson

Contemporary Art

Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art

Viviane Le Courtois: Edible?


Besides the fact that I love food, the way its grown, various preparations and actually eating it, Viviane Le Courtois’ Edible?, really shone as a fascinating exhibit.   Initially running into BMoca for break from working at the Farmers Market, I immediately slowed down and looked around to see lots of green, kombucha and sun lamps shining down onto plants.  The natural colors that surrounded me seemed initially so unnatural in the white box of the museum.  The outdoors had joined me inside and created a structured, planned and detailed mini nature inside.  The green herbs color was so soothing and energetic at the same time.  Not only was the exhibit about greens, herbs and the earth but about waste, over eating, and candy.  It was quite fitting that Courtois explains that many of her works confront the issues around waste and environmentalism. 

Courtois has been influenced by food for a large portion of her career.  She wonders about food as a social factor, how its grown and prepared.  These questions around food range from plants, to fungi, to candy, to chips.  Courtois says in her artist statement, “For me, if people remember what they see, it is art.” Confronting many of the issues that we face in the modern world utilizing food to speech about some of the injustices around digital world and mass production really directly stabs at the issues.  Food production and waste are one of the largest issues around environmentalism.  For instance, when cows are breed, feed and slaughtered in massive groups, they release more gases into the environment, they require huge amounts of gain for one farm and they waste food like corn and wheat that could go to humans who are also starving all over the world. Letting food go to rot or displaying it in various stages of its life cycle could be considered waste itself but that’s what makes it such a great attack on the neglectful world we live in.   Le Courtois has had exhibits all over the world that contain all kinds of food from rotting lemons, to piles of potato peels, to an installation about eating artichokes.

Displayed in the northeast corner of the west room was a glass rounded jar of kombucha.  Filled with the scobi (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), and delicious fermented tea waiting to be drunk, the glass dispenser sat there, so still and stationary but at the same time very active.  Kombucha takes a very careful balance, giving the scobi enough sugar to eat and replicate, keeping the container out of sunlight, not too cold or hot and keeping a flow of air in and out of the container.  Having the kombucha, as part of the installation was a clever way to demonstrate how alive all aspects of food are while remaining completely contained.  Kombucha has a high social element as well.  People get together and drink kombucha together enjoying the added digestive benefits of drinking it.  Based on what Viviane Le Courtois explains about her feelings around the environmental waste, kombucha would be the perfect drink to represent her ideals, kombucha grows and sustains itself but it needs help and support to stay healthy, like us all.   Years earlier in 1997, Le Courtois displayed an exhibit on live and dried Kombucha on rice paper in Boston.   Having the Kombucha actually fermenting while its displayed right in front of you is more influential because it’s a reminder that there is living and active cultures inside the tea as we are living and need to take care of ourselves as well.

After getting over how excited I was about the kombucha, I realized how cool the rest of the installation was.  The planters, with herbs of all assortments was placed in the center of the room so it was easy to travel around all sides and really feel apart of the garden.  The deep brown of the damp soil and the iridescent lighting above the pants created a calming and energizing feeling at the same time.  Without the lighting the herbs would have looked more accidentally placed in the room, kind of like a children’s introduction to a gardening bed.  The lighting made the beds seem more cared for an attended too. Displaying them in three clusters along the columns also gave the appearance of intentionality instead of putting them in the largest room.  Placing them on the planks was reminiscent of a farm where field workers clean and move boxes of plants from the dock, to the trucks, on planks moved by the mini fork lift.  The added element of wood brought the outdoors in as well.

The herbs added an extra sensory element of smell to the room when usually galleries or installation spaces are very visual.  Smelling the freshness of all the herbs drew people in close to interact and become part of the fresh plants. The kombucha as well has a slight fragrance to it, which is sweet but also slightly sour or similar to vinegar.  With the added element of smell when you approach the walls and look at all the pictures hanging the view immediately questions what those images smell like.  Framing all those pictures in black also contributed to the simplicity of the colors in the room, green, white, brown and black.

