Hungry Eyes
    Thu Tran at the Sculpture Center

    Eye candy is dandy, no doubt, but for recent Cleveland Institute of Art grad Thu
    Tran, whose art explores a whole menu of visual taste sensations, sweet stuff is no
    more than a snack. In the video/installation Food Party, presented as part of the
    Sculpture Center’s Window to Sculpture Series, the artist treats her audience to
    everything from eye-pizza to eye-sushi – plus a cast of food-related characters that
    includes a two-foot tall winking potato puppet known by the initials E.P.S (Especially
    Psychic Potato). Thu Tran’s faux kitchen, made out of cardboard as a set for her
    hilarious version of a TV cooking show, combines a little bit of everything, from
    tomato-patterned wallpaper and a sink where blue yarn “water” curls from a PVC
    spout into cardboard pots, to an assortment of winsome creatures who shiver or
    sweat in elaborate mockups of a freezer, stove, and cupboards. It may not be
    everybody’s idea of sculpture, but it’s anybody’s idea of fun, adding a welcome
    dimension of frivolous mayhem to the Sculpture Center’s winter schedule.  

    Thu Tran’s major area of study at CIA was the production of delicately lovely glass
    objects. Everything she makes, including her prints and paintings, displays a
    carefully wrought Nintendo aesthetic, exploring the wide world of product-oriented
    taste-making. If you’re looking for something to settle to the bottom of your box of
    Lucky Charms, or an item to accessorize a stuffed unicorn, Thu Tran could pull it
    off. Whether her work is ‘ironic’, or whether irony is just another flavor of intellectual
    jam for her pop culture toast, it’s obvious that angst, at least, is not this artist’s cup
    of tea. All the same, as we discover in the course of watching her cooking-show
    video, she has a darker side. Conceived as a Sesame Street culinary adventure,
    the 29 minute tour-de-force begins with the construction of several trays of hors d’
    oeuvres, including one made of burgers and pole pretzels, spot-welded with
    mustard. It proceeds through a whole multicultural menu, ending with the extraction
    of pink ice cream from the protesting head of a wide-eyed plaid-coned dessert
    entity, imprisoned in the set’s freezer compartment. The climax occurs when our
    perky hostess clobbers, cooks, and serves up (“buffalo style”) her erstwhile friend
    Dodo Bird.

    None of this can be taken too seriously, but to the extent that Thu Tran chops her
    oversized butcher knife down on a conceptual edge, exploring the contiguous
    domains of wanton murder, dismemberment, and haute cuisine, her performance
    might be compared with Dan Ackroyd’s profound impersonation of Julia Child. In
    that unforgettable original cast moment from 1970’s SNL, the comedian depicted
    the great chef cutting herself and bleeding to death amid arcs of arterial blood..

    Thu Tran stuffs as much incident into her program as she crams bologna and
    American cheese into her California rolls. Guests of honor at the ensuing feast are
    pop idols Beyonce and Jay-Z, pasted on folding cardboard and seated at a dinner
    table (a knoll-like something that might have furnished Yoshi’s Hut in Super Mario).
    In the video the affianced couple are seen eating Thu Tran’s burgers through
    hinged jaws.
    In a statement about Food Party Thu Tran says she hopes to give viewers, “a
    slightly more enlightened awareness of the overwhelming presence of the synthetic
    in our everyday life.” But that said, she’s really all about the joy of cooking, and the
    toxic pleasures of cultural syrup. She says she’s aiming for an MSG-like flavor
    overload of cuteness, confessing, “My stomach actually hurt from looking at it – a
    little!” Or as Wilde put it, nothing succeeds like excess.

    [Angle Magazine 2006]
Thu Tran, Kitchen Sink