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Welcome to Cakeland

Artifical cake artist Scott Hove talks to Jennifer Barnett about why he decided to combine the arts of taxidermy and patisserie and the thought processes behind baking a cake for Bashar al-Assad.

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All photographs courtesy of Scott Hove
All photographs courtesy of Scott Hove

Today being Easter Sunday, many will be thinking about the celebrations in store and what food will be prepared and eaten as part of it. The holidays are normally a time for family and feasting. Easter of course on a secular level is all about post-Lent treats: chocolates, hot cross buns, roast lamb and general gluttonous indulgence. But what if our relationship with celebratory food was turned on its head? This is precisely what California-based artist Scott Hove does with his Cakeland concept, which began in 2005. His sculptures and full room scale installations are, in essence, fake cakes, which on one level appear temptingly delicious. However, with the addition of special added extras such as animal fangs, tusks and metallic spikes these ostensibly sweet sculptures come with some very memorable twists. I talked to the artist himself to learn more about the thought processes behind these eye catching pieces:

Hi Scott! Cakes are typically associated with joy and celebration, so how important is it to you that these elements are found in the pieces?

I want to create a space for people to go through their own cycle of reaction without my will imposed on everything...The positive associations everyone has with cakes is the fundamental starting point in this dialogue I am provoking with my work.

How far do you want to use these typical reactions towards cakes in order to shock, subvert and surprise?

Each piece will have varying degrees of these happy associations and will occasionally totally lack or subvert the sense of safety that comes with them. By using the taxidermy pieces I offer a completely contradictory, yet perfectly complimentary counterpoint to the safety and promise of fulfillment found through eating cake. How far do I want to take this? I want to take it as far as I can while retaining some sense of surface sanity. Part of the thrill of creating is to learn what the boundaries are for myself!

One piece that stood out to me in particular was "Hubris party" with its message of congratulations to the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad; could you tell me about the thought processes behind this piece?

The piece 'Hubris Party' is one of a series of celebration cakes dedicated to powerful individuals who have no moral issue with creating hell on earth, because it is convenient, profitable or satisfies their own egos. One of my own personal coping tools when trying to emotionally deal with monsters is to subvert their load of tragedy and devastation into the most absurd form possible, in order to make them into a manageable size. This in no way makes light of the suffering going on in Syria. It does point out the deadly absurdity of the mindset of someone like Assad. His personal time of oblivion is coming soon, so I made a cake for him. Congratulations for your contributions Assad! You could have walked away but you didn't. What is this thing you have that makes all of this death worthwhile? There is a party coming... and it will take place over your head. Enjoy your cake!

crazy cake 3

How long, roughly, does it take you to make a Cakeland sculpture, from when you first get an idea to when the piece is completed? How long does it take to complete an installation?

Each piece will have its own mental gestation period before execution, and this can vary from a few years to a couple of days. Some ideas are complicated and need time to develop. These may require several weeks in the studio to manufacture. Other times it is best to go with your most immediate inspiration, and a piece like that may take only two days, yet still capture the archetype you aim for. Installations generally take two to six weeks.

In your website you describe yourself as having "an obsession with the relationship between the beautiful and the brutal" and this is certainly evident in your work. Would you say that the Cakeland pieces work to expose people simultaneously to feelings of desire and fear?

My obsession with the brutal/beauty conundrum is a meditation on nature itself. I once had a dualistic view of existence, striving to achieve more of one and less of the other... but I was missing the point. Life is an interweaving of dualistic principles, in every way at all times. Every feeling of desire is haunted by a fear of loss. Every experience of fear eventually gives way to some kind of hope. Beauty and new life spring from the filth of decay and that which decays has a universe of experience within it. This principle is universal, and is very beautiful.

"In an angry rage one night I cut a hole in the cake and shoved in the teeth - it was a breakthrough!"

What inspired you to use elements of taxidermy in your work?

I had been a collector of taxidermy elements for a long time, mainly because they embody a fierceness despite being simple pieces of plastic. I have also been collecting fake food items for similar reasons... it provokes deep feelings despite our understanding of its absurd artificiality. One of my earliest cakes was in close proximity to a jaw set- and in an angry rage one night I cut a hole in the cake and shoved in the teeth- it was a breakthrough!

crazy cake 4

You talk about a fascination with the connection between prey and predator in your website. Do the fake cakes themselves represent prey or predator, or both? The use of animal teeth suggests that the cakes are predatory, but the human urge to eat the cakes is still present.

A cake by itself represents prey, and we play the ceremonial role of predator. My cakes confuse this role-play. They represent each of the relevant archetypes simultaneously. This process of confusion is enjoyable for me to witness in my viewers, and will continue to inspire me to make more pieces like them, until, I suppose, my explorations take me elsewhere!

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