When you hear someone has spent £5,000 over the last two years on Mars Bars, Jelly Babies, strawberry laces and suchlike, your immediate reaction might be surprise. Or even pity. However, despite being a self-confessed sugar-addict, James Ostrer didn’t eat it but instead made striking sculptures from it, pieces that are reminiscent of Leigh Bowery costumes and African Nkonde nail fetish sculptures with overtones of Sarah Lucas’ sculptures.
Ugly, alluring, vulgar, exciting and political all in one package, these pieces command a strong reaction, especially in these times where our relationship with junk food – especially sugar, sex and body image is such a fraught one.
Ostrer first became fascinated with sugar as a subject back in 2009 when the Kelloggs mascot, Tony the Tiger (‘They’re grrrreat!’) was banned from advertising. Ostrer describes his work as his caveman paintings. Using a vast haul of sweets, buns, crisps and pastries as his palette and dyed cream cheese as his mortar, he achieves surprising results. His imagination and fearless abandon is impressive. I especially love the ingenious use of the liquorice laces.
His models were installed on a plinth and smeared in lurid coloured frosting, then adorned with junk food before being photographed. Your first reaction is childish amusement which then changes to a feeling of choking horror mixed with amazement of the abandoned recklessness of ‘playing’ with food to that degree, especially food that’s usually seen as ‘taboo’.
Most people who have issues around addiction knows the (usually ill-fated) ‘last big binge’ that’s supposed to fix your desire for good. Yet rarely does – there’s a reason Narcotics Anonymous have ‘one is too many, a thousand never enough’ as a saying. This truly is that last binge and then some, I bet he felt totally wired shopping for it and working on it.
The photographs are deeply thought provoking – you sort of wish you could have been there during the making just to smell the heady aromas of sugar mixed with cheap buns and burgers, carried on the wave of cream cheese turning rancid under the strong lights. Apparently sitting for the pieces was very demanding for the models as they had to stay motionless for hours covered in gunk wearing protective eyepieces, their ears and mouths plugged shut by junk food while carefully breathing through a straw placed in one nostril, which sounds incredibly claustrophobic. Maybe also a metaphor for how we choose to numb ourselves with junk food, drugs, alcohol, the internet, shopping – anything to create a protective barrier between ourselves and reality.
This isn’t Ostrer’s first foray in to themes of gluttony and addiction. Previous projects have included The Romance of Perfection, where Ostrer photographed principal ballerina Maria Kochetkova, and The Beast in Beauty, which explores the backstage addictions and fetishistic desires that surround the ballet community. Both based on an autobiographical experience he had while working for the English National Ballet as a set painter.
James Ostrer | Wotsit All About
Till 11th September
Gazelli Art House
39 Dover Street
London W1S 4NN
Words by Anna Bang
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