San Francisco is a city built on an active fault zone and is famous for having a decidedly off-kilter subculture. It’s only natural, then, that the city’s unstable beauty should be captured perfectly by a jiggly dessert. Bay Area artist and photographer Liz Hickok may have cornered the market on a truly unique artistic pursuit: gelatin sculpting. Always interested in maps and models, Hickok set about building a scale model of the city three years ago, while she was pursuing a master’s degree in fine arts at Mills College in Oakland, Calif. After experimenting with various media to form buildings, she found them all either too difficult or too expensive.
"I’m a bit of a 'foodie' and love sweets,” she says. "And I’ve always been attracted to color and light, so I sort of stumbled on the idea of Jell-O. It just seemed to be an appropriate medium for the temporary nature of San Francisco.”
Using the fluid qualities of the classic dessert gelatin as her guide, Hickok began creating multicolored panoramas of the city’s most famous landmarks and neighborhoods. Some projects resemble tiny movie sets, complete with props and background hills to give the dioramas a realistic look. To bring out the jewel-like colors of the Jell-O, she also lights the buildings from below, using cool LEDs that won’t melt the gelatin.
Each building in her cityscapes starts out as a scale model made of intricately carved balsa wood or foam core. These models are then used to make silicone molds, into which the Jell-O is poured and chilled.
In this image of San Francisco’s Ferry Building tower on the city’s Embarcadero, Hickok created miniature palm trees out of feathers to add an element of scale to the foreground. The wavy look of the roughly 8-inch-high mold is no camera trick; it’s just the way the Jell-O happened to bend, she says.
Some of Hickok’s earlier Jell-O metropolises ended up as meals. One model she made of San Francisco was part of a show called "All You Can Eat," after which the patrons were invited to dine on the artwork. Since then, she has made several different dioramas for San Francisco’s Exploratorium, the Triptych Gallery in Berkeley, Calif., and the Pittsburg State University Gallery in Pittsburg, Kan. Earlier this year, Hickok was commissioned to created a Jell-O model of Scottsdale, Ariz., for the Scottsdale Public Art program.
Most of her Jell-O cityscapes, captured with a Toyo 4 x 5 Studio film camera, are meant to be seen and not tasted, lasting only about a week before they disintegrate. Its ephemeral nature may be what Hickok likes best about this series. "For me, the final artwork is the photograph, not the model itself,” she says.
So what’s next on Hickok’s plate? She’d like to do a Jell-O version of the ultimate candy-colored city, Las Vegas. After that, perhaps Tokyo.
Godzilla would surely approve.
For more about Hickok’s tasty work, visit lizhickok.com.