The Canadian-Italian artist Cosimo Cavallaro (b. 1961) has a thing about food. He has put a thick coat of liquefied cheese on all kinds of stuff, from a pair of boots to a complete house to the model Twiggy. He has made a crucified Jesus out of chocolate, whose nudity -- Cavallaro calmly called it "tasteful" on Anderson Cooper’s newscast -- sparked outrage in New York from the Catholic League.
Cavallaro has covered a bed with a heap of sliced ham, and has made an armchair out of green candy. He has even burnt a piano, which, while it may not involve food, has the food connection all the same. Cosimo confesses that the smell reminded him of his childhood, when his mother would burn his toast.
Last month Cosimo was at it again, this time in the poetically named town of Saint-Hyacinthe in Quebec, site of "Orange 2009: Il Nostro Gusto," Sept. 11-Oct. 25, 2009. It was the third edition of a triennial contemporary art event whose specific mission is described as "an encounter between contemporary art and the agri-food sector." Clearly, an exhibition made for a project by Cavallaro.
For his contribution to "Il Nostro Gusto" -- in which the curators sought to frame the notion of food in ethical as well as esthetical terms -- Cavallaro did an extended performance-installation he titled I Was Here. This work involved splattering ketchup throughout the interior of an apartment in downtown Hyacinthe -- roof, walls, floor and furniture, all covered in a Jackson Pollock-esque skein of dripping red tomato goo. A horror movie made flesh, I Was Here had echoes of the ur-Hollywood gorefest, from the bucket of blood that covers Sissy Spacek in Carrie to the "redrum" flood of blood in Stephen King’s The Shining.
For mystics, Cavallaro’s action is rather more, a synesthesia of vision, smell, taste and touch -- the artist reports a near-sensory overload while making the work. For Freudians, such a performance is a symbolic crossroads, bringing together several potent Oedipal emblems. "It was a spiritual experience," the artist said. "After working in the apartment for four days, I looked around me and saw my madness all over, with not an inch remaining for escape."
Cavallaro faced a precipice. The only way out, he said, was to close his eyes, release his fears and continue working. "I began to see beyond what my eyes could see," he said. It was, in a sense, a symbolic baptism into a new world.
For further info on Cavallaro’s work going back more than ten years, see www.cosimocavallaro.com.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.