Last week, approximately 300 pounds of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos were on display at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) as part of Jazmin Urrea’s “RED 40” art exhibit.
The four-day exhibit from the photography and media master’s student included a circular ground display of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and walls covered with Xerox prints of Rellerindos, a hard caramel candy with a soft and spicy center; Jabalina, a hot and salted tamarind candy; and Dedos, a sour and spicy candy.
Urrea said her inspiration for RED 40 came from not only her love of the junk food she used, but also from her own experience living in a food desert, or a geographic area without fresh produce and healthy food options, in the Watts area of South Central Los Angeles.
“Knowing that I live in a food desert, I wanted to use that idea to bombard viewers with a sensory, alien landscape experience,” she said. “The title RED 40 itself came to me from research on the junk foods I was using.”
Urrea chose to use snack food that targets communities around Los Angeles and relies heavily on Red Dye No. 40, the most common food coloring in the world, to demonstrate the nutritional problems in areas where larger supermarket chains are uncommon and small markets rarely stock decent perishables.
“The work is meant to bombard a viewer with ideas of advertisement, the mundane, and repetition (trauma),” Urrea said. “Also called Allura Red, it [Red Dye No. 40] is thought to be the cause of allergies and a trigger for hyperactivity in some populations. It is not a health food.”
The RED 40 exhibit displayed the long journey supermarkets have to offer fresh ad healthy food in areas that are considered to be “food deserts.”
Preparing the exhibit
Before installing her exhibit and beginning her thesis, Urrea spent months researching and testing what she wanted to create.
“With this particular work, the process was heavily concept driven,” she said.
The project’s testing included getting familiar with adhesives for the walls, printing the Xerox photos of the candies and preparing the materials.
To get her hands on thousands of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, Urrea first reached out to Frito-Lay to see if she could get a discount for the packages.
“I explained that it was for my final show in grad school and I also told them I was a student,” she said.
However, the company said they only donate to national causes and offered her four coupons instead.
“I figured that this would be their response, so I did what anyone else would do, I bartered at the Piñata District in Downtown LA for a better deal,” Urrea said.
Once she completed her purchases and received all her donations, she had approximately 300 pounds of Cheetos to work with.
Love of Cheetos
Urrea’s love of the red hot snack food runs deep in her veins. The CalArts student said she was even hospitalized once for consuming them so much.
“I have a special relationship with Hot Cheetos,” she said.
Her love of the snack food is evident on her Instagram page, where she has shared photos of her surrounded in Cheetos and photos of the bags she has consumed over the year.
But there was also a purpose to her constant consumption of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. She spent nearly two years working with the material, in snack and bag form, to create prior art exhibits and hone her focus for her thesis project.
“For the past year in a half, I have been trying to figure out how to work with this material, and attempt to finesse its presentation,” Urrea said. “Not only this specific junk food, but my affinity for junk food in general.”
This “finesse” in her presentation included her creative flier announcing her show in the shape of a nutrition label.
“Your daily life may increase by attending this high calorie show,” the label read.
When she graduates this year, Urrea will attend the Venice Biennale with her classmates. She also plans on applying to art residencies to further her artistic practice.
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