It’s always tasty, there’s no such thing as bad cake! I make two varieties, victoria sponge and neon cake, and chocolate and argon. I use Mary Berry’s recipes (Queen of Cakes and presenter of The Great British Bake Off on the BBC). The neon cakes were developed for a performance I gave at the Glass Art Society Conference, Seattle (2011). I was interested in the use of material and how by changing a single element of a piece, you can recontextualise the work. This was shortly after I made the original Luna Fossils, so was thinking along the lines of cement and contrasting materials – and cake is about as far removed from cement in appearance, texture, taste and social associations. The cake was baked in a glass kiln and afterwards the audience were invited to come and break away and eat hands full of the cake, exposing the neon and determining the form the piece took. I use the neon cake a lot with the social practice element of my practice. These have primarily been working with disenfranchised and at-risk community groups, where gaining the participants’ trust is a delicate process, yet vital to the success of the experience. Bringing food to share and eat with participants acts as a great social leveller and can create strong bonds within a group of otherwise disparate people. Cake has strong association to friendship and celebration, it tastes great and makes people feel good. When people are feeling good in and about themselves, they are more open to taking risks and achieving amazing things.
Throughout my work I’m interested in the fine lines that exist between strength and fragility and our perception of this. I’m always trying to push the limits of the material. With Holding My Breath, the neon tube is coated in 5000 dressmaking pins. There is the potential for the electricity to arc through the glass to the metal pins, making a hole in the glass and essentially killing the piece, which is exactly what happened during the development of the work. Can be a high-risk game, looking for the tension between materials. For the most part, the risks and calculated losses are worth it, although I did once push it too far. I had an important show where I installed a piece of work where a large neon element was supported by porcelain spheres suspended from the ceiling (White on White, you’ll note there are no images on my website of this work).
Everything was moving and the neon broke under the pressure an hour before the opening. I learnt a lot from this experience and am delighted to have not repeated it!