Josie Keefe and Phyllis Ma, artists that collaborate under the name LAZY MOM, have turned playing with their food into an art. Both Columbia graduates who work in what Keefe termed “obsessive arranging of objects”—Keefe works as a prop stylist and Ma as a window dresser—the two began their partnership as a series of whimsical fruit-related photos to be printed in a zine. But after publishing the zine, Lazy Wow, Keefe and Ma found that they had more exploring to do with food and photography. The result is their first collaborative show at Good Work Gallery in Bushwick, LAZY MOM: Still Lives, a series of photographs and gelatin-based sculptures that wryly experiments with representations of food.
“That’s the mother fruit,” Ma said, gesturing to a photo of a grapefruit nestled inside a watermelon poised next to a Kiwi wedged inside another grapefruit half. “We call it ‘fruitducken.’”
Many of LAZY MOM’s works have a similar tongue-in-cheek tone, using the tropes of food photography—close-ups of glistening cut fruit, stark backgrounds, stacks of meat and cheese—but making the food look like abstract objects, not mouth-watering meals.
“Most of the images are really spontaneous,” Keefe told me. “We’ll go to the grocery store and look for things that are pretty or have interesting textures, whatever’s striking, and just play with the objects until the landscape comes together. We’re playing with the idea that the way things taste and smell, but unlike food photography, we’re not trying to advertise the food. The idea is that yes, it’s a lettuce leaf, but it’s also a green, flat shape.”
Their name, LAZY MOM, pokes fun at the idea of a bored or harried housewife, slapping together some of the meals like one precarious meat, cheese, and pickle stack, meals that look slapdash but were actually the result of many subtle arrangements. One photo shows a stack of pink foam curlers with raw bacon curled around them. This juxtaposition of fake and real, kitchen and living room, ordinary objects given intense concentration, is what gives their images their humor and their weight. It also points to the work that goes on behind the preparation of the food, instead of presenting a dish as an immaculate, untouched object.
“Now we’re in our Jello phase,” Keefe said, gesturing at an image of flowers and herbs encased in gelatin, an eerily beautiful semi-translucent block. At the show opening on September 20, Ma and Keefe plan to serve an array of aspics, a type of savory gelatin-based dish favored by Julia Child. Keefe brought out a couple of the works in progress from the refrigerator. One gelatin block held tic tacs, another was stained pink from the bits of foil confetti trapped inside. They had attempted to capture other foods in gelatin, but some worked better than others. Cooked bacon: not so much. Salad, also, “looked beautiful but turned gross very quickly,” Keefe said. Their next phase will involve capturing food in blocks of silicone. Their methods seemed like a negative image of micro-gastronomy: Applying science to food to see how the ingredients react.
The motto of their show, taken from Julia Child, perhaps expresses the intent of their creations best of all. “It’s so beautifully arranged on the plate,” Child said. “You know someone’s fingers have been all over it.”
LAZY MOM: Still Lives runs from September 20 to October 19 at Good Work Gallery.