Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Jell-O Art Review

Last year I never got around to posting photos of the Jell-O Art Show, in my exhaustion after the event. This year I was so much more relaxed for some reason. I got all set up to sell shirts and decorated the stage, and was ready to help when artists starting arriving. They were so darn cute in their excitement that I decided to try to photograph the artists next to their work. I only caught a few, but here they are.

One of the crowd favorites was this interactive piece by James Carwile. The  brain test on Jell-O facts was not all that easy...even your Queen got a few wrong the first time through. The brain lit up when you got the right answer by connecting the clips with the buttons for each question and answer. The piece was well-done and clever and his daughter Piper was happy to tell me about helping him do the wiring. I looked on the back and it was pretty simple all right. Great presentation. He even carefully crafted the little chocolate graduation hats on his peeps.

Piper did her own piece, and her pun on Trident was fun.Their family got the Queen's Love award for not only bringing the two pieces, but wearing Jell-O they had bought in years past, and buying t-shirts for themselves, and their mom. That's right, three generations of Jell-O Artists! You can see Piper wearing her slug as a necklace. She also ate most of a big carton of coolwhip, so maybe her taste is a little questionable, but they looked like a family to watch in the world.

Of course David Gibbs and his husband Jay attended and David did his usual tour-de-force, this time
a carved Devil's Tower landmark made of many many layers in a 5-gallon bucket. Not only that, but he put it on a rotating platform, installed two mirrors behind it with carved layered letters stuck to them, and he held court in the corner elegantly. I wish I had spent more time talking to him. Things apparently went to my head and I handed out many cards, trying to encourage lots of new people to discover Jell-O, pretty much ignoring the old people who already knew about it. It's never easy to get the balance right in the short three hours. But here is David's piece, and he said that next year will be his 20th year, so we ought to give him some kind of award too.

The letters say Close Encounters of the Jell-O Kind, and really they are quite amazing in themselves. I have spent less time than that on my entire piece some years. No, actually, I haven't, but many people have. The mirrors gave a cool dimension and interesting reflections, and he put the trimmings in a bucket for people to play with, which was highly popular. Famous artists were photographed holding them and I know one person who ate one just to prove she could. It was hard as a somewhat resilient rock, but she said it was tasty. David does like to use the sugary kind of Jell-O in his art, so that makes it even more of an accomplishment.

I got a picture of this artist's simple-looking but quite complicated sculpture, missed taking her picture, and only barely caught her at the end to ask her what the white spots were made of. She said they were gelatin made with milk, but they didn't hold their shapes in the assembly. I wonder if she made a full-on octopus or squid and then crammed it into the half-fishbowl? She said she had a hard time getting her hand in to finish it. It was one of the most beautiful pieces in it's simplicity and mystery, and I did get her name, Kari Berg, though she might not want to be that famous. Oh well, if people don't want to be famous artists they should probably not put their art on pedestals in galleries. Here's her piece, titled Homer.

I didn't even notice the green underneath until now. Great use of color and clear filler to make it complete. She showed a photo of it installed in her garden after the show, and it really looked marvelous there. I can't wait to see what she brings next year.

A word about the theme, and a request for proposals: sometimes it is hard to think of a theme with a really broad appeal and also a lot of tie-ins to a show we want to do on stage. This one worked particularly well, partly because of the classic references and the epic subjects of Homer's poem, and partly because the word odyssey includes odd, sea, and a cool spelling. Plus it means a journey. So there was a lot to work with this year, and I personally would like to be reminded of that next year when we start to talk about a theme. We actually already talked about one that might work in lots of dimensions like that, but we were drinking beer at the time so will have to bring it up again sober and see if we still laugh.

People had a satisfying number of different interpretations of the Jell-Odyssey theme. Some were really insistent about the classic references, though others appeared to ignore it completely. Jordan and his friends just made a sculpture, I think, unless I missed the reference. Maybe it was about a journey around our fair state. I asked them what motivated them to make Jell-O and they said just for something fun to do, which was believable as they looked like they enjoyed it thoroughly. It was a carefully constructed  piece. They used spices for texture so the yellow ground looked like dirt and the green parts were full of bay leaves and looked foresty. They put a big pink heart in the Eugene area and the sign used really nice lettering. An excellent effort!

