There’s a social component to a lot of food art, whether Jennifer Rubell’s room-sized cell padded with 1,800 cones of pink cotton candy or Marina Abramovic’s recent The Survival MoCA Dinner, which included nudes lying beneath skeletons as food was served by pallbearers. But German artist Wolfgang Laib is aiming for something quieter and more introspective with his show Unlimited Ocean, at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Sullivan Galleries in the iconic Carson, Pirie, Scott Building.
During his 10-day residence, Laib created one of his largest works using more than 2,500 pounds of food with the help of 13 assistants who arranged more than 30,000 tiny piles of rice and pollen lined in rows across the room. Laib collects the pollen by himself during the spring and early summer months every year from the small village near his home and studio. “It’s very concentrated,” Laib said during a talk at the Art Institute in October. “It’s not work, but something that’s totally different from what you expect to achieve in a day or a month.”
Laib is known for creating works out of materials like beeswax and fire, and his most well-known pieces, his Milkstones, are large square slabs of marble with hollowed-out indentions filled with milk. These basic items are actual things from life, he says, the difference between a blue sky and a blue painting. “Food is not only for the physical part of the body but much more. People ask me how can you justify using a ton of rice here when people are starving but I feel like using it this way is much more useful than even food.” Like an offering to the gods.