Those of you who made New Year's resolutions to eat healthier need not look away from McColl Center for Visual Arts' upcoming exhibition Fried by artist Franco Mondini-Ruiz. Though it may make you hungry, the majority of food comprised in the exhibit is artificial -- and besides, there's no touching (so, don't even think about it, unless you just want to get kicked out). Mondini-Ruiz, who abandoned his career as an attorney to travel the creative route, was born to an Italian father and Mexican mother. He pegs this genetic combo as the result of his love for food, but also acknowledges his fascination for what food can represent, including community, nourishment and pleasure.
Using a mix of media, from paintings to installations, he disperses these ingredients for what amounts to concoctions that leave viewers in question of their own culture(s). Elegant porcelain objects found by Mondini-Ruiz are placed with the greasy-looking foods we hate to love in his current show, which we recently got a chance to speak to him about.
Creative Loafing: In Fried, are you attempting to address themes of consumerism and obesity through your work?
Franco Mondini-Ruiz: I think so. A lot of things. As an artist, and as someone who has gone through a journey of having a conventional lifestyle to being an artist, I kind of always am critiquing our culture. I have a love-and-hate relationship with many aspects of living in our time in history in our country. "Fried" becomes a metaphor for exploring our culture and brings to mind, of course, fried food, obesity and having too much of a good thing. Even in the time of recession, the world in itself is so wealthy compared to centuries past, and there's so much fat in the land. So, it does deal with abundance and the ramifications of abundance. But "fried" is also a metaphor for, like, you're fried because you're on drugs or you're spiritually dissatisfied. The planet is being fried because of the abuse on it. But, "fried" can be positive things, too. We come from a culture that's very diverse and very interesting. One thing people have in common is food, culture and civilization. I am going to show that with different cultural aspects of fried food, for example from Chinese egg rolls to Mexican burritos to fried chicken and Southern fried food, that will be a recurring theme. But the theme also gets larger and explores both cultural diversity, which I think is a great positive aspect of our culture, as well as the dangers of an accepted consumerist culture, which we are.
Can you tell me about what inspired "Fancy Feast?"
"Fancy Feast" is one of my happier pieces. And yes, it is depicting Big Macs and french fries. There is a lot of pressure now that we're not supposed to like that food or enjoy that food, but the piece is light-hearted and it deals with pleasure and a mixture of high culture and low culture. So in that piece, there is a very valuable antique Dresden porcelain, which I have juxtaposed with artificial hamburgers and french fries. It's kind of like a metaphor for American culture. We're a culture that likes things fast and easy, and a culture that likes things accessible to all types of people. We're also a culture that is quite wealthy and does have a legacy tied with European culture, as well as other diverse cultures. So, I think that piece in particular just deals with spontaneity and happiness.
What do you hope that folks coming to see Fried will gain from the show?
I think the show is going to be fun, delightful, thought-provoking, smart, silly and entertaining. I also think it's going to make people hungry. I think we're going to have really good refreshments. And I am also going to have a performance wall up there, set up like a fast food art stand, and I am going to call it "Would You Like Fries With That?" I'm going to be selling buckets of paintings in Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets. It's going to be a show that encourages the viewer to enjoy the fabulous things of our culture and being alive, but at the same time, questioning and remembering that everything has a price and it's something that we always need to monitor. We should always strive to seek a good and healthy balance -- physically, spiritually and artistically.
Fried opens with a reception on April 16, from 6 p.m.-9 p.m. The exhibition continues through Aug. 21. McColl Center for Visual Art is located at 721 N. Tryon St. For more details, call 704-332-5535 or visit www.mccollcenter.org.
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