Chewing Gum as Public Art in Vancouver

Guest champion bubble blower Amy Nugent at a workshop at Queen Alexandra Elementary School. Photo by Kylie Joe.

Vancouver already has some really innovative and provocative public art, but chewing gum is definitely an exciting first.

This Halloween, get set to chew bubble gum and support kids’ art programming as part of an initiative commissioned by the City of Vancouver’s Public Art Program.

QA CHEW’S BUBBLE TROUBLE is the work of artists Helen Reed and Hannah Jickling, who are currently involved in an artist residency, Big Rock Candy Mountain (supported by Other Sights for Artists’ Projects), at Queen Alexandra Elementary School.

Gum Open House, the grade 6/7 students share the flavor research wall with primary students. The flavour research wall is inspired by artist Daniel Gordon. Photo by Terry-Dayne Beasley.

Reed and Jickling worked with grade 6/7 students over the 2017/2018 academic year in order to get them thinking and engaged in questions involving art, consumer item production, food science, and the messy (and sticky!) blurring between the public and the private.

Chewed gum archives. Photo by Helen Reed.

The workshops involved a diverse group of collaborators and taste testers: the kids, the artists, the teachers, support staff, and guests, such as Kathrin Wallace, a food scientist.

Guest champion bubble blower Amy Nugent at a workshop at Queen Alexandra Elementary School. Photo by Hannah Jickling.

They learned about types of flavours (whether artificial or natural), the ingredients that make up gum (eg xylitol), and optimal texture (especially for blowing bubbles). They also talked about gum being banned in schools, and what happens when this rule gets violated (in sticky undersides of desks and on shoes from gum on the floor).

The kids describe the gum as tasting like “Hello Kitty bubble bath,” meaning it’s sweet and fragrant, but, interesting, it also apparently has earthy flavour notes.

On Halloween, October 31, 2018, Western Front (303 East 8th Ave) will be distributing the gum from 5pm to 8pm. It will also be distributed at various sites in East Van, as well as to homes in key East Van neighbourhoods, such as Mount Pleasant, Hastings-Sunrise, and Commercial Drive. The Big Rock Candy Mountain website will list more retail locations.

The day after (November 1, 2018), Western Front will launch an accompanying exhibition Mouthfeel that will run until December 15, 2018. It will feature art that was incorporated into the workshops with the QA kids, including Diane Borsato’s Artifacts in my Mouth, Salt Licks (abstract sculptures created by cows who lick salt and mineral cubes on ranches in Oregon), and Dina Danish’s Brass Replica of Stone Age Chewing Gum.

Dina Danish, Brass Replica of Stone Age Gum, brass, 10x6x6mm, 2013. Courtesy of Barbara Seiler and Stigter van Doesburg.

All proceeds will go towards art education at Queen Alexandra Elementary School.

There will also be a public talk by Nadia Berenstein on November 7, 2018, at 7pm in the Luxe Hall at Western Front. The flavour writer/historian will talk about the evolution of taste over the last century.

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