 Ruby here is one of the Radar Angels and was really enthused about making a piece, which she did the night before and the day of the show, so she gets extra points for spontaneity. Her mom gets tons of points for encouragement without control. Pond Life is cute and technical, as the round green things are full of grass and daisies and the chocolate peeps add class. Ruby liked to talk about it and even pinched  pieces of it off and ate them during her explanations. I like the photo of the artist's hand, too. Never finished, always improving. She will be someone to see in future years, we hope, both in the gallery and on the stage. Very original and spunky.

 Holly is famous for her Tacky Foods, as she likes to use real gelatin recipes from old cookbooks and I always enjoy tasting them. She doesn't mind using gross ingredients like this year's, Candied Chicken Gizzards. They tasted better than most chicken gizzards which are really not bad if you don't think about what you are eating. I only ate two, but like all of the Tacky Food they were gone by 8:00.

Her piece was one of the only political statements, Odyssey to 350, which is about the atmosphere and compared humans to slugs I guess in our slow response to disaster. I didn't get a chance to really study it but it was probably full of really clever jokes and she obviously put a lot of thought into it. I missed her friend or partner Gary's display entirely but as usual he brought his very cool collection of glassware and chrome stuff and put Mr. Potato Head in Jell-O with some complex story and scenario as he likes to do. I feel terrible now that I didn't have five minutes for it. I know he took a lot of photos so I should search him out on the internet and see if I could steal some.

I got all my photos of the performance from Radar Angel Nina Kiriki Hoffman, by the way. She captured all of the highlights and not the part where my crown fell off or the  Sirens missing their cue. She had her photos up the next morning and tagged me so they all went straight to my Facebook page and are in my collection now. What a great service to humanity! Everyone must do their part. See if you can drive a little less to let Holly know we were listening, too. I mean really. Just because they had to cancel the Earth Day festival doesn't mean we can slack off and not do any Earth Daying. I know the Earth Hour was happening just as I was driving home from the show with my car full of props, so instead of driving to the after-party I walked over in the dark. Don't worry though, it wasn't a bit of fun so you didn't miss anything. All the fun was in the gallery, thanks to these brave, thoughtful, and eminently creative artists and the others whose photos I failed to get . Hooray for the Jell-O Artists!

Edited to add: if you don't get enough here, check my other blog at http://divinetension.blogspot.com

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

For All Twenty of You

I have about twenty readers on this blog most times, sometimes more, usually less. I expect this with my personal, not-very-mainstream subject matter and style. The good side of that is I can post my secrets here and few people will notice, much less be shocked by them. So today for my loyal readers I will reveal what I have been slaving over for weeks...props for the Jell-O Art Show!

I won't post all of them. You already saw one side of the tall prop that will change with the scenes. I made them detailed purely for my own enjoyment, as most of the details will not be seen from the audience at all and since the show duration is at most three hours and at the least a few minutes, this is obviously a fool's errand. I continue to love being that fool. This is the third year I have made this ridiculously detailed props and have endured the comments of "obsessive" and all the things you mutter under your breath when you come in my house and see them still enshrined for lack of better places to go. They're made of cheap materials and fall apart and are so very ephemeral. To me that is part of their appeal.

Just like Jell-O Art! Nobody knows how long my dried pieces will last and there is no intrinsic value or extrinsic for that matter. They don't appear on the fine-art scale. I don't pay a lot of attention to the many critical pieces of art evaluation that might go into a piece for sale or permanent display, I just have fun with them. I get to interpret the show and my life as an artist and be just as self-indulgent as can be.

And although the show is secret and more fun that way, I think my twenty people deserve a taste of what will be on stage. The photos today show the Jell-O Art Studio, which will appear briefly in the show and will actually be on display throughout the show, on the stage. Go ahead and go up there and look at them if you want. (Don't trip over anything as it might be slightly hazardous with cords, etc.) Maybe I'll put them closer to the front than they will be in the play. You will get too many clues about what will happen but maybe that will help you if you get stuck in the back and can't see the props behind all the kooky cladded *women*.

The Eugene Weekly gave us a great write-up with a photo of one of my pieces in a jar. I think this is the one I gave to Indi for her birthday last year. I've made several jars now and did so to keep the pieces from getting dusty on the shelves of their collectors. I will eventually do more, but if you have any cool jars you don't want, I'll take them. It makes for a good photo, so thank you Weekly! I wrote a joke letter to them about the slip that left out the Men of the Radar Angels, which contained rather violent images I am sorry for now, but it was all in fun. I'm glad I left out the part where I called them Fascist Republicans since there are so many people these days who don't get jokes.

