Wobbling, jewel-toned jelly has been a decorative centrepiece of western dessert trollies for centuries. Now artists are harnessing the moldable potential of this teatime staple. Jelloid sculptures and installations, infused with personal and political messages, are popping up in galleries and lingering long past their sell-by date.
At the helm of the jelly-as-art movement is the Canadian artist Sharona Franklin, who has her first solo show in New York’s King’s Leap gallery this spring. Franklin’s delicately coloured jellies presented on dainty serving dishes often feature flowers and herbs, a reference to her childhood growing up on the edge of the British Colombian wilderness.
“I’d go into the forest and find plants, like Canadian thistle or wild asparagus,” says Franklin, one of eight siblings. “We’d hunt rabbit and grouse, go fishing, look for clams. It was a do-it-yourself upbringing.” In her teens, Franklin moved to Vancouver for medical care. She works from home focusing on pieces that combine a childhood love of the outdoors with nuanced references to her disabilities. At first glance, her creations, filled with lichen or sprigs of baby’s breath, appear botanical, but by using gelatine, a bovine byproduct, Franklin makes a statement about today’s wellness culture and the animal-based drugs that she needs to survive.
“I’ve encountered resistance from vegan friends, but I feel it’s important to show the everyday realities of my conditions. I benefit from alternative medicine, but I’m also stigmatised by it. My sculptures are like shrines to my treatments, which are complex and controversial. If a plant works for you, that’s wonderful. But everyone has different needs.”
Income from her art is a lifeline for Franklin, 32, who lives in social housing and works in a kitchen “as big as a queen-size bed”. So she was flattered when fashion house Gucci contacted her through her Instagram account, @paid.technologies, last year. “In retrospect, I was naive as the paperwork was vague,” says Franklin, who alleges that the fashion brand broke off negotiations with her but still used her ideas in their latest ad campaign. Although Gucci cited budgetary concerns, Franklin wonders if the relationship ended as a result of the brand discovering her disabilities.
When Instagram followers began to ask if she had made the jellies featured in the Gucci ad, she decided to go public. “Bad things happen in fashion all the time, so I was amazed at how much support I got. It’s allowed me to talk about my ideas,” says Franklin, who recently worked with fashion label Opening Ceremony on their spring ad campaign. “People are drawn to jelly because it appeals to all senses: touch, taste, smell. It’s an accessible way of telling complicated stories.”
New Psychedelia Industrial Healing opens 29 February at Kings Leap Gallery, New York https://kingsleapprojects.net/