Hunger Games

Lauren Kelley's 'True Falsetto' exhibition reviewed

Still from
Still from "Froufrou Conclusions" (Courtesy of Lauren Kelley/Women & Their Work)

Your tummy may be rumbling as you watch the Lauren Kelley videos in "True Falsetto" at Women & Their Work. Or maybe not. For while both pack the frame with food – meats, pies, cheeses, oysters, deviled eggs, pancakes, snack cakes, more! – it's all bogus: sculpted props.

The visual representations of all these edibles are close enough to the real deal to trigger some Pavlovian salivation, maybe even fire up a sense memory of the smell and taste and texture of the nosh onscreen. But as Kelley's shorts utilize stop-motion animation, with human characters portrayed by Barbie-like dolls and the settings scaled down accordingly, your instinctive response is instantly supplanted by your recognition of its fakery – as with the hard, tasteless plaster foodstuffs on a dollhouse dining room table.

Kelley may be playing with our sense of we want and what we don't get. We see something that looks like the kind of food that excites our palates and abates our hunger, so we desire it, but these copies made of clay and sponge and Styrofoam and paint will never satisfy our cravings. And so it is with the characters in the two videos here. The beauty pageant contestants of Froufrou Conclusions have been denying themselves all kinds of pleasures to attain the tiara and title they desire, but that's denied them. So one pads off to the supermarket, still in her pageant gown – a hoop-skirted affair elaborately decorated with thick ropy lines of what looks like cake frosting – to load up on all manner of sweets. The camera passes shelves groaning with boxed pastries, pies, cuts of beef, ice cream, frozen cakes, and so on. And as she checks out with what the subtitles list as some of the most toxic corporate treats available – Zebra Cakes, Ho Hos, Ding Dongs, Nilla Wafers, Oatmeal Creams, Lemon Creams, Animal Crackers (the pink ones), Nutty Butters, Zingers, Milanos, Tasty Cakes, Snow Balls, Fudge Rounds, Moon Pies, Donettes, Pop-Tarts,… oh, the list just keeps going and going – we can be pretty certain that these substitutions for her original desire won't satisfy the hunger in either her stomach or her soul.

The inability to get what we want is even more poignant for the unseen protagonist of the video from which the exhibit takes its name. In voiceover, he tells of preparing a sumptuous feast for the love of his life, for whom he waits and waits and who never arrives to share it with him. Kelley depicts this meal as a classic picnic, spread out on a blue checked blanket in a glade by the water's edge, with plate upon plate heaped with delectables. But it's been abandoned already by its maker and overtaken by a swarm of flies. We see them in close-up – a fly's-eye view – crawling across a pancake, chowing down on a slice of cheese, hovering in a cloud over a bowl of fruit, floating on the surface of a cup of coffee, wallowing in the chocolate in a box of bonbons. It accentuates our sense of the waste taking place here. He wants her, and wants her to have this with him, and now all of it is lost to them both. The banquet is left to the scavenging bugs, and our hero feels the pangs of emptiness in his belly and in his heart.

These two pieces don't seem quite as concerned with racial and female identity as other works by the artist, as can be seen in some of the studies and prints hanging on the wall near the screening areas. Or maybe I'm less sensitive to that than to the food connection they seem to share. All I can say is that while to the way to this man's heart isn't necessarily through his stomach, I understand how close they are in proximity, and I appreciate how Kelley is showing us how they can feed – and not feed – each other.

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Lauren Kelley, True Falsetto, Austin visual art, Women & Their Work

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