The artist’s chocolate ruins are meant to be activated, celebrated, and, ultimately, digested

Despite how much of my life I spend drinking at galleries, wandering around museums, and partying with curators, artists, and their hangers-on, if I’m honest, I find most visual art incomprehensible. Paintings, sculptures, installations: I admire, I enjoy, sometimes I even collect—but I almost always leave with the feeling that art, for me, is opaque, bewildering, inscrutable. I admit it’s a strange compulsion to engage, over so many years, with a project as puzzling and maddening, elitist and insular, as the art world. But some things attract us in ways we can’t fully understand. In part what draws me to art is that it baffles me—its meanings beguiling, subterranean, and buried beyond any expression in language. Rather than being explained, art must be felt.

Peruvian artist Andrea Ferrero’s latest project leaves audiences feeling her work at the most intimate of levels. All My Life I’ve Been Afraid of Power—now on view as part of the group show Multiple Latitudes at Angstroms, and in a recent solo exhibition at Swivel Gallery—Ferrero collapses the walls separating art and audience. Made from white chocolate and cast in the shape of Greco-Roman ruins, her sculptures invite viewers not only to look, but also to eat. This ingestion encourages an embodied experience of her work, one where audiences consume, digest, and excrete her sculptures. Ferrero hopes that this process provokes reflection on how we all swallow down notions of memory, politics, and power at the most basic, human level: through food.

Similar to art, our attraction to food is far more mysterious than we acknowledge. Food is a basic human necessity, and often a quite pleasurable one—but it also evokes our deepest longings for family and spirituality, and in a broader sense, can speak to society’s hierarchies, priorities, and memories. With her edible sculptures, Ferrero whips up a dessert from which to taste the darker sides of food—empire, control, exploitation. Raised in Peru and now working in Mexico, she grew up and still lives amongst the colonial legacies baked into everyday architecture, language, and, of course, cuisine. It’s all so ubiquitous and quotidian that it makes it eerily difficult to recognize, name, and imagine any alternative.

Ferrero’s work, however, remains playful and ironic. The pieces may look like antiquities, and invoke Latin America’s tumultuous past, but they’re still made of sugar and cocoa—meant to delight, to enjoy and to eventually, shit out. It’s kind of hilarious in the context of the contemporary artworld. Certainly something that anyone can understand, no explanation needed.

Sammy Loren: Your work often uses humor to talk about topics such as colonialism and power. Why is humor so often overlooked in art?

Andrea Ferrero: In general, artists tend to view humor as ‘less serious,’ and ignore what a powerful tool it can be to engage viewers and appeal to audiences. Also, satire and playfulness make art more accessible, challenging conventional perspectives and providing a more welcoming space for dialogue, critical thinking, and conversation. I once read an interview with Zuzanna Czebatul, where she quoted George Bernard Shaw: ‘If you want to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you.’

Sammy: Your recent sculptures are made from chocolate. What inspired you to create art from food?

Andrea: During the pandemic, I started a small home bakery that grew into a bigger project. I decorated cakes in vintage styles, influenced by Wilton magazines and wedding cakes. I started wondering where the whole concept of baking came from: food as celebration, rituals and banquets, and, ultimately, food as an instrument of power. When I began this investigation, I began making connections between architecture and food.

Throughout history, ruling elites have used the rituals surrounding food to express political power. For example, the grotesque spectacles of feasting in the 15th century represented aggressive displays of political power, where opulent banquets were hosted to show off precious new foods made from ingredients of colonial extraction, such as sugar. Even though baking now seems harmless, the rituals of eating were emblematic of dark currents of control. These ingredients were dependent on the slave trade, with a wretched history.

Food is universal. It connects people across cultures and blurs the boundary between the work and the spectator. Creating art from food allows me to explore its multifaceted nature, from its basic sustenance to its symbolic, sensual, and alluring qualities.

Sammy: With audiences literally eating your work up, there’s ingestion, digestion, and excretion tying your work to your public. Talk about the relationship between art and our digestive tracts.

