Artist Lauren Garfinkel has been carving political statements and busts out of perishable food for about a decade. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, she recently told NPR that the idea of making political art struck her "while watching news coverage of the devastation that Hurricane Katrina wrought in the Gulf Coast in 2005." Though her work revolves around powerful figures in government, her pieces sometimes don't even last long enough for her to photograph them. That ephemerality is part of the process, though.
Ephemerality is part of the process
Her latest piece — Donald Trump's face carved out of a circus peanut, above — is a perfect example of how a political figure can be perfectly caricatured in a piece of candy. We caught up with Garfinkel at her studio to discuss her inspiration, process, and the series she's currently working on (hint: Donald Trump won't be the only presidential hopeful to get sculpted out of food).
When did you start this series?
Back in 2008, I started making work for Feast for Bush (an art series with a satirical bent). I started doing sketches in 2005, after Katrina. I started making political food art in 2008, and that was all about the George W. Bush administration, and those years. After that, I wanted to focus on politics in America as a whole. So I've been sketching, and 2012 was when Edible Government came about. It's an ongoing project.
Have you exhibited any of the photographs or live sculptures in this series?
I had some photos of some of the work last year in two different shows, but I've been mostly focused on making more of this type of work. I'm starting to amass a collection. The nature of the work is so impermanent though, sometimes it doesn't even last for the photo shoot.
Why food as the medium? Is it about impermanence?
Our choices are a reflection of who we are as a society.I've been interested for a long time in the expression of "you are what you eat." Our choices are a reflection of who we are as a society, especially when it comes to who we elect — when we chose who we want to make choices on our behalf. And sometimes the consequences of those choices are more or less than what or who we bargained for. I love food as medium, because there's so much we can do with it. But I'm also drawn to all of the little food expressions that are part of our language. It's my favorite thing. I did a piece called "cheese and crackers," playing off the term cheese for money, government cheese, big cheese. It was about the three groups who single handedly bankrolled Newt Gingrich’s run for president in 2012.
There's so much with meat, so many puns, so many double meanings. I would love to do something with red meat. Like "throwing red meat to the base" being about feeding the public what they want.
Do you consider the of taste of the food? Or the name of the food? Or how the food will transform as it spoils/disintegrates/melts/perishes?
Well, for the Donald Trump circus peanut... I had just bought all of these cool colorful foods around Easter time. Circus peanuts are so weird. I aways see them at my grocery store. The other day, I was watching the news, and obviously there's a lot about Donald Trump, and something about his facial expressions and fake tan immediately made me think of the circus peanuts. But it's not always about that connection. Nacho Supreme — a nacho shaped like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was just a play on the Supreme Court.
"Heck of a Job Brownie," which is that quote that has stuck with me all these years — when George W. Bush told Michael Brown (then director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency) after Katrina, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." — was one of my first solo pieces. I started sketching immediately after I heard that on TV.
The rules I set for myself, if I'm making a dish are that the ingredients all have to make sense together. I wouldn't be mixing candy in a chicken dish, for example. I guess I start with the subject or the person and I think about what they represent, or sometimes it's just a play on their name or a play on the expression.
What's in the works now?
Kind of gearing up right now... I'm calling it debate prep. Really doing a lot of sketching, this whole battle to see who even gets into the Fox News debate is really fascinating to me, and so I'm definitely doing some portraits of a lot of people who are running for president on both sides. That's fun, those are the fun ones.