Portrait of Ross: Félix González-Torres and Ross Laycock’s Body

In 2009, I was at a lecture at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver where the subject of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ work came up.  I recognized the images of his art immediately because I had a piece of silver-wrapped candy from my visit to the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Boston in 2003 adhered to my scrapbook. At first I was amused that I still had that piece of candy and that I had taken two at the time, one to eat and one to save for my scrapbook.

Initially, Gonzalez-Torres’ work simply represented interactive art for me and I felt almost ashamed to eat a part of it and to subsequently take a piece home in my pocket.  Until then, my experience of art had always sustained that invisible museum-imposed barrier where you could get close to the art work, but never touch it. There were museum manners that I had followed in order to make sure that no harm came to the art, even interactive ones I’d seen in the past, such as Paul Thek’s engaging pieces. It feels odd when human touch is considered profane to art created by human hands.

I had also felt that sense of shame when I ate a piece of color-wrapped Gonzalez-Torres candy back in 2001 while visiting The Art Institute of Chicago. Yet, it never occured to me that what I was eating represented Ross Laycock’s body weight. At the time of ingestion, I was unaware of the synecdochic process of Gonzalez-Torres’ art. After the lecture at MCA Denver, I realized that I had eaten a part of a lover’s body and felt that I had taken in a part of a soul’s history. I noted also that I was eating a portion of a relationship between two men, one left grieving and remembering through edible art.

Amused at first, but saddened afterwards, I also realized that I was digesting a morsel of an AIDS-ravaged body, one that eventually succumbed to the disease. The epidemic becomes more of a reality for me as I think about how I took that sweet candy in; though the memory of the taste is pleasurable, the cause of death behind candy “body parts” tinges my taste buds with suffering and loss. The realization that my quick, sweet snack involved the death of two lifetimes (Laycock’s and Torres’), adds weight to the memory of my interaction. When I think of Gonzalez-Torres’ work, my first reaction is to beat museum staff to it– run and add more candy, filling in what pieces of candy museum patrons take away, to make sure that 175 lbs. of Laycock remain.

As a result, I am never sure whether I should eat the piece in my scrapbook or just leave it be. If I eat it, I may forget Laycock, Gonzalez-Torres, and all the realizations that came with knowing what that candy art represents. For now, I am leaving it alone like a little gravestone of memory and commemoration in my book.

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