An Eerie Exhibition in London Serves Up a Smorgasbord of Fake Food
Anna Choutova opens her exhibition 'Let Them Eat Fake.'
One of my biggest fears growing up was the supermarket, and in order to face this inhibition, I would pretend that I was in an art gallery. Aisles upon aisles of food, the source of anxiety, would suddenly transform into objects, bright and beautiful, often grotesque, and always untouchable.
I wasn't paying tribute to Paul McCarthy covering himself in ketchup, nor the colorful paintings of Wayne Thiebaud. It was a performance for modernity, like the theatrics of Marinetti's Futurist Cooking, but set to the background of a fast food ad campaign.
My ritual, and plenty of others like it, can be used to shed light on our cultural attitudes toward food, ones that are perhaps best emphasised by the approximate 30 million people in the United States with eating disorders or the country's two-thirds of adults who are considered overweight.
Exploring this is a London show by Bad Art's Anna Choutova, who has curated a dinner that is completely inedible, aiming to create dialogue surrounding food, from overindulgence and restriction, to commercialisation and poverty.
"It's just going to look like a massive dinner party," she tells Creators. "You'll enter a room and be surrounded by things that you want but can't have. Like full round wedding tables piled with different fake food that different artists have created."
A group of 29 international artists are involved in Choutova's Let Them Eat Fake exhibit, which opens later this month at Bones & Pearl Studios in London. The decadent work on display, predominantly ceramic based, includes huge bags of chips and pieces of gum, savoury sausage sculptures, lollipops made of ash, and a chocolate fountain with green paint coming out of it.
"I want it to be quite assaulting on the senses," says Choutova. "I want it to mirror the assault of food in media and commercialism. It's quite in your face, luscious, but a bit sickening."
Recent legislation in the UK that bans online ads for junk food points to the power of influence that the fast food industry has on nutrition, following the World Health Organization's warning about the volume of these ads targeted at children.
This, paired with unrealistic body standards in media and the prevalence of both dieting and healthy eating trends, creates a cesspool of contradictory communication, underscored by a fast-paced environment that has no room for sitting down at a dinner table.
"It's constantly this push and pull to abstain and be healthy," says Choutova. "But also treat yourself, overindulge, and have this fast food deal. It's just a lot of messages being thrown at people, which can cause really difficult attitudes to eating."
The 23-year-old artist and curator, who puts on shows under her project Bad Art, was inspired after seeing fake ramen and sashimi on display in the window of a Japanese restaurant.
"I thought it was quite potent how plastic food starts playing with your senses and alluring you to eat," she says. "I think something as basic as human nourishment has kind of mutated into this huge subject and culture, where now, we're eating at an arm's length through Instagram. It's becoming more of a visual thing, rather than the actual act of it."
BAD ART 2
With a mixture of paintings, drawings, sculpture, and video, the newest iteration of the "Bar Art" exhibit, Bad Art 2: 2 Bad, at London's Stour Space, aims to flip the idea of highbrow artwork on its head. An idea of injecting sincerity (over irony) into the artwork drives the overarching question, “What is modern art?” The exhibit is brash with its loud, Pop-y works, covering everything from a fridgeful of unmarked groceries, to a Sharpie portrait of Kanye West.
Bad Art 2 brandishes its self-deprecating title to the fullest, examining what it means to categorise art as product of intention, or maybe just child’s play. What’s significant is the exhibit isn’t too wrapped up in itself, instead enjoying a little fun at the expense of the modern art intelligentsia. After all, the success of the exhibit depends partially on the series’ appeal as “contemporary art.” As the official press release shares, “The exhibition aims to question why certain art is ‘bad’ while other art hangs gloriously in the National Gallery, or why one person’s pretty seascape is to another the epitome of kitsch.”
Artist Loui Miles, who created the portrait of a man wearing a bandana with the caption “All Dogs Go to Heaven,” shares his perspective with The Creators Project: “To infer a definition of ‘bad’ on art as a subjective medium would be redundant; in a formal sense ‘bad art’ could surely only be anything that is unintentionally ‘unfinished’ or ‘incomplete’, or created with the express intention of not being art.”
“In fairly bleak times we find this sincerity in our collective anxiety,” Miles continues. “It’s a liberation to be able to reclaim and revel in one’s own misery by celebrating the dirty, the lurid and the disreputable aspects of art, modernity and society."
Craft/Work talks to Anna Choutova, artist and curator of the exhibition series Bad Art about her latest show, Let Them Eat Fake, and why humour is the most important aesthetic criteria.
