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Let Them See Cake

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BFA Show large

Detail of “[Enclosing Matter]” by Elisabeth Emory, 2008, aluminum. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Let them see cake

As a relative newcomer to SAIC, I had no idea what a big deal the BFA show was until I finally saw the whole inspired thing. I was happily surprised. It was not that I had low expectations for the show. I know it takes a lot of heart and talent to survive at least four years at this school and come out with something to show for it. What got me, however, was just how varied the work is. Despite such a small student body sharing many of the same teachers and even artistic influences, the breadth and depth of the exhibition makes it seem as if some students are worlds apart from each other. Checking out the works on opening night reaped benefits far beyond cookies and cheese cubes—it was positively a visual feast.

Speaking of which, cake showed up (interestingly) in a handful of the works. There are paintings of cake, sculptures of cake, and there were even cupcakes viewers could eat. There was also a large hot-tub-sized cupcake which featured a performance on opening night.

In a chat with F Newsmagazine, Cynthia L. Post talked about the construction of her mammoth cupcake as well as her intent for the work. Post said she was inspired to make the piece out of wood and real frosting and cake (among other materials) after talking with female friends about their relationships with food. So the crowd-drawing performance consisted of Post and her friends climbing into the cake in their undergarments and eating it. As one gallery goer pointed out, it was probably a fat straight man’s dream come true.

Witnessing this performance about thirty years after the feminist movement made me wonder how much feminism informed Post’s work. The choices in her piece and the symbolisms they carry cannot be ignored: the performers appeared to be mostly half-dressed, female, blonde and attractive. The frosting was pink–a color long associated with innocence and girlhood. I wonder how or if the pervasiveness of these visual cues in Western culture contribute to the reason many young women have complicated relationships with food in the first place. Being a half-dressed female submersed in pink doesn’t mesh with the ideals for which many contemporary women strive. However, I have no neat conclusions on this topic. I’m still chewing on it.

In other food-art topics, there is an amusing work that can only be informed by a distinctly urban experience. Hyun W. Park’s work highlights his endearing empathy for one of the most loathed creatures in Chicago: the pigeon. In his work, which consists mainly of a colorful explanatory poster and some tertiary supporting models, Park proposes a healthful diet for the feathered. That means fewer fries and more organic, green-based food products. Seriously. Park’s proposal makes sense in a quirky way, and I couldn’t help but wonder if he was ultimately making a jab at the current diet of most people in Chicago. After all, pigeons tend to eat leftovers.

Finally, the simplest yet cleverest piece in the exhibition is Elisabeth Emory’s [Enclosing Matter]. It is what the title says it is&maash;two black parentheses brackets hanging in the air, each the height of a short adult. Stand between them, and you can be in parentheses. Emory said the work is meant for viewers to fill in for themselves. Her intent was to create a spatial language or pause. And with all the varied, appetizing artwork to see at this show, a pause for thought is surely welcome.

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