BY EMILY CATRICE / Valentine’s Day tends to be a controversial (non) holiday to say the least. Regardless of relationship status, mixed feelings fly, largely depending on one’s goodwill towards greeting card companies.
Though as Cupid would have it, there’s a chunk of contemporary art history that has a little something for everyone; if you’re into chocolate, lipstick…and lard.
It’s Janine Antoni’s Gnaw of 1992. Her work bears a viscerally accurate title, as the artist quite literally used her teeth to gnash away at two 600 pound (272 kg) cubes, one solid chocolate, the other pure lard. The whittled away blocks went on display in their masticated-all-over state. With the nibbled away bits, Antoni fashioned heart-shaped sampler boxes of truffles and tubes of red lipstick, which she put on display in a faux shopfront.
Of her own work, Antoni talks of studying sculpture, substance, diminishment and re-creation, corporeality and, especially, culturally-loaded assumptions about womanhood. She even cites her gobbed-up lard as a stand-in for the soft female body.
Given the circumstances on this feast day of warm, fuzzy feelings and sucky heartbreak, Gnaw also smacks of the classic romantic tragicomedy. Of getting chewed up and spit out by the love department, of patching things together and shaping a new existence with a slightly more critical eye.
Sort of like the disturbing original version of Cinderella, in which the evil step-sisters saw off their toes to fit into that glass slipper, Antoni’s work presents a theme of living, learning and loving again — a mushed, warped, spittle-soaked fairytale of her own design. – Emily Catrice