Anna Choutova is pointing to ‘The Holy Fountain’, her own contribution to the show she curated entitled Let Them Eat Fake. It’s a chocolate fondue fountain spilling forth an endless stream of lime green acrylic paint. By its side, a pile of skewers bearing playdoh marshmallows sit ready and waiting to be dunked. It is, quite possibly, the least appealing food stuff I have ever seen.
“And he ate it.”
“I hope he’s alright.”
The idea behind Let Them Eat Fake came to Choutova towards the end of last year as she passed a Japanese restaurant in Soho. “You know you get the fake sushi and ramen? I saw that and I was just standing there for a while,” she recalls. “And it just really stuck in my mind. I was like, why is that so powerful to me? Why does that look just so good?”
She put out an open call through a few different art websites seeking contributors to “a banquet of inedible food.” The work, it said, “should represent food” but it “should strictly NOT be edible.” The response was overwhelming. “I thought this is so niche, it’s going to be like my fucking chocolate fountain and an empty room. But loads of people responded – I got more of a response to that than any I’ve put on before – and loads of international artists.”
The final show includes works from some thirty different artists, from the UK, USA, the Netherlands, Germany, and Georgia. It is an absolute smorgasbord of horror. There are boxed praline chocolates that prove, on closer inspection, to be cockroaches cast in resin. Grey sandwiches and lollipops made of coal, resin, and ash, like remains from some nuclear holocaust. Red and white nail varnish re-labelled with Heinz ketchup and mayonnaise stickers.
The total show looks less like your standard white cube exhibition, more like some kind of nightmare wedding. On the opening night, there were flashing stage lights and a DJ playing disco music.
“I’ve always been obsessed with food and art,” Chotova tells me. “Like Paul McCarthy, the way he uses food as a really grotesque and alien thing. I started drawing parallels between the kind of work that he does and the M&S ads with the melting cakes. It’s so on the same page. This sort of hyper-sexualised depiction of food. The way food is being shown in society and in media and advertising depicts it as being everything other than what it’s supposed to be used for – nourishment.”
“On a deeper level, a lot of the show was brought on by my difficult attitudes towards eating,” she continues. “I’ve been suffering, on and off, from an eating disorder for the last ten years – and also a lot of the people who exhibited in the show have been. That wasn’t something I advertised when I did the open call it’s just something I caught on to. When you have such a difficult attitude towards eating, I feel like food, to me, might as well have cockroaches in it or be made out of glass. Because it becomes such a thing that you lust after but you can’t have.”
Born in Stockholm, the child of Russian immigrant parents, Choutova moved to London at the age of nine and attended what she refers to as “a kind of art high school run by these old hippie guys” in north-west London. “And then, I really didn’t know what I was doing with my life for a long time.” She ended up studying fine art painting in Brighton.
“When I was a teenager,” she recalls, “I just got into the art scene and it was kind of difficult because that’s not what teenagers my age were into, so I was just like, fuck, I’m a fucking freak! What am I into? And then I went to Brighton and I realised, oh, it’s ok, these guys are all fucking freaks as well.”
Returning to London after graduation, however, she found herself out of step with the metropolitan art scene. “My work is quite kitsch,” she admits. “It’s oil painting on canvas. So technique-wise, it’s quite traditional. When I moved to London, I got comments that I wasn’t really cutting-edge enough. And I was just, fuck that – I’ll put on my own show!”
Let Them Eat Fake is the fourth of Choutova’s shows curated under the Bad Art banner – a title that came to her, a few years ago, at the Tate Modern. “I was with a family friend or something and they’re not really into the art world and they were just bitching out all this conceptual art, going, a five year-old could have done that! This is so shit! And I just found that really funny – people’s perception of what is ‘bad art’. I guess I just took it from there.”
There’s nothing judgemental in the title though, she stresses. Bad Art is not passing a qualitative verdict – either on the work included in the shows or that which is not included. On the contrary – it’s intended to be as inclusive as possible. “The work that I accept is work that doesn’t take itself too seriously,” Choutova says, “work that has a humour about it, that could be done by anyone. A lot of the artists that I put in the show have never made any art before. One of the previous bad arts, my boyfriend just did these biro sketches of Kanye West, in a cab on the way here. These really shitty drawings. I was like: perfect. Put them up!”
More than anything else, perhaps, Bad Art is about breaking down art world taboos. A previous show, entitled 'Touch Me Baby', discarded the museum stanchions and velvet rope in favour of work that an audience could reach out and touch and grapple with and fondle and interact with. The idea was a response to Choutova's own longing to stroke a particularly luscious oil painting at Kensington Olympia's Art16 fair, but it succeeded in exposing the contradictory, almost fetishistic relationship the art world has to the sense of touch: simultaneously inviting the spectator's caresses and forbidding them. "I want to get in there!" Choutova says. "I hate that separation between the public and art!"
