Sustenance and The SensesArts, Essays — By Maria Fee on October 5, 2012 at 6:31 am
“Lately, I’ve been thinking about Jesus in the manner of how he is all consuming.” Melissa Beck expressed this sentiment during my visit to her Pratt studio in Brooklyn. Evidence of this statement filled my eyes as I perused one of her utensil pieces: a horizontal band of silver-plated forks marching single file across the wall and frozen in place by thick cake frosting. I was ready to dig in to taste how good God is.
As a recent fan of this emerging artist, I must herald this about Melissa’s work: it moves beyond the cerebral exercise much of contemporary art is preoccupied with these days, for her work commands not just the head, but summons our embodied status, begging us to touch, smell, and taste. Melissa’s art is a holistic experience, and through her whimsical use of food and household objects, she explores the very human idea of consumption, all the while keeping its tension between abundance and scarcity. This is exemplified by her assembled piece entitled “Drawering Room.” Does the collection of empty drawers hint at a hoarder’s demise, or are they hopeful sentinels waiting to be filled? Matthew Crawford contends “real knowledge arises through confrontations with real things.” (Crawford, Shop Class As Soulcraft , p.199). Hence, when we encounter Melissa’s shelves filled with loaves of sliced bread replacing rows of books, we must ask what is it that really feeds us.
Thoughts on the infinite and the finite, what we construct and what we consume, are further mediated through various built cakes. Melissa assembles both real cakes, baked towers oozing with icing, as well as more durable confections made up of construction materials such as sections of wood studs, nails, glue, and foam. These bakery items are feasts for the eyes, but also evoke the sweetness of gathered communal celebration that include birthday cakes, wedding cakes, and shared goods devoured in coffee clutches. Real things created by real hands.
Melissa’s choice of repurposing ordinary household objects can’t help but suggest home, family, and community. Some may criticize the work as too sentimental, but I prefer to view Melissa’s work as a material witness to the accessibility of an eternal home made possible by our all-consuming Christ.
Dig in and enjoy!
This piece was originally posted in the Center For Faith & Work Arts blog. To familiarize yourself with Redeemer’s arts ministry please visit www.faithandwork.org/arts