Whether it’s a family of fleshy blobs gathered around a dining room table, plump turkeys pinned to a wall or lifelike, porcelain-slipped popcorn and cupcake molds complete with calorie counts, Gabrielle Wood’s installations takes issue with the food we consume. And in her latest video pieces, which won her a Merit Award at the current All Florida exhibition at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, the Miami artist combines a critique of the American diet with a commentary on the sexual objectification of women.
The two pieces accepted into the competition – “Disrupted Pleasure: Savory” and “Disrupted Pleasure: Sweet” feature the artist herself in titillating positions, luring in the male gaze before revolting us with a brilliant special effect. Either way, it’s difficult to turn away from these works. When the museum is crowded, you’ll likely find huddles of visitors camped around the videos, and, as Wood reveals to Boca Raton, she enjoys savoring their unpredictable reactions (you can view the videos at gabrielleewood.com). Here is the first in this summer’s ongoing series of “All Florida” artist interviews.
First of all, your videos seem to have special effects worthy of Hollywood. How did you physically pull them off?
I have a background in ceramics, and I used to make large figurative sculptures. I used my prior knowledge in ceramics to make the prosthetic. Instead of clay, I used silicone. I also did a lot of research online, and watched video tutorials.
Once the initial shock and discomfort of these videos wore off and I absorbed their brilliant, subversive commentary, I found them to be quite hilarious. Did you have the intention of humor, albeit of a very dark kind?
Yes, I always use an underlying humor in most of my work. I feel it takes the tension off of the viewer when viewing something so disturbing. I like to keep a fine balance between humor and disgust.
Watching these shorts, I was reminded of the early David Cronenberg features that included body manipulation in them, like "The Fly" and "Videodrome." Did you think of those films at all, and if not, did you have any other inspirations for this project?
With all my work that involves strange creatures or body manipulation, after viewing the work, most people bring up a sci-fi movie they relate it to. Usually I have not seen the movie, and in this case, I have not seen either of the movies mentioned. I was not allowed to watch horror films or sci-fi as a child, and I still don’t watch them much as an adult. I would prefer sci-fi over horror, if I had to choose. The inspiration for these works comes from within my own mind. I don’t have a film reference. I am trying to create a visual experience for the gut feeling of desire or hunger that comes from within the body and mind.
As well as the messages that videos carry about the sexual objectification of women, they also seem to be saying something about the American diet or junk food; in your work, your characters don’t even bother to digest food but simply insert it right into the belly. Are you making a correlation between sexual consumption and food consumption?
I am glad that you picked up on that underlying theme. I am definitely commenting on our American culture, including diet and objectification of women. The work is about disrupting pleasure. In effect I am disrupting pleasure in two different ways. First, by taking something desirable, in this case the woman, and turning her body into something disturbing. Secondly, by taking the desired sweet or savory food item and putting it directly into the stomach, bypassing the mouth where the taste buds are. I am creating a new orifice that receives pleasure. I am also creating a new body, never seen before, that has an androgynous orifice. I am making a correlation between sexual consumption and food consumption by questioning where desire and satisfaction come from, and I am questioning the difference between sexual desire and hunger for food.
Have there been any audience responses thus far that you’ve found memorable?
Most people stop in their tracks and gasp with an expression of “Oh My!” or “Ew Gross.” I do find a perverse pleasure in watching their faces go from normal to disgust. My favorite reaction so far has been from my 2-year-old niece Norah. After seeing the video, she looked at me and pointed to the video saying “Aunt Gabby!,” and then she lifted up her dress and grabbed her belly with her two hands and said “Belly....urggggg!” in a growling voice.