Collaborators Phyllis Ma and Josie Keefe conjure deep and twisted feelings in me just by trapping objects in gelatin, melting holiday meals, and sticking fruit in other fruit. Their surreal landscapes are the product of a character called LAZY MOM, a fictional flop of a mama with thousands of instagram followers waiting to laugh at the next photo or tag their ex in a stop motion video of a liquefying cake. LAZY MOM has created participatory exhibitions featuring sculptures such as human sandwiches and video projects including a music video for PILL’s “Hot Glue". I am also a huge fan of their zines with pages of hyper-composed photographs of tiny hot dogs on pedestals and “fruitduckens" (i.e. a grapefruit inside of a watermelon). I interviewed them at bar in Brooklyn just before they were just about to film a video for the "Weekend With Bernie" art show and fundraiser at Wayfarers Gallery. As we talked in a circular booth next to an art deco mirror Phyllis recognized from the trash, I was eager to talk to LAZY MOM more about their artistic process, the cultural messages they create through their photographs, and how they connect food with sexuality.
How did the collaboration known as LAZY MOM start and where did the character LAZY MOM come from?
PM: Well, it started off with us making a zine together, because we were in an art collective, and it just kept going because we kept having more and more ideas. The name came about randomly. We were making a stacked sandwich but everything was in the wrong order, and we came up with this idea of a mom who was too lazy to make her kids lunch but she is really obsessed with stacking things and arranging things.
JK: So she is misdirecting her energy, not doing what she is supposed to do, but doing what she is not supposed to be doing really meticulously.
Why is food an important medium to you and how do you choose the foods you photograph?
JK: I think we like food because it is something everyone needs, but there are endless possibilities to the way you can eat. It is something we must consume everyday, something that is in the grocery stores, mass-produced, so it is really familiar. But, it can be really weird and elaborate at the same time.
PM: There is something really funny about food when you rearrange it in another way or put it in a different context, like making it less edible. We just wander around the supermarket until we find something that has a weird shape or color.
Your photographs and stop motion videos feature these beautiful, immaculate products, but they are also clearly created. Your process seems to be highly involved and really fingery. You seem to be dismantling things that are already produced and turn it into something else. And I am wondering if you see any parallel between capitalist production or consumerism that engages with these processes of creating, rearranging, and dismantling familiar products for the sake of something new.
PM: Yeah, definitely. We feel that processed food has been processed so much that it isn’t really even food anymore, just so it will look prettier or stay on the shelf longer. Also, it doesn’t even taste like food anymore.
JK: Similar to the way that food is photographed for advertising, we hear these stories about how food photographers use glue for milk or prop up the burgers. They use fake food to sell something just as artificial.
PM: Right, they are trying to sell the idea more than the product itself.
With a culture focused on portability, nutrition, and aesthetics in the food we eat, ingredients are so often either processed into an unrecognizable product or the nutrition content is inflated and processed through advertising.
JK: It’s funny because microwaveable, frozen, and processed foods are designed to save mom time. Like we think of the 50’s housewife hand making everything, and then we get these processed foods and they were supposed to be fancy and different. Now it is funny that it is flipped. I think Soylent is trying to do what TV dinners did like 50 years ago. Now you have so much more time to do X,Y, and Z! But all we have is this grosser version of something. We already know how to make meals.
PM: Right, Soylent is trying to be even more nutritious or be a superfood, like this has all the vitamins you need in a meal.
JK: But reduces all the pleasure. It reduces the feelings, the textures.
Do you think your character of LAZY MOM has any connection to domestic expectations? Or are you aiming to say anything about feelings of inertia people can experience in their houses?
PM: Yeah, I think the word lazy is funny because we use it in a way that doesn’t necessarily mean being inactive, but directing energy in all the wrong ways.
JK: Yeah, using the word lazy does imply some norm of activity you should be doing, right. Like there is obviously some task our character should be doing, but she doesn’t do them because she has all these other ideas of what females should do and how they should feed the people around them.
PM: For me, what comes to mind is that Simpsons episode where Homer was trying to evade doing his job. In order to be lazy, he had to be proactive in another sense and create this contraption to get away with being lazy. Which makes it more complex than just being lazy.
I am interested to hear more about your inspiration and collaborative process to create exaggerated movements in the foods you photograph. What is your collaboration process like? Are there any artists or chefs you look up to when you are doing these things together?
