By CLARE GEMIMA October 8, 2023
Andrea Ferrero's exhibition, All My Life I’ve Been Afraid Of Power, explores the influence of historical banquets and food's symbolism as a tool of authority. The events of 2020's pandemic led the sculptor to open a bakery, sparking questions about the origins of celebratory food and its historical ties to control. In a conversation with Clare Gemima, Ferrero reveals how ancient elaborate centerpieces represented dominance and were directly linked to systems of colonialism and slavery. Through her edible architectural creations, Ferrero attempts to unravel these unsavory dynamics by offering a contemporary counter-narrative that sets to challenge and confront colonial ideology's legacy in Latin America specifically, and across the entire globe.
Clare Gemima: What was one of the most notable personal experiences that influenced your drive to explore themes of collective colonial domination and exploitation using chocolate and sugar?
Andrea Ferrero: When the pandemic began, I started a bakery where I baked the usual cookies, cupcakes, and such, but I also began experimenting with decoration techniques and started decorating cakes in a vintage style, very much influenced by Wilton decorating magazines and vintage wedding cakes. At some point I started wondering where the concept of baking had come from in the first place; of food as a celebratory element, and thinking of rituals of food and banquets, wedding cakes, and ultimately food as an instrument of power. Until then, I worked with alot of similar concepts like fiction, monumentality, architecture of power, and colonialism. When I began this investigation I started making connections between my work, architecture and baking, and got really interested in the way banquets and celebratory rituals played a critical role in asserting status and hierarchies of the past.
These included elaborate centerpieces - edible monuments known as “Pièces montées" crafted from sugar, marzipan, nougat and pastry and featured Greek architecture, Roman temples, miniature castles, temples and pyramids inspired by architectural history books. They were manifestations of magnificence that served to reinforce power. Rituals of eating and celebratory events were emblematic of dark currents of power and control, and ingredients such as sugar and even fruit were dependent on slave trade and colonialist systems.
Clare Gemima: All My Life I’ve Been Afraid Of Power references operatic spectacles of the past and their relevance today. Can you share more about how these historical performances showcased political power, and how your exhibition offers a contemporary perspective, or counter argument to these specific times of society’s past?
Andrea Ferrero: These operatic spectacles staged around food in the European courts represented aggressive displays of political power and resources. Opulent banquets were hosted to show off precious new foods extracted from newly controlled colonies, and these demonstrations of decadence enacted power strategies very similar to those we encounter in architecture - strategies that have to do with intimidation, scale, ornamentation, and larger symbolism. For this show, through my creation of edible architecture, I focused on the process of ‘eating’ in order to expose the persistent dynamics of power and exploitation. Facsimiles replicated in chocolate are meant to be consumed, eaten, digested, metabolised, and excreted. This is my attempt to re-enact symbols of power, strip the object’s permanence, and play with its meaning in order to reappropriate and resignify. The show plays with notions of counter-memory in order to reflect on how architecture and ceremonial opulence became a display of political control and a strategical power play to confront persistent manifestations of colonial ideology in Latin America.
Clare Gemima: What inspired the choice to use white chocolate to mould your columns specifically? Does it tie into the theme of power and exploitation in any way, or is it merely a practical/logistical choice?
Andrea Ferrero: It was a bit of both. The use of chocolate and sugar is essential to the discourse of the work, but I am also really interested in this idea of deceit; of creating pieces that deceive the spectator, a bit of a scam that involves an element of surprise. The architectural grandeur of the relics and ruins created for this show are romanticized, vulnerable, and malleable chocolate monuments. They are fragments of structures that were thought to be “eternal” and permanent that have been subverted into fragile, fleeting, and temporary edibles. Subject to time, to temperature changes even, and most definitely to greed.
Clare Gemima: Your exhibition invites viewers to actively engage with and consume the chocolate structures. What do you hope viewers will gain from this interactive aspect, especially in terms of understanding the impact of colonial legacies?
Andrea Ferrero: In this exhibition, as in many of my recent projects, the audience is a vital instrument in activating the piece. Visitors are urged not only to destroy, but actually eat the pieces, which is pivotal for the discourse of the work. This invitation, while establishing a rather visceral connection between the audience and the artwork, also urges active participation in the destruction, consumption, and digestion of the art work - an effort to collectively metabolize colonial legacies. It is really interesting to see what happens when the barriers between art and audience cease to exist or shift; the approach becomes completely different, the works become more accessible. They begin to challenge conventional perspectives, and provide a more welcoming space for critical thinking and conversation. Humor, satire, and playfulness are some of the strategies used in this exhibition that seek to engage viewers on a more relatable and approachable level, even appealing to younger and/or broader audiences. I really love this quote by Oscar Wilde, “If you want to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you.”
Clare Gemima: Would you consider your work to be participatory agitprop?
Andrea Ferrero: More than an agitprop I consider it an exercise of collective imagination - a space for dialogue, reflection, and conversation.
Clare Gemima: What sort of studio injuries or challenges occur while you make this work? There must be some form of chaos throughout your studio process… surely.
Andrea Ferrero: The production process was definitely a challenge! I have been working with chocolate for a couple of years now, but the pieces have always been smaller and much easier to handle. These newer works are very big - they don’t even fit in a regular fridge! The gallery had to rent a refrigerated truck and we had to work inside of it. There were also some issues with the structure of the pieces. Since they were so heavy we did struggle a bit at the beginning. Indeed it was crazy, but so fulfilling to see the complete installation in the gallery space. I started off with a 3D render and didn’t exactly know how things were going to play out, how the pieces would look, if they would stand on their own, and so on. It was fun but extremely nerve wrecking too.
Clare Gemima: What happens to your work once the show comes down? Does the gallery have to eat it all, or does it somehow recycle its way into new materials for you to continue molding and constructing with?
Andrea Ferrero: Hopefully most of it will be gone! The idea is that it is consumed, destroyed, and absolutely ruined by the audience. We did use more than 800 kilograms of chocolate though, so we will have to see how it goes…
Working in a refrigerated truck rented by Swivel Gallery for Andrea Ferrero’s All My Life I’ve Been Afraid of Power, 2023. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Clare Gemima: Any chance that you’re related to Pietro or Giovanni Ferrero, the brothers behind the famed and delicious Forrero Rocher chocolate factory? Wouldn't that be wild….
Andrea Ferrero: Hahaha, I wish! Unfortunately I am not, but it would be amazing to have an entire chocolate factory to myself!
Clare Gemima: What projects are you working on currently, and will there be more opportunities to see your work exhibited anywhere else in New York?
Andrea Ferrero: Right now I am doing a residency in São Paulo and I am working with the idea of the ‘monster’ in architecture linked to colonialism and the invasion of the Americas. I am looking into sugar plantations and working with photogrammetry and 3D scans to produce large sugar pieces - a new process for me. I am also very interested in wallpapers, creating new edible wall pieces, and generally experimenting with techniques and ingredients.
All My Life I've Been Scared Of Power will run from August 30 - October 7, 2023 at Swivel Gallery. For more information, please visit: www.swivelgallery.com WM
Clare Gemima contributes art criticism to The Brooklyn Rail, Contemporary HUM, and other international art journals with a particular focus on immigrant painters and sculptors who have moved their practice to New York. She is currently a visual artist mentee in the New York Foundation of Art’s 2023 Immigrant mentorship program.view all articles from this author