Have to clean up all the scraps of these projects now and get out the sewing machine. Here's your preview!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

We Will Have Shirts!

What a day! I finished up the t-shirt design, Facebooked a bunch of posts and shares from the writer's conference, made screens for the shirts (had to make three to get two good ones, aargh.) Broke my phone, Facebooked some more because I'm so excited about the conference, then printed a big pile of shirts. Went through the usual rejection phase where I didn't like it for awhile, but now it's too late for that. I do plan to spend a hour or so handpainting some details like making the shrimp pink on the Jell-O and polka-dotting the skirt. It isn't quite colorful enough but I really didn't want to make it a three-color.

I'm fairly exhausted but did a rewrite on the piece I am going to show for my lab appointment at the conference. Going through the usual rejection period...at least my creative process is consistent. I'll have to get over that, as tomorrow night is the Introvert's Ball and I plan to do some dancing, so I probably won't be writing.

Conference all day tomorrow and all day Saturday, then back to Jell-O Land on Sunday for another rehearsal and a week of finishing props, costumes, getting all my lines and songs down pat. Hope I get a moment to rest, but I might not need it. I'm having such a blast doing all this creative stuff at once!

Want to link my personal blog here as I don't know if I had it on all my cards that I handed out today. I couldn't be happier about hanging around in the community of writers. I feel like I have been waiting a long time to step through that doorway, and all this time the door was open! I just was in the other room keeping busy with other things.

Personal blog http://divinetension.blogspot.com/

Monday, March 16, 2015

Funny Ass Questions

I know, your Queen does not use words like *ass* in her normally staid dealings, but I am trying to loosen up a little in my old age. And while I am completely fine with repeating myself and usually don't even notice it, I feel that I should post another Instructions Post for all those people new to Jell-O Art who would make some if they only knew how easy it is. Fortunately the newbies and their questions keep coming, and in my archives is a real FAQ for me to reference.

Our first question comes from our old friend Maude: There are other Jell-O Shows? Yes, in fact, there are all kinds of them. Gowanus Studios in Brooklyn NY had at least two in their fancy design studio, where they required all kinds of conditions, such as edibility and actual design expertise. Ours, of course, requires only that you show up with $3 (you can sneak in on the admission donation if you have the nerve but it does support the gallery and is only another $3) and something with some amount of gelatin in it. We probably don't even require the gelatin, in fact I remember one exhibit that was a pile of Jell-O boxes, called Oh, Fuck it. At least there was proof that they had purchased the Jell-O, which of course I do not officially recommend as it is made by an evil corporation and includes no food in its ingredient list. And the cows, you know. But of course, true art requires sacrifice of someone. Better the cows than I. And oh yes, an artist named Liz Hicock made a lot of famous Jell-O Art and you might find others if you search online. The last time I did that it was horrifying to wade through that many selfies drinking shots (not me, I don't like vodka) and people making rainbow desserts. There is, however a lot of dried gelatin cake-ornamenting now and those gorgeous injected flower things that are very hard to make. I know, I tried it last year and mine were lame. Of course lame Jell-O Art is still pretty interesting. Google your heart out.

 Then the perennial element of surprise: WtF? Jell-O Art is made from gelatin, dye and water. Mine is air-dried and glued together with more gelatin. I don’t actually use Jell-O Brand gelatin but call it Jell-O Art because it comes from the Jell-O Art tradition. I don't use the brand stuff for the reasons above, and because I am thrifty and use a lot of it, and you really don't need all that sugar. Really, you don't, because to make good sculpture your media must be pure. And unadulturated. But go ahead and use what you have and are willing to buy. It's very hard to duplicate that berryblue color.

Can You Eat It? Every craft comes with an annoying question. The current answer is “Why would you want to?” It is technically edible except for the dye, which is toxic in its powdered form, though in such tiny amounts that you would live. The gelatin itself is perfectly edible, so yeah, lost in the woods with your gelatin slug-on-a-stick, it's probably tastier than the live ones. No sugar or flavorings though in mine. Bring your own salt.

