“I love to eat – Kit Kats or cookies-and-cream ice cream. I need sugar like five times a day – Kim Kardashian”
This is the quote that James Ostrer opens his press release with, at once drawing a parallel between our obsession with sugar and our unwavering fascination with celebrity culture, junk food for the brain. And, until the 11th September this year, he will be exploring our sugar obsession further, as part of Gazelli Art House’s Window Project. In an exhibition called Wotsit All About, Ostrer draws influence from corrupted globalisation, food production and society’s obsession with and reliance on sugar to create a series of unnerving portraits, in which his subjects are completely covered in all manner of sugary ‘treats’. The images are both beautiful and repulsive; cream, sweets, biscuits – usually considered as indulgences – are portrayed in an almost gruesome way, Kit-Kats become menacing smiles and tears run down frosted cheeks. This is Ostrer’s unique take on an apocalyptic world which has been destroyed by mass production. We tentatively step into his world…
YOUR WORK REFERENCES PRIMITIVE ART, JUNK FOOD AND CORRUPTED GLOBALISATION – ALL VARYING THEMES. HOW DO YOU TIE THEM TOGETHER IN A COHESIVE WAY?
First humans made primitive artifacts that were decorative embellishments of useful objects they killed and cooked with. These then derived into just being ornamental objects and much later on down the line corporations took all these early learnings about material, shape, colour and taste and further synthesized them to create potent emotional triggers for consumption. My intent has been to take different stages of this 2000 year progression and layer them into specific constructs.
WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON JUNK FOOD – IS IT ONE OF THE BIGGEST DANGERS TO A GENERATION AND IS ENOUGH DONE TO PROMOTE THE DANGERS?
We are physiologically manipulated and bombarded to eat and drink more of these food types in so many ways, for example when they made the hole in the top of a coke can bigger I instantly began to drink it much quicker. If you mix the issues associated with junk food and the fact that the government has sold off so many school playgrounds its unsurprising that we are faced with a whole generation of obese kids that play sport via their TV screens. Although you wouldn’t want to totally ban these foods as life would be so boring without them, there does need to be some kind of intervention. It really depressed me seeing our national athletes plastered all over subway sandwich shops straight after the Olympics.
WHY IS THIS A SUBJECT THAT YOU FELT THE NEED TO TACKLE CREATIVELY?
It started off as a kind of self administered shamanistic ritual to help pull me out of the grips of a refined sugar addiction hell that I live in. I wanted to take my experience of buying, unwrapping and consuming these items to such an extreme level that I would never be attracted to them again. What you see now is a record of these early junk food engulfings. As time went on I became more and more distracted from my own self help mission towards becoming obsessional about creating beautiful temporary sculptural pieces that i started to fall in love with and couldn’t stop making.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO HIGHLIGHT WITH YOUR WORK, WHAT IS YOUR MESSAGE?
I wouldn’t say that I want to specify anything in particular as I prefer leaving that down to how people respond to my work. But these are my caveman paintings to express my own relationship to food.
YOU USE A KIM KARDASHIAN QUOTE IN YOUR PRESS RELEASE, DO YOU FEEL THAT JUNK FOOD CULTURE IS AKIN TO CELEBRITY CULTURE – ROTTING THE BODY AND BRAIN?
Definitely. But I love celebrity culture as much as I love a chucking a bag of minstrels down my neck in a cinema. I am totally addicted to buying women’s magazines as well. I just love watching people getting fat then thin, then fat then thin again. It reflects my own dismorphic perspective of myself and because its on glossy pages it creates a sense of normality. When Kerry Katona is smiling back at me with a new husband or new round of kids from a magazine I feel hope, however short term lived it may be.
TALK US THROUGH YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS FOR A PIECE, WHAT STAGES DOES IT GO THROUGH? IT LOOKS RATHER PAINSTAKING.. HOW LONG DOES A PIECE TAKE?
In the middle of the night I regularly get a vision of these kind of figures talking to me and telling me how to live. They are made out all the things that i munch or have walked past in disgust thinking why would anyone eat that. I wake up and sketch them which is the starting point. There is then alot of running round supermarkets grabbing items in a self induced hysteria as if I was on the game show Super Market Sweep but I am the only contestant and no one is cheering me on. Once back in the studio my sitters are there for no less that five hours for one head. I like to mix the colours and make the adornments while they are with me in my studio as often a sense of their personality or our relationship to each other gets transmitted into the work. The clean up program is immense you wouldn’t believe how hardcore it gets….
THE IMAGES DISTORT THE FIGURE AND THE SUGAR AND SWEETS LOOK UGLY AS OPPOSED TO APPETISING – HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS TO THE OVERALL MESSAGE?
I want them to look ugly and beautiful at the same time. The food behaves in the same way as the dots of a Cezanne painting. The thrill is in that moment when you walk another inch backwards and suddenly the repulsion of the junk food becomes the image of a intriguing and beautiful character. That’s where there is magic for me and its works both ways when something beautiful then becomes ugly again. To me that moment of switch is the very knife edge line that is life.
THERE IS ALSO A TRIBAL QUALITY TO THE WORK, DID YOU RESEARCH TRIBAL DRESS MUCH IN YOUR RESEARCH?
The references that you find are a regurgitation of stored information. Whether it was images from Africa being shown on an old slide projector in a geography class at school or memories of Ronald Mcdonald posing for pictures with me and my sister while we ate a happy meal aged six. I wanted every past stimulus to pour into the works rather than specific research that may have guided what I made too much.
SOME OF THE TABLEAUS FEATURE YOU – AND YOU HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN YOUR OWN INSTALLATIONS PREVIOUSLY – WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO BE PHYSICALLY INVOLVED?
These experiences are a massive guttural embodiment of every inch of my emotional self so I have to participate on every level. There is a huge release I find by channeling this expression into a final and physical object. In the same way that someone with less options than I have might punch a stranger in the face at a pub. A big aspect of the works is to expel the internal dissatisfaction I have with myself and turn it into something separate from me.
TALK US THROUGH WHAT OTHER PROJECTS WE CAN EXPECT FROM YOU IN THE NEAR FUTURE.
They are always a secret but i am so excited about them…..