Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ephemeral Art and Food: A Brief Overview

Above: Pieter Claesz, Vanitas, 1630

Sam Taylor Wood, Vanitas, 2009.
Rotting fruit in progressive stages of decay.

From a still life genre in the Netherlands of the 16th and 17th century, imparting the theology of the time in the message that "all is vanity" and that life is ephemeral, a form of decay, leading to eventual death. Early vanitas paintings often depicted human skulls, candles and food. Wood's 4:36 time-stop video, "A Little Death" (at Massachusetts MOMA in 2009) shows the decay of a rabbit carcass surrounded by unchanging fruit.

Born in London, 1967, she has worked in
film, video and photography and was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1997.

One of the most vibrant and compelling genres of contemporary art is the concern with fleeting images, art that does not stick around, or "ephemeral art." Generally, the work is very political.

Begun in the 16-17th centuries, it continued with Dada and "found art "(as in Marcel Duchamp's work), discarded materials, and the attempt to get away from consumerism and the tyranny of permanency in art. Ownership was decadent. Thus, the notion of obsolescence in art. Painting itself was abandoned and the human form, as an object of study, virtually disappeared, though it soon returned as in the work of artists like Al Held and Phillip Pearlstein.

Dust and Old Tires:
Man Ray (one of Dadaist Marcel Duchamp's collaborators) created his silver gelatin photo piece, Dust Breeding (Large Glass with Dust,1920), a year's worth of accumulated dust on glass. After the photo, Marcel Duchamp wiped part of the glass plate clean, leaving portions to be affixed with diluted cement. Ephemeral!

Man Ray, Dust Breeding, 1920. Printed 1967

Performance art (art as an "event") grew from this. Allan Kaprow created Yard (1961), composed of discarded but carefully placed auto tires in the yard behind the art gallery.

Ephemeral Art with Foods:

In recent decades, foods (both raw and processed or "cooked") and food containers have been used as artistic mediums or materials. Raw chicken skins, beef steaks, chocolate and lard, have all appeared in galleries or in photographs as art.

Janine Antoni (born Freeport, Bahamas, 1964) Lard Gnaw, 1992 (from her exhibit, "Gnaw", 1992) Blocks of lard chocolate formed by gnawing the material.

Karen Finley (born Evanston, Illinois, 1956) as "The Chocolate Smeared Woman" in 1990.
She has an MFA degree from the San Francisco Art Institute, has worked as a recording artist and is best known for what may be called "aggressive performances."

In 1990, she won, and was then denied an NEA grant for artistic performance (i.e Performance Art). John Frohnmayer, chairman of the NEA in 1990 and Senator Jesse Helms accused her, Robert Mapplethorpe and two other artists ("The NEA Four") of indecency. In 2010 she made a highly successful come-back performance in New York as Jacqueline Kennedy in "The Jackie Look," with pearls, not chocolate.

Gabriela Rivera, Meat, 2005. From a video in which the Chilean artist covers her naked body with raw meat. She said, "My work is a metaphor for the relationship that people have with themselves every day when they look in the mirror."

Below: Pinar Yolcan, Perishables, 2005 (Shirt of raw chicken skins)

Liz Hickok and Jell-O:

Liz Hickok, Telegraph Hill and the San Francisco Earthquake, 2005

It's been over a year since I started corresponding with Jell-O artist Liz Hickok, who is based in San Francisco. Liz constructs environments from Jell-O, a relic of the 1930s and the favorite dessert of Minnesota Norwegian Americans. She was awarded the Food Network Awards Show prize for The Best Use of Food as an Art Medium" and recently exhibited at MASSMOCA.


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willow said...

The Wood pieces brought to mind the vegetable drawer of my fridge.

(The smeared chocolate look is interesting, too.)