The Cook Book

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Artist: Jo Blogg 
1 June 2018, the Rabbit Room, Napier
By Rosheen FitzGerald

On Friday night the teeny two-roomed studio that makes up the Rabbit Room is jam packed to bursting. There are too many personalities here to be contained in the gallery space, and so we spill out all over a courtyard that reverberates with laughter and chat. Backs are slapped, cheeks kissed, wine quaffed, miniature asparagus rolls wolfed with aplomb, and red dots fly up at a rate of knots. Larger than life (thanks to impressively heeled boots and a towering up-do), doyenne of Hawke’s Bay art, Jo Blogg, presides over her latest accomplishment.

In a departure from her iconic mandalas and dot work, she has taken as inspiration the cornerstone of Kiwi culinary culture, the Edmonds Cookery Book, which exists in sixty-nine discrete iterations, spanning 110 years. From this wealth of domestic history, Blogg chooses to throw back to the 1950s, when Edmonds first claimed sovereignty over such delicacies as toheroa soup, whitebait fritters and zoi biscuits.

A selection of Recipe Lists takes up opposing corners – varnished strips of wooden leading each with a title followed by ingredients, are displayed in zig-zag lines. They’ve clearly been chosen for their whimsy, with fancy ticklers such as Tongue Mould, Picnic Dainties, Kidney Soup and Princess Salad on offer. At $15 a strip, there’s ample opportunity to mix and match as desired and, like a toddler getting into the cupboards, come up with some deliciously vile concoctions of ones own.

Along one wall, the baking staples the cook book was produced to shill are immortalised, each within its own frame, against a pastel polygon. The emblematic sunrise design is paramount – the yellows and oranges set off against a backdrop of hues that intimately draw on the art deco palette. If the comparison to Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans were not clear enough, the catalogue wallops us about the chops with it, quoting the great man himself – “You need to let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you…” Like Blogg, Warhol initially mimicked the feeling of mass-production with painstaking hand painting, creating a tension between that which is repetitive and recognisable, and that which is unique and valuable.

A quartet of illustrations, presumably lifted from Edmonds’ pages, are wrought in garish colour on glossy Perspex; their texture evoking the experience of leafing through a mid-century ladies’ mag, writ large. Two Straight Lines depicts a sextet of madeleines – luridly pink, dredged in coconut and topped with a maraschino cherry. Looking for all the world like a trio of burlesque dancers’ extravagantly adorned breasts, they are as far from Proust’s as Madonna is from the Sistine Madonna.

Eat Meat is a handy guide to the edible parts of sheep and pig. The ubiquitous banner picked out in shades of flesh and blood with the tagline ‘Sure to Rise’ suspended over the pair of headless cadavers feels just a little tongue in cheek.

Centrefold portrays a mother-daughter dyad, each elegantly coiffed, fixed smiles stapled on their faces. The mother – a stereotypical fifties hausfrau – displays a waist that boasts of denying herself that which she bakes, as prominently as the Edmonds’ products in the picture. Her child looks up to her, learning at her mother’s knee. For what is being sold here is not merely raising agents and a cavalier attitude to the consumption of carbs. It’s an ideology that has seeped into the bones of a nation. By dialling up the colour and the sheen, and juxtaposing the gory and the genteel, Blogg holds that which we accept as mundane and quotidian to the light so that we can see the structures that lie beneath.

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