This brings up another type of Jell-O Art, as there are shows in which Jell-O creations are made to eat and exhibited like cakes in a bake-off or a County Fair. We had a superb artist of this type who drove down from Seattle one year with five excellent pieces, primed to win the competition. He was probably devastated to see that we have no competition, actively discourage it in fact, and relegate our edible stuff to the Tacky Food Buffet where lots of people eat it without a second thought. I'll try every new recipe just to see, but generally I like some food in my food. We have another artist who usually makes an old and real recipe and I always eat hers, as by that time of day I am starved and need some tuna aspic or chocolate-covered brussels sprouts or a salad with carrots and celery in it. The Tacky Food Buffet is a very popular feature of our show and feel free to bring something technically and legally edible to donate to that. Family friendly, except for all the sugar and chemicals.

How do you make it? I tell all my secrets on this blog but you have to wade through a lot of attempted wittiness now to find any helpful facts. To make the dried kind, you just make it very thick, mix it in cold water, let it bloom, then melt it and pour it into molds or pans. I like to use glass pie plates but the dried can actually pull off parts of the pyrex so don't use those for food. Keep them in your Jell-O studio for use next year. 

Let it air dry in a warm spot like the top of the piano, and tend it by turning it over and doing things to it (it will stretch and curl), and then select pieces and glue them together with the gelatin. No other glues, coatings, or enhancers are used. Try it yourself with the Knox brand plain gelatin. I use 3 oz per cup of water.

If you want the jiggly kind, just mix it a bit strong, like maybe use half or a fourth of the water recommended on the package.The Jigglers recipe works for edibility but for sculpture it's still too melty. You don't want your sculpture to melt, unless you do want your sculpture to melt. Tastes vary.


What’s so great about it? The dried gelatin, at least, has a randomness that is just amazing, as it curls itself up and shapes itself while drying. It is practically weightless, so wearing it on your head is really easy and spectacular. It looks outrageous in sunlight. It’s something you never saw before! You need new brain pathways just to integrate the possibilities.

The Jell-O Art Show itself  is an ephemeral and precious event that only lasts for three hours (say, is this anything like the voyage of the Minnow on Gilligan's Island? Another post someday.) on a night at the end of spring break when nothing much else is happening anyway. It's five to eight pm so you can go out later to eat real food or see a real show (no offense to us Radar Angels, who do put on a real show). People like me spend all year or at least the previous three months planning and writing a performance and practicing for it and sewing costumes and getting up their nerve, not to even mention making art pieces that might be spectacular. Sure, a lot of them get thrown in the compost but that is not because they aren't fantastic art. Once you try to work with Jell-O you will get how it can hold your interest for 27 years. It's not an easy medium and the possibilities seem rather endless for interpretation and technique. The theme is optional and changes every year, and there are no rules! Plus you can exhibit whatever you damn well please with no judges, evaluators, credentials, or critical structure attached. How many gallery shows are open like that? You, yourself, or your five-year-old can be a real, capital-A Artist with just a little bit of fun and effort, and I do guarantee you that if you look at the exhibits you will find one that will amaze and edify you and get those juices flowing. It is so great!
This one will be for sale. $25, or make your own.

I can say that without the slightest reservation or defensiveness. Jell-O Art made me an artist. I make my living as an artist and have for most of my life. You sell Jell-O? 

Yes, yes I do. I will have a limited amount of lovely pieces for sale that you can wear on your head, flowers and things that look a little like flowers. You can try them on and admire yourself if I remember to bring a mirror. I will also sell t-shirts if I get off the internet and get the design done soon. (I will.) There could be other things to buy, who knows? The element of surprise is always present in our rarified atmosphere.

And our last question: Is it really Art? Oh, the age old question. Art is in the mind of the artist and the beholder. You will have to see for yourself. But, Maude Kerns Art Center is a real Art Center. They now have a piece of Jell-O Art in their permanent collection, which will be kept in the climate-controlled vault with the founder's paintings. This is not even a question in my mind, but I had to put it here so I could mention the permanent collection. I only wish I had a picture of it to post, but here it is hidden just behind me where I am posing with the other Maude, who doesn't ask many questions these days. I do wonder what she would say, but maybe it's better if we don't know. 

Go make some Jell-O! It does eventually compost, or get eaten by varmints out in your compost pile, if you don't want to serve your experiments to your family. It's usually on sale around Easter, which is is now. You have no excuse! I know I don't.