Vaseline has a major role in Matthew Barney’s Cremaster films. For Paul McCarthy, it’s chocolate syrup. And for Jenny Drumgoole, Philadelphia Cream Cheese is the goo that makes the world go ’round.
The local artist and Yale MFA’s video exhibit Jenny Drumgoole: Real Woman of Philadelphia skewers a cheesy online video-recipe contest: “Real Women of Philadelphia,” sponsored by Kraft with butter-loving cooking-show host Paula Deen. It’s a funny indictment of projects like this that seem warm and fuzzy but have hearts of cold, corporate cash.
Between March and August 2010, Drumgoole submitted video recipes (now collected and on display in the gallery) to the contest. They have a Rambo-like framework in which Mom Drumgoole gives her daughter a mission: Enter and win the “Real Women of Philadelphia” contest so Mom can get her cookbooks autographed. Jenny goes about this in character as a fictionalized, victory-obsessed version of herself, by turns engaging, dreamy and semi-psychotic.
Of course, the magic here is that Drumgoole’s submissions are art videos that are goofing on the contest—and that instead of being mocked, they developed a big cult following among the more serious contestants, who seem to both get the parody and find it hilarious. Drumgoole’s videos got tons of overwhelmingly positive comments (many with a lot of exclamation points!!!!!!!) and feedback from fellow contestants.
For example, Drumgoole often shakes her long red hair at the camera in sexy, ridiculous slo-mo—she bends all the way over, then rises up with a vigorous shake like a shampoo spokesmodel, ending in a hugely smiling pose with a carton of Philadelphia Cream Cheese in her hand. (This conflation of sex, hair and cream cheese is the best Kraft commercial Kraft will never make.)
Many of the ladies in the contest for real clearly found this hilarious, and posted video responses of themselves doing similar hair flips. Drumgoole edited these into a “dessert recipe” (ingredients: 8 ounce(s) of Philadelphia Cream Cheese, 31 Awesome RWoP ladies, 1 amazing love for Ms. Paula) that’s obviously just an overwrought karaoke version of Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again on My Own” with the substitution of lyrics about glorious hair. It’s so subversive about the contest and product that it’s a wonder the video’s still up on the website.
Even Paula Deen wrote favorably about Jenny’s videos—or, at least, someone whose job it is to pretend to be her online did. In a video that’s a sort of coda to the project (unlike the still-online recipes, this is exclusive to the exhibit), Jenny and her mom meet Deen at a book-signing in Delaware; Deen clearly has no idea who Jenny is. Not exactly surprising, but it’s hard not to sympathize with fans facing the reality of celebrity.
But nothing beats Drumgoole’s recipes. In one, she fashions 20 of the white bricks into a bust of Rambo that looks like it was sculpted by a disturbed 7-year-old. The head then speaks (out of a stop-motion mouth made of red peppers) a message about your cunning and powerful primitive self as Drumgoole consumes it forkful by forkful, hair blowing in the breeze. (A facsimile of the head, presumably not made out of dairy products, is in the exhibit.) A Mother’s Day teacake calls for pickles, marshmallows, balsamic vinaigrette, tomatoes, pasta sauce, walnuts and, of course, cream cheese. A pasta Caprese is the most off-putting dish, as it’s assembled in the bathroom using the sink, toilet and tub. The dish is stirred with a toothbrush, chopped with a hairbrush and heated with a blowdryer. This one alone will put you off cream cheese for a while (and cooking in general; possibly bathrooms, too).
You wouldn’t mistake Drumgoole’s videos for serious recipes any more than you’d mistake Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks for the Ministry of Defense, although she pays great attention to some realistic details. For example, Drumgoole is always holding a plastic tumbler of some unspecified dark liquid, which she sips through a straw. I thought this was darn peculiar until watching a clip from Deen’s show in which she holds an identical cup, beverage and straw. Life is sometimes weirder than art.
While the artist’s playfulness comes across in her videos, her serious intent is on display in a timeline, affixed to the wall, which shows that by the project’s end in August 2010, Kraft had a 5 to 8 percent increase in cream-cheese sales. The corporation will be doing even more marketing this way—it works.
Through March 15. Levy Gallery, Moore College of Art and Design, 20th St. and Ben Franklin Pkwy. 215.965.4065. moore.edu
Talk with the artist and curator, Thurs., Feb. 24, 6:30-8pm.
Calendar: March 25-April 1
PW's 2015 Philly Spring Guide