Bad Art is a radical overthrow of art's ivory towers, a casting open of the cathedral doors to everyone and every impulse previously abhorred by its dour priestly caste. If it sometimes seems crass, unkempt, and juvenile; then it is crass, unkempt, and juvenile in the same way as punk rock. Above all, it is fun and playful – but like the Situationist International, it uses play in the service of a radical critique.
“I think humour is the most important thing in art," Choutova says. "As soon as you find something funny you develop this instant connection to it. It’s no longer something intimidating or threatening to you – it’s something that you can understand in your own way. The art that I remember the most – like Paul McCarthy – is the art that’s made me laugh the most.”
"The concept of what ‘good art’ is and what it defines is often debated. Now, a group of artists have gone one step further, and banded together to showcase their unique, expressive and deliberately ‘bad’ work in the appropriately titled ‘BAD ART.’
The exhibition is designed to go against the grain and oppose what is deemed as ‘traditional’ art. Featuring a mixture of specially curated and uniquely created paintings, videos and sculptures, by names both emerging and established it asks; “In a world where a blank canvas can sell for $15 million, who decides whether artwork is a genius or as disaster?”
One of the pieces, by Brighton Artist Kiya Major is a drawing of Kate Moss stepping out of a car in a revealing outfit, reminiscent of one of her many paparazzi pictures. What stands out about this in particular is not only the innocent element in which it is drawn but also, that such a simple image is an accurate representation of today’s news and our celebrity obsessed culture.
As the art world becomes ever more isolated from ‘mainstream’ society, as those behind BAD ART suggest, the best way to unite high art fans and regular exhibition goers may well be through a mutual contempt of art that strives not be not very good at all."
See the article HERE.
Bad Art goes for round two…
Following the undeniable success of the first Bad Art exhibit, Stour Space has signed up for a second run. Bad Art 2 is running from the 2nd of July at Stour Space in Hackney Wick.
The second exhibition has been curated by Anna Choutova, the acclaimed mind behind the first show. For the first show Anna called for rebellious artists far and wide to get in touch to challenge the nature of art along side her. The exhibition is set to be much like the first, with work from established fine artists and budding new talent. It will be featuring meticulously curated paintings, videos and sculptures.
While that combination of mediums may sound familiar to a regular gallery attendee, Bad Art 2 promises to challenge the nature of mass manufactured goods, advertising, and a desire for consumption. As well as pushing the boundaries of ‘good art’ while they’re at it, of course.
Read the article HERE.
At the turn of the 20th century, something began to change in the world of art. An increase in the industry led to a rapid fire of mass manufactured goods, advertising, and a desire for consumption.
Artists like Duchamp took everyday objects and put them in the halls of galleries – they called it art; Roy Lichtenstein's loud pop art canvases tugged at the ear of traditional portrayals of gender roles - in the name of art; Jackson Pollock’s masculine expressionist paintings resembled angry splatters of paint on a canvas - buyers went crazy for this new form of art. Suddenly, art did not live in the portraits of wealthy families in their summer estates, but in giant balloon dogs, Campbell soup cans, unmade beds.
Bad Art, an exhibition by London-based artist and curator Anna Choutova, is a celebration of all things deemed unsuitable in the world of high art. It aims to answer questions like, “why is some art bad whole other art hangs gloriously in the National Gallery / why is one person’s pretty landscape another person’s epitome of kitsch?” The show, opening at Bones and Pearl Studios, will feature an array of painting, drawing, video and sculpture and will aim to challenge traditional expectations of the subject, technique or seriousness in contemporary art. We caught up with the show’s curator to discuss all things art, humour, and banality.
In your opinion, what is art?
Anna Choutova: Art is where language fails. Music, poetry, visual art exist to fill the space of what we cannot say explicitly. It is is the physical manifestation of our reality – I like to eat so I paint food.
Is art ever bad?
Anna Choutova: Yes. Bad Art is unchallenging, safe, and stale. Art that has nothing new to offer, nothing interesting to bring to the table. Background noise if you will, elevator music. I think that the worst art is art that has the least capacity to be disliked by the viewer. But it’s not like I’m going around being “good, good, bad, bad good, good, good, bad, bad, BAD” The point of this show is to point the finger at the people who do, do that. The whole idea behind the show started when I overheard someone critiquing a painting, “my five year old could have done that”. Who ever decided that a childish technique equals bad art? What does that mean for an artist like Cy Twombly, who is considered a contemporary genius?
Why do you think people see some art as better than others?