Moving past this peaceful and sensory rich room you moved back to hear and see a room full of opposition to the natural west front room.  The stings of candy containing, marshmallows, life savors, licorice, and gummies hung tempting small hands.  These strings of candy reminded some people of continuous binges when people just eat candy non stop.  Its like a train of food moving into their mouths with out a break.  It reminded others of intestines filled with the candy, clogging up arteries with plaque and blocking the digestive system all the way up the esophagus.  The viewer could not see the string on which the candy was wrapped around which even more resembled the idea that candy was the only part of the diet.  Candy was all the eye could see.

Related to the stands of sticky, sweet, sugary strands of candy was the Venus of Consumptions.  Her large body had beautiful curves and shape when it wasn’t obvious that she was a person.  Than when the reality hit that this was a woman who completely over indulged herself for years it became gross.  Than again the perspective of the woman changes when you see that she is smiling.  Is she happy because she has eaten so much, is she happy for a completely unrelated reason.  Courtois make the audience wonder, how could a person that size and apparently stuck on the ground keep a smile on.  This sculpture to evokes a sense of disgust and curiosity at the same time.  Her curves and body are all vibrant orange.  The orange demands your attention and makes you focus on what’s in front of you.  Psychologist that study color have said that orange exercise clothing makes a person want to push themselves more and be more active.  Because I knew that going into the installation I found Venus to be a huge contradiction.  She is giving the universal signal for happiness while at the same time helpless and alone on the floor, disrespecting her body through processed and chemical enriched food

I found this exhibit to be very effective at presenting its message while at the same time being simple enough that all people of all ages could come and interpret something personal and different.  I found the brighter, more artificial tones of colors in the room with more candy and the pickled elements to of set nicely the west room with more plants and simple coloring.  The fragrance in each room was interestingly opposing with the fresh sent of herbs off setting the fake sugary smells coming from the candy.  These differences in produced food to grown food emphasize Courtois’ idea of food waste and the overall impact that it has on environment. With the exhibit being centrally located by the farmers market, many people will get to stop in and enjoy the exhibit when they may not have originally intended to experience it, which helps the exhibit reach a larger audience.  On the other hand I think that this exhibit might be more influential in a town where people are not as conscious of what they put into their body.

3 Responses

  1. The first paragraph of this paper is wonderfully descriptive. I have not visited the exhibition myself, but you paint a vivid picture of the interior space and how the live, colorful art interacts with the white museum walls. You mention in the beginning of your second paragraph that Courtois wonders about food as a social factor, but as I read through your paper I had a hard time finding what social factors the art instillations you and Courtois were alluding to. I think your paper could have been stronger if you more clearly pulled out major themes of the exhibit and compared the artists intensions of the work with your initial interpretations.

  2. I have never heard of this artist, but what you explained seems very interesting! I am currently doing a photography project on waste and unhealthy food. Did you know McDonald’s sells 75 hamburgers a second in the US?! I found some interesting facts about that fast food chain that are absolutely mind blowing. I feel that sharing them with the public is extremely important, just as this artist did. Over consumption is a serious problem, especially for the younger generation that does not seem to be developing healthy eating habits. Obesity is on the rise, and it needs to be made aware of. Even though you can simply look around you and see what the community looks like, I find exhibits like these extremely helpful and positive. Nice paper, you really got the experience and feel of the exhibit across!

  3. You’re knowledge on what the artist is trying to convey is very insightful. I like the way you interpret her work outside of just the visual and engage your own knowledge on different aspects of the exhibition. I found her work very intriguing for the most part. I think you mentioned it but did you know that The Garden piece was commissioned to be site specific? The fact that if fits so well with the Farmers Market but yet still conceptualizes on the entirety of her work. It also brings about a wonderful mirror of the situations that occur during a gallery opening, the fact that you can get a cup of tea from the “art” and sit with others to think and discuss is intriguing. Great analysis of her work!

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 )

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: