Sugary, Salty Humans


By Tanya Silverman

There are times where we can’t help but burst out laughing when we’re not supposed to. Like trying to sit still while your face is slathered in viscous strawberry frosting, adorned with pink M&Ms, and spiked with ice cream cones.

The chuckling bursts kept falling upon London-based artist James Ostrer when he was posing for his 2014 photo project, Wotsit All About. The series was an explicit commentary on junk food consumption that featured human models sheathed in toxic edibles.

Ostrer explains the research process was his own vice of unhealthily munching. The subsequent stocking process involved a “run [a]round supermarkets like Michael Jackson on one of his frenzied shopping trips grabbing anything and everything with the only criteria of it having extremely high sugar content.”

Once stationed in his studio, Ostrer would meticulously prepare the treats, snacks, and sweets for hours, planning for multiple combination possibilities of how to adorn other models’ faces. When time came to dress the sitters, he did so in a “free style” manner “in a state of frantic excitement.” Ostrer was careful to spell out very specific directions for others to dress him when he modelled himself.

“The cleaning stage is like a nightmare,” he admits, “as my studio lands out looking like the marshmallow man has blown himself up with a grenade.”

As humorous as the project is, it definitely still comes with social commentary. While junk food used to be considered a rare treat, in contemporary times, it’s “been driven to a point of major global health hazard through corporations being purely motivated by greed and profit with zero consideration for the overall health of the human population.”

Ostrer appreciates the diverse array of responses he’s received from Wotsit All About. Some discuss political issues behind the food industry. Others are amused on a base level. At times, viewers become hungry and rush down the street for a candy bar.

The most potent and powerful rewards, Ostrer continues, are where people read about his work, contact him personally about how he “discussed openly having had an eating disorder in the past,” and proclaim that inspired them to talk the personal issue over with their loved ones.

Wotsit All About was the first time that Ostrer incorporated food for art, but doesn’t “see it being any different than using paint or more traditional sculpting materials” in which he already established a foundation. The only difference, he confesses, is restraining yourself from munching through them.

All photos courtesy of James Ostrer.