The All Florida Juried Competition and Exhibition opening reception recently at the Boca Museum of Art drew in a packed, frenzied crowd to its 62nd-annual showcase featuring 149 multimedia works. But it was the overheard exclamations of “That’s disgusting!” and “I can’t even watch this!” that stood out during the evening’s discourse.
What was so gross? A throng of well-heeled attendees swarmed about, cringing midway through the gallery. There it was, two flat screens surmounted on a wall playing artist Gabrielle Wood’s video installations Displaced Pleasure.
One of the two videos captures Wood standing in front of a cake, dressed in a pale, golden dress. She unbuttons her dress, revealing a black-lacy bra and grabs some of the cake with her hands. Then the scene turns, the onlookers peer closer. She doesn’t eat the cake through her mouth but rather devours the dessert through her stomach in an orifice resembling an enlarged sphincter. Icing and cake ooze in and out of the fleshy orifice, as confused onlookers cringe. It’s not your typical art show in Boca Raton.
But shocking people with grotesque imagery is fine by Broward County native Wood. “I enjoy it and get a perverse satisfaction from watching people get disgusted,” she says of witnessing the crowd’s response at the opening reception. “I enjoy getting that visceral reaction from people. I think people literally feel it in their gut and that is what I’m going for.”
In the other cutting-edge Displaced Pleasure video, Wood continues to challenge viewers’ perceptions of the woman’s body and pokes fun at American consumer culture. She is seen reclining on a couch with a bag of popcorn. Wood’s long legs and a glimpse of her cleavage serve to seduce while her pose portrays a typical scene: a woman relaxing on a couch mindlessly eating popcorn. Yet the cinematic twist reveals, or rather as Wood would say “disrupts the viewer” as she stuffs a peculiar protruding orifice on her belly with popcorn.
But what does it all mean? Cake and popcorn serve as sweet and savory vices, snack foods enjoyed by the masses, according to Wood. She wants to shock and challenge what we may deem as pleasurable. “The main goal is that I’m creating this new body that has this androgynous orifice. It’s a new pleasure zone, it’s not meant for sexual pleasure. What I’m questing is, ‘Where does human desire and hunger come from?’” explains Wood.
Granted, Wood’s work stood out amongst the 600 artists who entered All Florida, nabbing a merit award win, an honor as only five were awarded along with a best in show award.
Like many artists, Wood didn’t seriously consider a career in the arts until one fateful day in college. She began her studies in biology at Florida Atlantic University. In her second year, her archeology class visited the ceramics department, a visit that eventually led her pursuit to the contemporary art world.
“I was astounded ‘You can get a degree in this?’ So I switched my major that day to fine arts and fell in love with clay,” she says. And the change served her well.
Wood graduated with a BA in Fine Arts at FAU and furthered her studies at Florida International University, graduating with an MFA just days before the All Florida opening.
For Wood, it’s tough to describe what artistic medium she associates herself with the most, but she can clearly define that disruptive pleasure is her portfolio’s conceptual thread. “I’m heading towards video performance art, but I work in ceramics, photography, and video and sometimes with fabric.”
In her earlier work, Wood’s projects consisted of static objects like her ceramic chicken purses in the whimsical “Seven Days a Week,” collection in which she describes as “taking these ultimate culture creatures” and turning them into purses as a means to poke fun at “this is how I feel like a chicken purse.”
Eventually, she began immersing her own body in her works sometimes connecting objects to herself leading her to performance art.
While she often examines morbid subjects in her work, Wood’s personality resembles anything but dark. The statuesque brunette is bubbly and cheery in person perhaps that is why in her video work she is nearly unrecognizable. “It’s bizarre. It’s just been a part of me. My grandmother would say ‘You’re such a sweet girl, where is this coming from?’” says Wood.
When asked if she gets grossed out easily? “I can pass out if I see blood.”
See Gabrielle Wood’s "Disruptive Pleasure" on view at Boca Raton Museum of Art through July 14. Also on the calendar, Wood will invite audience members to feed her during her interactive performance, on June 30, at the Miami International Performance Festival, June 27-30. Visit www.gabrielleewood.com.