Artist Kenneth Eric Adams, currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts from the University of South Carolina, is exploring the complexities and controversies surrounding refined sugar for his thesis research. His works Pile and Self-Service are currently featured in our present show at Lexington Art League, FEAST: Pleasure + Hunger + Ritual. The simple aesthetic and minimalist presence of Adams work allows the viewer to get right to the point of the content: sugar and its overwhelming existence in our daily lives. Both presently and historically contentious, sugar production and consumption has had an undeniably negative affect on the health of consumers. Adams utilizes scale to unnerve the viewer with a sickening amount of sugar while retaining a relatable familiarity with found objects and commonplace materials. Instead of being hidden behind the guise of advertisement manipulation, the sugar in Adams’ work is completely exposed, stripped down, and separated from its societal connotations with pleasure for the viewer to scrutinize and dissect.
We wanted to know more about the ideas surrounding Pile and Self-Service so we contacted Adams to gain further insight.
Lexington Art League (LAL): What is your background as an artist? What choices or influences in your life have led you to pursue this career?
Kenneth Eric Adams: I started taking drafting classes in high school. When these classes were canceled, I was directed to the art department. I earned a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from Jacksonville University in Jacksonville, FL in 2010 and I am currently pursuing my Master of Fine Art’s degree from the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. I have always enjoyed working with my hands and building things, art has allows me to continue these passions while teaching others new skills as well.
LAL: What are your motives for making art?
KEA: I make art to help me understand and articulate my frustrations with modern life. Expressing my thoughts visually allows me to communicate ideas, which I could not convey as successfully any other way.
LAL: What first led you to pursue a work that was inspired by an aspect of commercial food production? Is this theme reflected in other work that you make? What other concepts are you interested in?
KEA: During a class in my first year of graduate school, my professor asked our class what issues we thought would be the most important for the future of our civilization. After the group exchanged answers, he quickly turned and said, “Why aren’t any of you making work about these topics.” A few years prior, my wife and I made drastic changes to our own diets and began to research and learn about processed foods, organics and local food movements. I wanted to make work about something I understood or had experienced myself. I am currently creating a new body of work for my thesis based on sugar that will be similar to the works in the exhibition.
LAL: What was the process for creating Pile and Self Service, from idea generation to production? (Do you ever stick to a schedule when creating work? Will you work on multiple pieces at one time? How do you know when it’s “finished”?)
KEA: My process for creating is broken into two main stages. First I design by sketching, revising and figuring out dimensions and proportions before I begin building or modeling anything. After I am satisfied with my concepts, I may make a few models of different angles or any part of the piece that I can’t quite visualize on paper. After I have figured out most aspects of the piece, I began with the most challenging or the focal point of a piece. Next, I continue finishing the work similar to assembling furniture from instructions. Separating the two phases of working helps me focus in the studio and not second-guess myself. While I appreciate spontaneity and will often change aspects of the original design if looks stronger or I see something is not working, I stay on task better and work faster this way. I often work on multiple pieces at a time as it helps balance my load when I reach a point when I can’t continue on the same piece any further. Because I design instructions for myself, I do not have a difficult time knowing when it is finished.
LAL: What kinds of research did you carry out for the conception of these works?
KEA: I read as many books, articles and publications as I could find about sugar consumption, the history of production and how it is consumed. I also sketched and created models to help me visualize my thoughts.
LAL: Anything surprising/interesting you learned from your research?
KEA: Sugar was originally a delicacy so rare that royal families only purchased a few pounds at a time. Processed sugar is one of the first substances produced for Royalty that became a staple of peasant life as well.
LAL: Both of the works have a very minimal and clean style. How does this aesthetic contribute to the work? Is this aesthetic typical for you?
KEA: The aesthetic is meant to reflect modernity while still feeling inviting. I consider the dichotomy between, clean and simple design and disturbing quantities of sugar the focal points of the work. This stylization is inspired by processed food advertising, which uses similar tactics to entice consumers to overindulge.
LAL: Proportion seems to play a role in these works (especially in that impressively huge glass jar!) Why was it important to you to manipulate scale and proportion?
KEA: Manipulating scale allows to me to visually emphasize what I want my audience to see as most important. I wanted the jar to emphasize excess but also look like it could exist in a restaurant or some other contemporary eatery. The larger scale items draw attention from farther away and create striking outlines, while the smaller intricate pieces invite viewers in for introspection.
LAL: Did you cast the serving utensils yourself? What made you choose bronze as the medium? Can you talk about the interesting shape of them?
KEA: A team of artists including myself cast all of the bronze components. I chose bronze because of the traditional ties it has to sculpture in art history. Although serving ware is traditionally made from steel, bronze seems special, precious and a nice contrast to the wooden components.
LAL: Both of the works contain found objects. What is your process for finding these objects? Do you have something very specific in mind? Do you ever manipulate the object to achieve the aesthetic you want?
KEA: My process for finding objects so far has been pure luck. Self-service started by finding the jar in the University foundry yard and designing the first draft of the work in my head as I studied its shape. I have used kitchen tables as pedestals before and the association with food, ritual and tradition enhance my concepts. I will do minor alterations to found objects but anything major is probably not worth my time to modify. It would be better just to redesign something using the found object as a reference than to manipulate it.
LAL: The show at LAL is titled FEAST: Pleasure + Hunger + Ritual – If you could put Pile and Self Service in one of these categories (pleasure, hunger, or ritual) which would it be and why?
KEA: I would place both works under the Title of Ritual. As a country, we ingest more sugar a day now than any other period of history and this has been a gradual shift. Dessert, soda, coffee, candy, and sugary confections of all sorts are inseparable from our modern life and are consumed in many ritualistic avenues.
LAL: What is the one thing you hope for people to take away from viewing these pieces?
KEA: To think about what they are eating, and what it contains. Raising questions from my audience is more important that answering any.