Martha Street Studio is filled with eye candy. Bacon bookmarks, mock bubble gum modeling clay, “Pollick’s lollipops” and other novelty items that all look good enough to eat. The objects appear to be slickly packaged mass-produced goods but they are all really one-of-a kind prototypes created by local artist Robert Pasternak. “Visual Chew” is an exhibit of art novelties and wackages; painstakingly detailed treasures that are surreal, absurd and — most importantly — fun.
“Visual Chew” references Pasternak’s artistic process of using the candy package, but filling it with visual content. He explains, “I like candy and candy packaging. As a graphic designer, I want to make my own products. As a visual artist, I have content that I would like people to experience, but in an unusual way.”
But, on a broader level, each piece is also a social commentary on over-consumption in contemporary society. For instance, individual “Fun Gum: fun for your fingers modeling clay” pieces come wrapped with subversive suggestions on what to do with your clay. Why not try “making yourself a new brain”, or “using your subconscious mind?” Another piece, a wrapper based on the “Eat-more” candy bar says “Eat Less,” and is followed by the message “read more comics.”
“Does the Eat-more wrapper we see on the store shelves or discarded on the sidewalks feed us a subliminal message to actually eat more?” Pasternak questioned. The artist attempts to counteract this message through his product and hopes that “the more this piece of art gets published, the more I can subliminally influence the masses to consume less. Wishful, I know.”
Pasternak is a self-proclaimed “eternal child,” and his love of comic and science fiction packaging aesthetics started when he was young. Pasternak said he “learned how to draw from comics — this Roadrunner comic book [he] had. [He] would copy page after page and learned eye-hand coordination and copying and detail skills at a very early age as a result.” At the same time, Pasternak was fascinated by the bizarre mail-order objects advertised on the back of the comic books. This interest with oddities led to the creation of his cosmic creatures, missing piece of the universe puzzle and the attachable third eye piece, all displayed in the “Visual Chew” exhibit.
Part of the exhibit also features “found objects” that Pasternak has collected and displayed in a surreal manner. He has packaged what looks like construction debris, called “components for mechanical landscapes,” manufactured by a fictional company called Ground Zero. A collection of partially smoked cigarettes, Sgt. Smokes cigarette butts, promises “real action” and “seem real because they are real!” Items like cigarette butts and “Ground Zero” debris are a direct expression of Pasternak’s observation that “as a society, we seem to package everything for sale orprofit. We are sold dirt and sand and stones.”
“Visual Chew” is certainly a feast for your eyes, but, unlike other art exhibits, you can touch the flip-books or pick up the packages to look at all angles of a product. You can even take some of the work home with you, for a very small fee. “In one sense you are buying art and, in another sense, you are buying an actual product,” Pasternak said. For instance, a gumball machine allows you to understand the “Secrets of the Universe” for only 25 cents. A capsule machine is well stocked with containers of tiny novelty items, and for only $2 you take a chance at receiving “love capsules,” which are expertly packaged cinnamon hearts, or “war capsules” — miniature bullet casings.
Pasternak hopes that these novelty items will become prototypes for very real mass-produced products. In a charming play on words, Pasternak has created “Pollicks” lollipops. A prototype for what he hopes to manufacture, these rectangular candies on a stick are rendered in the style of a splatter painting by Jackson Pollock. Perhaps one day the Pollicks lollipops will be safe to eat and vending machines everywhere will be filled with Fun Gum for the fingers.
“Visual Chew” runs until April 23 at Martha Street Studio.