Leslie Friedman, Tastier, at Space1026
By Janette Chien
Leslie Friedman’s exhibition Tastier satisfies your guilty cravings. The larger-than-life Coke Zero cans and sweetener packets surrounded by prints of nude pin-up women in candy colors are seductive and a bit raunchy. In her exhibition Tastier at Space 1026, Friedman, a self proclaimed Coke Zero lover, draws parallels between artificial sweeteners as simulation of sugar and porn as simulation of sex.
Simulation is nothing new in Pop Art and what has followed it, with its emphasis on commodity, fabrication, and the end of substance. The colors and seriality in Friedman’s work are reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s 1962 Marilyn Diptych, showing the sex icon Marilyn Monroe in a tiled format that emphasizes the process of mechanical reproduction and, in doing so, reveals the artifice of the subject itself. The repetition of images underlines Monroe’s iconic status but does not attempt to investigate the woman behind the image.
Ideas of simulation likewise penetrate Friedman’s work, most effectively through the Coke Zero cans. When Diet Coke emerged, it was marketed towards women who were dieting in order to conform to current standards of beauty. Coke Zero, on the other hand, with its sleek black packaging, was marketed towards men. The product evolved from the intention of cutting down sugar and calories to the complete absence of any substance: zero calories, only taste; pure simulation. This marketing campaign defeminizes Coke and creates a futuristic drink for men: one that can be consumed without calorific consequences.
Friedman’s treatment of the coke cans is not so much critical as it is indulgent. She transforms the Coke cans into larger-than-life candy containers that spill out through the portraits of nude women. The cans piled upon packets of sweeteners cry out “more soda! More sweetness!” It promises us pleasure – like porn – without discovery. It immerses us in a world where everything is tasty, consumable, and without consequence.
The screen prints of nude women dominate the walls. They are eye-candy, printed in pastel colors similar to the Coke cans. Friedman takes natural, average women and transforms them into tasty candy, forms of artificial stimuli. The women are splayed in sensual poses, isolated in a candy colored vacuum. They are not engaged in sexual activity, but then again, they don’t need to be. The presentation is already excessive, overwhelming, and seductive despite its artifice. It stimulates the viewer and facilitates a masturbatory fantasy.
The video animation Taste you all over, poised on top of the cans, features a woman literally stimulating herself. The video plays off Friedman’s earlier Tasty installation, which is also included in this exhibition. Tasty depicts a soda can pouring “goo” into a woman’s mouth, recalling common pornographic moments. Unlike Tasty, Taste you all over removes the ejaculate and any other external form of stimuli. The woman in the video does not consume anything of substance, nor insert any sexual object. Her stimulation is autosexual; it is virtual and it stimulates us. She plays on an endless loop, never climaxing, never experiencing the consequential jouissance of her actions.
In Tastier, Friedman makes an adept commentary on the current state of pleasure and its entanglement with simulation versus real experience. We are all too quick to reach for the Coke Zero for fear of gaining weight and losing our sexual appeal. We are easily seduced by simulation; it feels safe, predictable, and under our control. We substitute masturbation and fantasy for the unpredictable landscape of real life experiences. We find intimacy in candy-colored bodies that perform autosexual fantasies and turn our heads away from the fleshy skin of our own bodies. We find titillation in the ejaculation of a fizzy Coke Zero bursting out of the can and revel in its taste. But its nature is pure simulation. It’s benefit is the absence of any substance to begin with. We seek to be absorbed into this candy colored void where we can have our candy, and eat it too.
Janette Chien is a visual artist and writer from Hong Kong who lives in Philadelphia, PA. She holds a BA in English and a BFA in Studio Art from Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She has written for NAPOLEON and exhibited work in Boston, MA. She currently works at SpArc PDDC as a Program Specialist for their Cultural Arts Center.