In a mini fridge off Judith Klausner's Somerville living room, the 26-year-old stores the best sculptures fashioned from Oreos in America. Cynics may argue that there is little competition in the field, but they've not seen these marvels.
Klausner pried off the chocolaty top wafer and used toothpicks, sewing needles, and a modeling tool to carve women's profiles into the cream filling. The results are handsome, handcrafted, sugary-sweet cameos.
Some things she learned: "Quality control really varies on the Oreos." The mint ones contain peanuts and mint oil "which makes them impossible to carve. . . . Gonzo brand strawberry-and-cream sandwich cookies, I think, are even worse than working with bugs."
Yes, Klausner also makes art from bugs. She grew up in Cambridge, made ceramics in high school, but at Wesleyan University branched into other materials — like a dead cicada that she incorporated into an assignment on "juxtaposition."
"Then it was sort of down the rabbit hole of insects," she says. And from insects to food, "looking at things around me that other people weren't looking at, or at least not looking at for its aesthetic properties."
Her sculptures include Triumph, a moth inside a light bulb; mantises depicting Alice in Wonderland; an inch-tall crucifix with a bee playing Jesus; flowers constructed of nail clippings and baby teeth; "mold" embroidered on toast; cross-stitching on Corn Chex; and a three-foot-tall Art Nouveau "stained glass" window of a peacock made from gummy bears and gummy worms.
Klausner often deploys what were traditionally women's crafts as part of her underlying questioning of the roles of women in our society — from the Queen of Hearts to beauty queens. Her cameos depict imaginary women, echoing traditional cameos' Greco-Roman gods or anonymous Victorian paragons of beauty. But they might also call to mind lockets kept as tokens of missed loved ones. Then there's that funny frisson that comes from painstakingly crafting art from junk food.
"Aesthetically, I've always been attracted to old things. I'm really attracted to Victorian things," she says. "And at the same time, I always feel a bit guilty about it.
"We're talking about an era when women didn't have rights," she adds, "and minorities didn't have rights, and gay people, we didn't have a word for that. The idea that those were the good old days is sickening. There needs to be a balance."
Read Greg Cook's blog at gregcookland.com/journal.
FOR MORE IMAGES FROM JUDITH KLAUSNER'S STUDIO, GO TO THEPHOENIX.COM/GALLERY