Anna Choutova: Taste, trend, trend chasers… In my experience the most genuine answer I can dish out is scale. Word of advice to all painters trying to find their way – MAKE IT BIG. People fucking love massive paintings. I was on my last term of uni and predicted a 2:1 and I rang up my sister and she was like, “dude just make them enormous you’ll graduate top of class, worked for me” , and she was kind of right. I was literally painting the same shit I was painting earlier but on a 7x7 foot canvas and suddenly everyone started digging it. Scale (tried and tested) = good art (apparently).
Can you explain how you chose the pieces you did for the exhibition?
Anna Choutova: Whatever made me laugh, whatever didn't take itself too seriously. Most of the work in Bad Art is about food, sex or painfully ordinary moments in life – spilling a glass of juice, opening the fridge door. My mission as an artist is to give these moments the spotlight they deserve, to award the mundane and the ordinary god-like status. Truth is, my life would crumble before my very eyes (probably) if I didn’t own an extension cord, or loo roll, sliced bread. These are the heroes that deserve to be immortalised in my art.
“Art is where language fails. Music, poetry, visual art exist to fill the space of what we cannot say explicitely” – Anna Choutova
How are you aiming to change the perceptions of art? Can you explain?
Anna Choutova: Bad Art is challenging the seriousness of art and bring the forbidden sound of laughter into an art gallery. I think humour in contemporary art is so criminally underrated. Once you laugh you've crossed that terrifying threshold of not understanding art and you've successfully interacted with it. I want to help people to stop worrying about the intellectual implications of the work they see in front of them. I know too many people who are too intimidated by the art world to feel confident enough to even form their own opinions about a piece of work. I want people to realise that when it comes to evaluating art, all that really matters is one thing: you like what you see?
Is art taken too seriously?
Anna Choutova: It should be taken as seriously as one takes themselves. Art exists in tandem with our own existence, not aside it. If you can separate your art from the rest of your life, your hearts not in it. I might sit around and paint olives and hotdogs all day but their my babies. I’ll put it this way, you don’t have to paint serious things to be a serious artist. One of the most ‘serious’ artists I know spent a year painting paintings of her table because she found it beautiful.
Can you explain why you chose the two YouTube videos to feature in the exhibition
Anna Choutova: Firstly those youtube videos fucking hilarious. I watched them at 4 am and sent the artist (Alejandra morote peralta) some bizarre email saying that shes a genius and I need her in my show… that good. And also what better way to really underline the BAD in Bad Art than sticking a couple of youtube videos in the show. I am trying to undermine the proper, uptight vibe of a standard white walled gallery (good) with a weird show full of art about food and sex in a warehouse with a bizarre amount of free ale – (Shoutout to Wild Card for sponsoring us).
Join us for a fancy dinner that won’t satisfy your cravings. Here’s what we saw at Bad Art’s fourth installation “Let Them Eat Fake” at London’s Bones and Pearl Studios.
Cheekily called the “lowest calorie dinner you’ll ever attend,” “Let Them Eat Fake” was a colossal, bougie dinner any avid food aficionado had always dreamt of – with the only exception that none of the dishes served were actually edible. The show was curated by Bad Art’s founder Anna Choutova, who invited a wide range of young and emerging artists to collaborate on the delicious menu – our fave Eden Mitsenmacher Tordjman was amongst the 29 names on the bill. The feast was kicked off by a lovely opening night on August 11 – and how did it go?
The exhibition took place in Bones and Pearl Studios in North London, which are surrounded with workshops and factory buildings right next to the Walthamstow Reservoirs. I could hardly imagine a better place for an exhibition of such a small scale as one room. You could pick any space in the studios for a conversation, including a huge common area which had electric organs and several sofas (which oh-my-god were they the comfiest). Outside, there is a yard with all kinds of beautiful junk (broken piano, vintage mirrors, wired chairs, old rusty car front, you name it) which, thanks to the vivid lights and vibrant people, looked like a paradise in the evening.
“Let Them Eat Fake” was composed of a few big round tables, carefully set for a posh dinner party, all of them overflowing with food. Do you fancy marshmallows dipped in chocolate fountain, “bite me” candy in the size of a plate, capsules filled with stardust? Too bad, they are not edible. Did I personally mind? In spite of being a massive food fan, not at all. A DJ with vinyl records and a bar with free (drinkable) drinks made the private view event feel like a pleasant house party, even though after 9 PM all you could drink was kombucha or beer which tasted like liquorice. Well as far as I’m concerned, the expectation were surpassed: An exhibition that was a real dinner party and nobody seemed moody that they didn’t get what they expected.