Taking our appetite for sugar as a starting point to create images of a corrupted globalisation, James Ostrer takes over the glass façade and ground floor of the Gazelli Art House, as part of its Window Project, to present the unsavoury side of our addiction to the sweet stuff. Ostrer’s photographs of human subjects covered in layers of sweets and foodstuffs have a cartoon-like absurdity while exploring self-destructive behaviours and drawing attention to the volumes of sugar that flow through our bodies and our dietary culture.
A: Your exhibition at Gazelli Art House explores “sugar worship”, how did you get interested in this subject?
JO: My dissertation at university 15 years ago was on “the ethics of advertising to children” and that was the starting point of my interest in the science of advertising and its effect. I consider sugar to be one of the most dangerous drug addictions of our time which starts with new born children being enticed by the cartoon characters on packaging. I see Tony the Tiger from Kellogg’s Frosties and his friends as the street dealers for the corporate cartels. This project was all about me unpicking all the subliminal and direct messaging from these creatures over my lifetime that still leads me to make the terrible nutritional choices I often make.
A: Can you explain how you set about producing the images?
JO: It started with me deciding to engulf myself in such vast quantities of refined sugar and junk food that I would no longer want to eat them ever again. I also wanted to break down the human species into new contemporary tribes based on what we now eat and where it comes from. These two desires led to many car full loads of junk food and vast quantities of cream cheese being bought and then smothered over loads of people to sculpt them into my new icons for change.
A: Are you conscious about the food you eat?
JO: Whenever I visit my mum she says to me, “Are you still on the lentils or do you want a bacon sandwich?”. I go through phases of swinging from bad to good without much of a middle ground. Also my one real vice is that I love eating out for most meals so there tends to be a lot less control in what is in the food. When you order a “healthy” chicken salad it may as well be a Big Mac with all the dressing and croutons….
A: What do you want audiences to take from the work?
JO: As an artist I want people to feel something and whatever happens is great. This is the first show that I have ever had where not one person out of everyone that came up to me at the opening asked me what the work was about. They all immediately launched into what the works meant to them on a personal and/or global level. This is the greatest compliment and experience I have ever had as it means the works are doing what they are meant to…..
A: What do you have planned for next?
JO: I don’t like to discuss my new projects before I have completed them but I am very excited about what is going on….. On a personal level the other major focus is that I want to start to cook for myself as healthily as I cook for my dog. He nearly died a year ago from having cancer and a heart condition. I started to hand cook chicken and vegetables and sometimes goose fat for him every day and he literally runs around like a puppy again. The happiness and energy he has now is unbelievable and I have no comprehension as to why I can’t do the same thing for myself.
James Ostrer: Wotsit All About, until 11 September, 39 Dover Street, London, W1S 4NN.
1. Image courtesy of Gazelli Art House and James Ostrer.
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