Thin Tizzy

Daniela Edburg's photographs skewer skinny

In an age when thousands of sickly young women gush over stick-figure starlets like Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie for "thinspiration," Daniela Edburg knocks the teeth out with a headlong plunge into the evils of obsessive dieting.

"Bittersweet," her solo exhibit at Kunsthaus Miami, is a walloping commentary on the psychological malaise of young women driven to dire extremes by contemporary notions of glamour, as reflected in the rag trade and Tinseltown.

Edburg's staged photographs and videos are freighted with cinematic and art history, as well as pop cultural references, and are open to a complex range of interpretations. Foremost among them seems the struggle to recover control of one's body and self-image.

Oreos: Not a pretty way to go
Oreos: Not a pretty way to go
Lifesavers: Are they really?
Lifesavers: Are they really?

Models perish in hilarious yet disquieting scenes of excessive consumption. It's a world where secret binging and the destructive urge to be "perfect" parrots the rash of headlines recently documenting a generation of girls addled with anorexia and bulimia.

Death by Slim Fast is reminiscent of the stink raised this past September, when Spain's marquee fashion event rejected "walking skeletons" from parading down the catwalk. It did so on the grounds that the shrinky-dink models were "encouraging eating disorders" among teens. In the artist's digital print, which references Ingres's Le Grand Odalisque, a curvy nude brunet sporting a turban is splayed upon a pile of ornate fabric on a kitchen's terrazzo floor. She softly clutches a glass blender in one hand; a can of the diet powder lies spilled near her haunches. With gut-busting aplomb, the work sandwiches the neoclassical obsession with the voluptuous female form and contemporary dieting phobias.

Another juicy digital print that rips a page from art history is Death by Oreos, in which Edburg unapologetically roughs up Whistler's mother. In her version, the Mexico City-based artist swaps out the old biddy from the iconic portrait for a young airhead who overdoses on cookies and milk.

In Chocolate, a video installation one might easily trip over near the gallery's entrance, a girl clad in a slip ferociously attacks Hershey bars. The short film is housed in a welcome-mat-size wooden box situated at ankle level on the floor and covered in AstroTurf. As one peeks into an envelope-size cutout in the contraption, the sound of rustling candy wrappers can be heard. The girl burrows, molelike, into the chocolate until she disappears.

Cherry Pie, the other video on exhibit, wickedly deals with loss of innocence and brings to mind Jeffrey Eugenides's novel The Virgin Suicides. Edburg created an oblong screen surface the scale of a shoebox, which has been placed on a column against a wall near the rear of the space. The minute-long clip, projected from above, opens with a shot of a girl in an empty tub, her pudenda covered by a slice of pie. As one peers down on the girl, she reaches for a tube of lipstick on the bathtub's rim and uses it to slash red marks across both of her wrists. Thick cherry filling seems to ooze from the girl's veins, covering her body until only the slice of pie is left bobbing on top.

Several of the works on display exude a funky retro vibe and make direct references to horror and camp film classics.

In Death by M&M's, the artist's model is a ringer for Sharon Tate's character in 1967's Valley of the Dolls. The failed actress portrayed by Tate killed herself with a handful of pills, the "dolls" of the flick's title, in one of the trashiest cheesefests in movie history.

In Edburg's elaborately staged sendup, a blond lies dead from mixing too much candy with hard liquor. A smear of lemony bile streams from her smacker in the bright orange room, which is covered wall-to-wall with gaudy shag carpet. On a night table next to the dame's corpse, a cigarette smolders in an ashtray and M&M's spill out of pill bottles next to a tumbler of whiskey.

The artist, whose "victims" are usually her friends, often uses the products that consume her models as a springboard to defining her kooky memento moris. One friend, who is allergic to bananas, was the inspiration behind Death by Bananas, Edburg's homage to Hitchcock's The Birds. In the sensational piece, a flock of banana peels dive-bombs a classy looker decked out in an impeccable blue-and-gray-checked suit as she gamely flails her arms about and coughs up a mock scream.

Death by Cotton Candy cribs the tornado scene from The Wizard of Oz. It features a woman wearing a flower-patterned dress and pink boots looking back over her shoulder as she runs through a field. Behind her a menacing pink cotton candy tempest threatens to suck her into the sky. It's one of the most gorgeous pictures in the show.

Other works — like a photo of a scrawny redhead floating on her back in a swimming pool, her pate crowned by a halo of Lifesaver candies; or one of a bimbo in a kitchen, trapped in a cocoon of plastic wrap — seem too sweet and fall short of the provocative nature of most of the pieces in the show.

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