The Disquieting Food Art of Stephen J Shanabrook
Stephen J Shanabrook is a New York and Moscow-based artist who uses food both as medium and metaphor. Using commonplace materials and forms generally seen as benign indulgences— sweets, chocolate, and cotton candy — he brings about disturbing new meanings, exploring the intersections of desire, violence, permanence, and death. (See his "Waterboarding" sculptures — chocolate-waterboarded choir boy Christmas statues — that we covered last week.)
In the 1990s, Shanabrook, who spent his youth working at a chocolate factory, went to morgues in Russia and the US and made molds from the fatal wounds of anonymous people, cast dark chocolate pieces, placing them into luxury chocolate boxes. The series of works, which Shanabrook described as "very close to the edge, the forbidden place for artists," are essentially representations of death or what one critic called "bonbons of mortality."
Shanabrook casts "The remnants of a suicide bomber" in dark chocolate for the sculpture "On the road to heaven the highway to hell."
Chocolate Box: Morgue
Early Chocolate Work
Shanabrook's earlier chocolate works include "I Eat People, They Eat Me," made from casts from teeth collected by dentists in the Netherlands and America, and "two friends sleeping," with fetal goat cast in chocolate on top of chocolate bars.
In the 1995 piece "Bandaged," Shanabrook used cotton candy to test the correlation between sugar, wounds, and scarring. Shanabrook writes:
"The cotton-candy machine comes from the celebrative and festive times of the formative years, the dog days of pure experience. By wrapping my hands in cotton-candy (sugar) that consequently is liquefied by the sun I propose an opening to past pure experiences. The sugar sticky syrup like blood eventually becomes crusty, a scab that forms giving way to the scar. This action searches at the points where reality exchanges with the events and ideas of the past, thus are negating the action to the point where it ceases to be relevant."
The performance piece "Slapped in the face until your shit turns red," was recently part of the group exhibit "Fools Food" held at the Contemporary Art Center in Neuchatel, Switzerland. Set against a stark white background the artist stood eye level with a fully running cotton candy machine fixed with fans and allowed himself to get quite literally slapped in the face with cotton candy.
Shanabrook told us his reason behind the performance:
"The cotton candy performance for me is a simple gesture to conjures up feelings of forcing ones beliefs on others... even beliefs that seem sweetly correct. This action is the interpretation of a mental torture for the unwilling recipient."