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Breaking the Mold

Breaking the MoldTufts graduate Liz Hickok uses her background in art to make San Francisco come to life through the use of Jell-O.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.16.09] Art can come in all shapes and sizes. Or if you are Liz Hickok, it can even come in the form of a familiar jiggly dessert.

The San Francisco-based artist has spent the past few years specializing in cityscapes made of-you guessed it-Jell-O.church_lg_400

In 2005, as a graduate student at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., Hickok began working on a project that involved photographing scale models of cities-like the ones you would find in a town museum-and playing around with the scaling of the photos, leaving the viewer wondering if the subject of the image was real.

"It then started to make sense for me to make my own cities instead of taking pictures of other people's creations," she says. "I wanted to make them more personal and unique to me, incorporating color and light."

On the hunt for the perfect medium, the 1997 Tufts graduate says she thought about using materials such as resin and glass, but found resin too toxic and glass not malleable enough for the project.

"I wanted to find a material that was inspiring, interesting and evocative," she says. "Jell-O just popped in my head as this wonderful, crazy alternative."

Starting small, Hickok says her first attempt was making a Jell-O sculpture that she then invited people to view and eat. While fun, the experience was a little too temporary for her liking.

Telegraph Hill Earthquake

Marina Tidal Wave

She then decided to go back to her roots as a photographer, creating cityscapes and "transforming them into a little imaginary world" through photographs. Each of her pieces is lit from underneath, helping enhance the colors in her photographs.

 "Since graduate school I have started doing more sculptural pieces that are more interactive with the public," Hickok says. These projects included a piece marking the centennial of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

"I did a few sculptures that were on shake tables so you could sort of mimic what happened with a Jell-O earthquake," she says.

Hickok's artwork has since evolved even further, with some sculptures incorporating the sense of smell and even the decay of the structure as part of the art form.

"I made one sculpture that was up for a month and that was on purpose, letting it decay to show how neighborhoods change," Hickok says. "It is a very labor intensive and slow process."

For Hickok, art and photography have been a part of her life since she was very young. When it came time for college, Tufts' dual-degree program with the School of the Museum of Fine Arts was a perfect fit.

"I learned a lot about the field and enjoyed being able to study all different kinds of studio art and not just one type of work," she recalls of her studies, which included everything from photography to sculpture and art history. "They were really encouraging of doing multimedia work."

Some of that past multimedia work resonates in her current projects, where along with her photography she also creates videos of some of her pieces, mimicking natural disasters like earthquakes and floods.

As her work becomes more well-known through word of mouth, Hickok has seen coverage of her artwork in The New York Times, been interviewed on National Public Radio and won the Food Network's "Play With Your Food" award in 2007 for best use of food as an art medium.03cityhall_400

Once she finishes working on projects in San Francisco, Hickok says she hopes to move on to Las Vegas, a city known for its color and lighting. For now, Hickok doesn't see herself straying from the Jell-O medium anytime soon.

"I feel really fortunate to have stumbled upon a material that not a lot of people would have thought of [using] yet has really resonated with people and created a sense of wonder. "It's a wonderful metaphor for our cities," she adds. "Because we think of our cities as these permanent stable environments, and really they are changing all the time and are very fragile and fleeting."

Profile by Kaitlin Melanson, Web Communications.

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