“The work asks viewers to consider how we construct and perpetuate narratives about the past, and unveils how, in architecture and ceremony alike, opulence became a strategic power play.”

Andrea: There’s an incredible process that happens when we eat, and it is metabolization; this is a powerful metaphor for the digestion of complex topics that art often deals with. You eat, digest, metabolize, and then excrete.

When I began working with food, I was drawn to this idea of metabolizing, and this in turn gave the audience incredible power. They became pivotal in the discourse of certain works. Many times, if artwork is not ‘activated’ by the spectator, it’s as if it doesn’t exist. The whole point of some pieces is that they are consumed, and that this digestive process occurs. These ideas, while establishing a visceral connection between the audience and the artwork, also urge viewers to participate in the destruction, consumption, and digestion of the artwork.

Sammy: Food has many connotations—it can be simple sustenance, or religious and ritualistic, or it can be decadent, fetishistic, and sexual. Talk about your personal relationship to food.

Andrea: Food, for me, is everything you mentioned: sustenance, ritual, celebration, and sex. It all depends on the context. Food is also a means of demonstrating love and care—cooking for friends, for people you love, welcoming them into your home. Someone cooking for you is one of the most honest, pure, and tender demonstrations of care.

Sammy: Many of your sculptures are evocative of Greco-Roman columns and pillars. What are you trying to say, with these historic references, about the nature of memory?

Andrea: These aesthetics are primarily beautiful and seductive, and because of this, they lure the audience in rather than acting as a barrier. In that sense, replacing marble with chocolate speaks for itself. It is an illusion, a hoax. It lends something grotesque to the majesty of the original, but, at the same time, even as an imitation, ancient architecture still radiates grandiosity. The idea of these edible facsimiles being destined to ‘ruin’—by inviting the viewers to actively participate in their destruction, consumption, and digestion—is an effort to collectively metabolize legacies of colonialism. It’s an invitation to think about how we can challenge these symbols, all while reflecting on ideas of power and democracy.

The work asks viewers to consider how we construct and perpetuate narratives about the past, and unveils how, in architecture and ceremony alike, opulence became a strategic power play. The work seeks to confront these manifestations of colonial ideology through an ephemeral chocolate bacchanalia.

Sammy: There’s a playful, fictional element to your work. For you, what is the relationship between memory and fiction?

Andrea: They are interconnected. Memory—in a way—is fiction, no? And even more so historical memory. History is written by those in power; the people and events we celebrate are all political decisions. I use elements of fiction to reappropriate memory, to challenge established narratives by imagining new possibilities.

Sammy: You were born, raised, and you studied in Peru, a country that’s faced much instability—from ’80s insurgencies and dirty wars to ’90s neoliberal shock, and a recent coup. How does Peru’s complex history influence your work?

Andrea: Even though I work with different subjects and site-specific projects, Peru’s instability, violence, and cultural imposition are constant reminders of the complexities of power dynamics and cultural legacies. All my inquiries regarding architecture of power started there, and then continued to expand when I spent time in Colombia, Brazil, and Mexico—all nations where similar power strategies can be found.

Sammy: What influences your work that’s not traditional studio art?

Andrea: I think this answer will not be as glamorous as one would expect—but I spend hours watching videos of people baking. Not necessarily big TV shows, but just Instagram and TikTok.

Sammy: You’re in the group show Multiple Latitudes, opening in New York, with many other Latin American women artists. What do you hope audiences take away from it?

Andrea: This has been one of the most challenging projects I’ve worked on, and what excites me the most is to see it activated by the audience. The architectural grandeur of the relics and ruins is revealed as a romanticized, vulnerable, and malleable chocolate monument—fragments of something that was once created to be ‘eternal’ are now subject not only to time, but also to greed and desire. In this sense, the invitation to progressively destroy this ‘temple’ becomes a vital aspect of the work—an experiment that urges viewers to consider our individual capacity to reenact these mechanisms of power and exploitation in our daily lives.