Judith Klausner likes to play with her food. Yet the word “play” hardly conveys the curious and beautiful objets d’art she creates using mediums like Oreo cookies, Chex cereal and sliced bread.
Judith is a 2011 Somerville Arts Council grant winner. Yet we are not the only ones who have noticed her talents. Her work has been exhibited at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the MIT Media Lab, and featured in the Huffington Post, Harper’s Magazine and in blogs by The Guardian and BonAppetit.com. If you’re intrigued and want to hear more, please come to the first “Somerville Salon” October 19th, where Francisco de la Barra will speak with Judith and Esther Solandz, another artist who uses an unusual medium: rust. In the meantime, we thought we’d whet your appetite by asking Judith a few questions. Down the road, Judith will be creating new works of art using food found at the Reliable Market in Union Square as her medium. We can’t wait.
Nibble: How did you start to use food as a medium for your art?
Judith Klausner: The original inspiration for the series was from looking at the “Kraft” brand name. I thought, “I wonder if I could make crafts with Kraft?” and it just kind of went from there. I’ve long explored unusual media, and I like to reinterpret the everyday. I have long been interested in how bound up the histories of both food and craft have been with gender, so combining them clicked for me.
Nibble: How does using food as a medium—specifically packaged food like Oreos and bread—lend meaning to your art?
Judith: My work is about choice. I consider myself a foodie; I love good, fresh food. I love to cook. But I know that it is because I can chose to grab something pre-made that I can have the time to do things like make art. I love old-fashioned clothes and victorian furniture, but I also know that nostalgia can be dangerous. It can blind us to the important progress that we’ve made, and the reasons we left old ways behind. The key is to take the things we appreciate about the past and find ways to integrate them into our contemporary way of life, while continuing to make strides towards equality.
Culturally, we have begun to rebel against ubiquitous mechanization, leading to resurgences in hand crafts and cooking. Within this atmosphere, the temptation to romanticize the past is strong. But this is a past where these handmade goods and from-scratch meals were the product of a society where women had no other options. The availability of packaged foods allows all of us the time to pursue careers, to develop new technologies, to create. The food we eat may not be as tasty or even wholesome as it once was, but it is important to take a step back and recognize the trade that has been made, and that what we have gained is not to be undervalued.
Nibble: Your Oreo cameos are so delicate; how do craft them?
Judith: I have always loved working on a small scale, and to be honest, Oreos are less delicate than insects! (I worked for a number of years with insects as a medium, and they are incredibly fragile.) As far as technique goes, I begin by garroting the top cookie off (using a piece of very thin wire). From there, I use toothpicks, a straight pin, and a sculpture tool that I’m sure has a name but is basically a small ball on a stick. I do the grosser detail (like the basic silhouette) with the toothpicks, the finer detail with the pin, and then things like the area above the eye and next to the mouth with the sculpture tool. I use the heat from my finger to smooth (it comes in handy for this work that I have such small hands).
Nibble: Has your recent cameo series increased or decreased your taste for Oreos?
Judith: My tolerance for sugar has gone way down since I was a kid; I have to say, I haven’t liked Oreos for many years (except in mint ice cream, where somehow they’re still delicious!).
Top image: Oreo Cameo #9; dimensions, 2″ x 2″ x 0.25, materials: Oreo sandwich cookie, 2011; Second image: Oreo Cameo #3; dimensions, 2″ x 2″ x 0.25, materials: Oreo sandwich cookie, 2011; Toast Embroidery #1: Egg on Toast, materials: Toast, thread, paper (structural), 2010; Cereal Sampler #2: The Most Important Meal, Chex corn cereal, thread, 2010.