featured gallery for October 2002

Per Ora: Consuming Desire

The mouth is a portal of pleasure, the portal of food and drug administration. "Per ora" refers to the prescribing physician shorthand for the Latin words "by mouth," the entrance to the gastrointestinal tract, rich in sensory innervation, and a way of exploring and knowing the world with which it is topologically continuous. While initially combing the Visual AIDS image bank for more medically-oriented subjects, I discovered numerous images of food, drugs and references to the body, reflecting on how certain terms and images of affection and desire are formed by conjoined terms of food and sexuality. I've deployed these references to foreground the oral issues of sustenance, satiety, pleasure and peril, along with the medical treatment of AIDS and the complex issues of polypharmacy, adverse drug effects and the consequence of noncompliance. The image of the gastrointestinal system with its portals of pleasures was propelled further by observing artist Wim Delvoye feeding "Cloaca," his mechanical, hungry, flatulent and defecating send-up of the human alimentary system, and historically of Jacques de Vaucanson's 1839 mechanical duck that ate grain, then excreted the digested remains. However, both Cloaca and Vaucanson's automatons lacked both innervation and a brain, and were devoid of sensation and pleasure. The strategy for this online curatorial project was to sequence the previously unassociated images and issues of food, medications and the body with a thread of similarities and contrasts between concept and material, color and composition.

I chose Hayles' "Fruitbasket" of a painted wooden carving depicting a woven basket with tropical fruit to initiate a discussion about commingled food and sexual associations. This kitschy metaphorical image is contrasted with Greenberg's "Candi," thighs and buttocks plastered with advertising slogans of popular desirable sweets. Reich partially disarms a tabu subject by using a cartoon image of a head-on-a-stick in "The Cannibal," a practitioner whose belief is that empowerment results from incorporating the attributes of the eaten. In a slightly different take on oral pleasures and sex, Krueger offers the following image, "Criminal Act," a sex polaroid covered in chocolate and cake decorations. The ensuing synecdochal work by Gonzalez-Torres shows the concept of a single item of consumption with "Ross" consisting of hundreds of colorfully wrapped candies heaped into a corner. Viewers are invited to take the candies, and as the pile diminishes, the candies are replenished with a seemingly endless supply. This segues to an image by Linwood with the innocent-sounding title "Pablum," depicting a single-edge razor that lies next to a glass surface, raising eyebrows about the contents of the yellow gelatin capsules, their containers and the nature and use (or abuse) of the powdered substance. Mystery and intrigue continue in the untitled work by Louie that shows a hollowed-out book concealing pills, medicine bottles, medical instruments, and a homunculus form in carved relief. With repeated, closely cropped images of himself taking medication, Green addresses the monotony of taking long-term medications with associated adverse effects, drug interactions, and noncompliance issues in "Oops!" Refocusing on food references with the next two images are Hoffman's appetizing wedge of pie with plump moist cherries and flaky crust with the text "I'm a flake" and Wong's "San Ja Cake" with affectionate firemen. From kissing public servants we sharply segue to Greenberg's "No-Compliance Plays Russian Roulette," an image of a menacing face with a pill-encrusted mask playing the deadly game of chance with a similarly decorated gun, satirizing the frustrations of polypharmacy. Reich's similarly toothily grinned masked menace is depicted in "Red Dragon," a rearing cartoon wiener, conjuring up the depravities of Hannibal Lecter. The threatening attitude continues in Caris' "Ghosts," the shadow outline of a grimacing man composed of salt on tar paper. Sweetness couples with menace in Linwood's "Initiation," showing syringes suspended within a honey-filled jar. The golden color is repeated in the next image, "Precious Object," Leiter's foil-sheathed stemmed fruit, the ordinary made precious. The last series of images was intended to be presented in a staccato of summarizing visual statements of metaphorical carnal-food references, starting with "200 Meat Hooks," Huff's chilling image of an empty meat locker, jarringly juxtaposed with Boroskey's "Sweet" object of confection, then back to flesh in the context of time in Thek's "Meat." The cruciform sculptural beer packs, Donovan's "Irish Cross," is the tragicomic closing visual benediction to the series, which finishes with a flourish in Krueger's image, his second sex polaroid, "Orifice," covered in chocolate, this time replete with a candy "orchid," from the Greek and Middle Irish for testicle.