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Monday, February 29, 2016

Chocolate Art

All chocolate, all competition winners
Ergonomic chocolate
I am sitting here before my desktop keyboard at the moment eating a square of Lindl 70% dark chocolate. It's not candy, It's chocolate, and it's even said to be good for me. Scientists say dark chocolate contains flavonoids which are instrumental in reduc-ing the likelihood of my devel-oping certain types of cancers. Sounds good to me. However, from what I've read, the medical jury is still out on that. More research needs to be done. Where do I volunteer? It would appear, according to the photo at left, that as soon as I finish typing this, I could also eat my keyboard (with a game controller for des-sert).

Roasted Cocoa Beans
A Chocolate Jester
Chocolate has been prepared as a drink for nearly all of its history. One ceramic item found at an Olmec archaeological site on the Gulf Coast of Veracruz, Mexico, dates chocolate's preparation by pre-Olmec peoples as early as 1750 BC. By the 15th century, the Aztecs controlled a large part of Central America adopting cacao into their culture. They associated chocolate with Quetzalcoatl, who, according to legend, was ostracized by the other gods for sharing chocolate with humans. The Aztecs valued cacao beans so much they often used it as a form of money. A turkey cost 100 cacao beans while an avocado was worth three beans. The Spanish may have encountered the cacao bean as early as Columbus' fourth voyage though it wasn't until they took it home and added sugar or honey to counteract its natural bitterness that chocolate began to catch on. The chocolate habit made its way from Spain to Austria and within a hundred years, was prevalent in its various forms throughout most of Europe.

Chocolate candy and the telephone came along about the same time,
but the first chocolate telephone had to wait a century or so.
Chocolate Sculpture by Mandrak
An unfortunate result of this growth in popularity was its hastening of the slave trade in the Americas as cacao plantations sprang up amid the tropical jungles. Producing cacao was a very labor intensive enterprise. Then in 1815, a Dutch chemist introduced alkaline salts to chocolate, which reduced its bitterness. A few years later he created a press to remove about half the natural cocoa butter fat from chocolate liquor, which made chocolate both cheaper to produce and more consistent in quality. This innovation had much to do with why Dutch chocolate is so highly regarded to this day. For the first time chocolate took on the solid form used in sculpting. By 1875, Henri Nestle had invented powdered milk, which he added to the chocolate liquor to create milk chocolate. Cadbury was manufacturing boxed chocolates in England by 1868. Milton C. Hershey purchased their technology and introduced chocolate candies to the U.S. around 1893.

A chocolate sculpture tableau in progress. Notice the missing hand and arms. These are mostly carved except for the repetitious clothing decorations. Virtually all chocolate sculptures of any size or complexity are assembled from separately created units.
A Statue of liberty, 1986
version--tthirteen feet tall,
2.5 tons of chocolate.
As an art medium, chocolate comes in two basic colors, white (without any cocoa solids), and dark, which contains alkaloids such as theobromine and phenethylamine (both of which can be fatal for pets). Sweet chocolate is produced by adding fat and sugar to the cacao mixture leaving as little as a 15% concentration of chocolate liquor. The Europeans require a minimum of 35% cocoa solids. Semisweet chocolate is a dark chocolate with a low sugar content. Bittersweet chocolate is usually about one-third sugar with, more cocoa butter, vanilla, and sometimes lecithin added. Though more expensive than other types of chocolate, bittersweet (or unsweetened) is the preferred medium for artist choosing to carve their chocolate creations (it's denser and thus more stable). Although chocolate is most typically cast into sculptural shapes using molds, insofar as I'm concerned, that's manufacturing rather than sculpting. Typically, artists use molded chocolate when they need to attached repeated shapes to their work. The chocolate Statue of Liberty (above, left) was cast from a scaled down mold (intended for clay) created by the original sculptor, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi himself.

Virtually any common, everyday item can be replicated in chocolate. These "pumps" were likely made using molds, their decorations applied by hand using stencils.
Chocolate Eagle
Chocolate is not archival. There is no way to preserve a chocolate sculpture for more than a few months. And if it is to be consumed, anything more than a few days results in a layer of dust settling over the surface, making it, if not inedible, at least distasteful. Therefore, despite all the work, exhibitions of chocolate sculptures are usually quite short, seldom more than a few days. Moreover such works are also prone to breaking and melting unless adequate, and often quite extensive precautions are taken. For that reason, chocolate sculptors are a competitive lot, often going to extreme lengths to outdo one another and attract headlines (and most of all photos) publicizing their work. That was certainly foremost in the mind of Karl Lagerfeld and chocolatier Patrick Roger when they used 10.5 tons of chocolate to create an entire hotel room complete with a semi-nude guest relaxing in his "tighty-whities" (below). The installation was sponsored by an ice cream company.

Chocolate Hotel Room, Karl Lagerfeld and Patrick Roger
Some critics scorned the colossal "waste" of chocolate, not to mention the questionable taste involved in consuming chocolate coated ice cream confections in bed. Yet this piece is relative sedate compared to Death by Chocolate (below) depicting a dismembered human body, its entrails, sickeningly splattered across the display surface. While it may be creative, and certainly daring in concept, (whether rendered in chocolate or some other medium), such work also forces the question as to whether there may be some content areas which simply should not be explored under the guise of art. Human roadkill, to my way of thinking, would certainly come under that heading.

Death by Chocolate. Going too far?
White Chocolate Sandstorm, chocolate as a painting medium.
(Only the painting uses chocolate.)

For real chocolate art lovers.


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