JK: We like to think of the emotional life of the food. We like to think of each food as a character, and maybe this one is like dancing because it is happy, or this one is melting because it is depressed. So we like to think there is personality that shines through when we try to animate them.
PM: Yeah, I feel like we become little kids when we’re styling together. We usually make things up on the spot. We don’t come in with a theme or a plan. We kind of just keep playing with it, and we just keep playing until something works.
PM: In terms of chefs, I really like this instagram artist Chef Jacques La Merde. She makes fun of the way really fancy food is plated, for example by using Cheetos. She is totally making fun of bro chefs. The captions would be in all caps like bro, look at all these fritos.
JK: Yeah it’s going to get all soigné up in here which is a very industry word for how they plate.
PM: And I think that has definitely inspired the way we approach it, because we are doing food styling as artists, so we kind of started out kind of making fun of it, kind of imitating it, and ultimately turning it into something else other than traditional food styling.
JK: Yeah in terms of artists I really like Sophie Calle a lot. I think her color meals are a basis for how we think about color and treating food as just a field of a certain color rather than just a certain slice of pear.
PM: Yeah also Jan Švankmajer, who I discovered after we started playing with food. He is a cool Czech filmmaker.
Have you seen his stop motion film, Little Otik, where the baby tree eats the mom’s hair?
JK: Yeah that level of domestic grossness is really cool. I like David Lynch for the same reason of taking something normal and finding the twisted part.
PM: Yeah, I like going too far.
Your instagram bio is “food feelings", and many people ranging from journalists to instagram followers have found they related to it. What types of feelings and relationships do you wish to create with your food photography and stop motion videos you share online?
JK: We always try to have fun while we are shooting it try to make it a joke make it lighthearted. and when people laugh, I feel like that is the goal for me.
PM: People’s reaction to it wasn’t something that I expected.
Yeah the comments when you melt food are particularly full of feeling. Some are “my heart when you chose @whoever over me." or “This feels like a metaphor for my life." One of your stop motion videos features a cake thrown into the ocean played in reverse as if it were emerging fresh from an aquatic oven. Many of the comments talk about what a waste of food that is. What do you think of comments on your instagram? Do you ever respond?
PM: We eat a lot of what we shoot after we shoot. We always reuse meat.
JK: Yeah I have had a lot of stomach aches from all the candy. More importantly, I would hope this starts a larger discussion about food. I would invite people to think about how they use food in their lives.
From Lazy Mom’s music video for PILL’s “Hot Glue".
Let’s talk about the concept behind the music video you created for PILL’s Hot Glue. What was it like making a music video?
JK: Their lyrics are sexual, feminist, and overt. We wanted to make something that channeled that energy.
PM: The song is called “Hot Glue". If you search hot glue on Google, you won’t get hot glue. It was a chance for us to push ourselves toward food porn boundaries. We don’t usually go that far with the sexuality, or use that much black. This was also the first time we used a lot of live action with stop motion.
JK: We have the same character Lazy Mom, but she is sexually frustrated. She is cooking dinner waiting for her husband to come home, but he never comes home.
NPR called your video NSFW. I searched what NPR labels NSFW and it is all actually what I think is the coolest music. How do you see sexuality expressed through your art and what challenges or labels do you face while doing so?
JK: As an artist, I was totally okay with it being NSFW because yeah, a lot of awesome art is explicit about certain topics. But as a female, I was pretty offended, because there are all these women dancing around in bikinis and we are totally desensitized to it, but implicit sexuality and suggestion is something we are not desensitized to.
PM: People are so uncomfortable around a vegetable and a hand, which makes it so much more powerful. There is no other part of the body or silhouette in the video.
JK: Fingernails are the sexiest thing that are in there.
I feel like I see a lot of artists making confessional work around food that exposes their daily habits and relationships with food. How do you see yourselves to fit in with artists that engage with food, especially on the internet?
PM: I think we are a free flowing entity. Our art about food is not specifically personal. It is not specific to the internet, but the internet has been a really nice platform for us. We want to make more installation. It is very experimental. We do not want to put a label on it.
JK: What is cool about this collaboration is that it is fun and not planned, and that is what keeps it going. We do not have a specific agenda, except just keep doing it.
Anything else you would like to add?
PM: We read a lot about food, more than we show in our work. People eat everyday, they eat because they want to change their body, they pick foods based on what they can afford. Food itself is very personal and very political because it plays so much into day to day life.
JK: Eat your vegetables and call your mom.