Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Sweet Stench of Cake

An interview with Ana Rodriguez

Describe your practice.

My work deals with toxicity, chemicals, pattern and food. I’m especially interested in artificial colors; there is something so unsettling about these colors yet they appear so yummy. I often use floral patterns and floral elements as talismans.  I was recently in the cleaning isle, amongst the air fresheners, and I thought about how nasty it smells when someone takes a dump and uses vanilla, coconut, cinnamon or floral air freshener to cover up the stench.  This is relevant to my work because I grew up in Maywood and currently live in the City of Commerce.  Both are industrial cities where a variety of odors fill the atmosphere such as the Farmer John rendering plant, Mojave Spices, Sara Lee bakery and numerous chemical plants. 
Your work triggers a viewer’s senses beyond the mere visual. How do you engage other senses such as smell or touch?

I think it’s inevitable to think of smell when someone looks at my work, especially when there are so many cake and candy like colors juxtaposed with the colors of feces or vomit.

What materials do you use?

Molding paste, acrylic and oil paint for the paintings. For the cakes I use lace, ribbon, fake fruit, gesso, house paint, and acrylic mediums.  Once, I used gum paste flowers and candy but the ants ate the work.  There was actually nothing left, it was amazing, I’m glad the ants enjoyed it.

Has anyone ever tried to eat your artwork?

During graduate school I participated in an open studio event.  In my studio, I set up a table with approximately twenty cakes.  Most of the cakes were artworks; however, I baked five real cakes to include amongst the art.  Visitors were free to cut a slice of cake.  A woman began cutting into a chocolate cake.  She looked straight at me seeking my approval, I ignored her and watched as she applied force to the knife at which point she figured out the cake wasn’t real.   She laughed and asked if it was fake, I said yes and then she asked which cakes were real because she wanted cake!!!!  I also tricked a lot of kids that day; they weren’t very happy with me.  I enjoy getting people excited about a particular cake they desire, then I stop them and tell them, “No.  Sorry today you get coconut with pineapple and you’re gonna love it!”

What artists do you find engaging?

Some of my favorite artists include: Orlan, Guillermo Gomez Pena and Annetta  Kapon.  I am also influenced by cooking shows, I can watch cooking shows all day long especially when people eat a ton of food in thirty minutes and appear as if they are going to pass out.  I love Jacque Pepin, Andreas Viestad, the Japanese Iron chef, and a Japanese food show called Dotchi.

Do you find any parallels between cooking or baking and art production?

Definitely,  preparation time and presentation.  Unfortunately, I don’t get to eat my paintings, but that will change in the future as I am currently in the process of making edible paintings for openings.

In a recent CHUNK and CRUMB interview artist Michelle Wiener listed you as an artist she finds inspirational. She stated the following about your work, “Ana Rodriguez inspires me with her faux cake sculptures, because they also speak to the facade and fabrication of desire. The sculptures appear beautiful, but then fall apart upon further examination- the frosting of paint is smeared, chipped, and dusty and lacks that certain gloss.” Do you have a response to her comment?

I think Michelle nailed it when she mentioned desire.  I hope that each viewer brings his or her personal interpretation to my work.  The cake engages the viewer which often results in the viewer being willing to enter a deeper conversation about painting.

How does your work address femininity, gender politics or domesticity?

I explore domesticity through my use of pattern.  Femininity is the glue of my work and I like to question contemporary notions of femininity.   I was raised in a traditional family where getting married, having children and cooking and serving food was an expectation.  Additionally, I was repeatedly told by my father about the importance of preserving my virginity.  I was not allowed to go out at night as this was viewed as an activity reserved for prostitutes.

In what ways did your cultural, domestic or urban upbringing affect your practice?

As I mentioned before, growing up in Maywood was challenging because it often smelled like a massive diarrhea attack outside. These odors shaped my work and I have since researched the factories I grew up around in order to familiarize  myself with what I smelled; for example sulfur smells like pecans.

My mom is a seamstress and always made my sister and me dresses. These dresses were over the top with excessive lace.  Our daily dresses looked as if we were on our way to first communion.  The tacky looking puffy fabric and pink color made us feel like we were walking candy.  My mom had no sense of style so there were many elements in our dresses that did not fit well together.    

If we were to visit your studio today what would we see? What works are in progress?

I’m currently working on two large paintings and ten drawings. There is a lot of paint on the floor because I have been painting with my hands and things are getting messy.  I also keep two collections in my studio, a cabinet full of two hundred Barbies that I’ve owned since I was fourteen, and I also have an extensive collection of fake food. 

Do you intend to promote or question notions of pleasure and self-indulgence through the decadence of your work?

I definitely like questioning desire, excess, toxicity and indulgence.  Have you ever seen those websites where overweight women are paid to eat?  Some of the women can eat one whole cake in a sitting.  This really grosses some people out and brings pleasure to others; I intend for my work to provoke something similar in my viewer.

Ana Rodriguez will exhibit new works in the upcoming “Abject Deco” exhibition at Zask Gallery from September 22 – October 20, 2012.  Take a drive through Maywood with Ana Rodriguez by clicking here.

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