Chuck Ramirez’s Ingredients series, a set of ten prints, lists out the ingredients of popular items of junk food; among them, strawberry Pop-Tarts, bologna, cool whip, and ranch dressing. Ramirez worked as a graphic designer for HEB; his knowledge of product and food photography and design influenced much of his work. The sharp black ink and stark white backgrounds of his Ingredients prints speak to this influence, looking as if they were lifted straight from labels on packaged food. The series points out a strong link between language and food. Our first action when we are born is to cry out for food, to verbalize our need for sustenance; we learn, when that first cry is met with food, the relationship between language and being fed. Ramirez’s Ingredients maps out and draws attention to this link between food and language by recontextualizing the relationship itself. He lists out the ingredients of popular food we consume, and in doing so, puts food into a context we are not used to seeing it in, translated into language. Ramirez’s Ingredients were shown in “Bean and Cheese”, an exhibition at Artpace that was the culmination of his residency there. Alongside Ingredients, Ramirez also displayed prints from his Meat series, a body of work whose main objective was to convey a sense of mortality, to serve as a reminder that we, as humans, are also simply flesh and blood, meat and bone. Whereas Meat gives us a sense of our own nature as beings who will live and die, Ingredients, with its lists of chemicals and preservatives, does the opposite. It reminds us of the artificiality we ingest regularly, our consumption of ingredients so at odds with our own physiological makeups; natural versus artificial, mortal flesh versus food pumped full of preservatives. By listing out the ingredients, Ramirez repurposes the pre-existing relationship between language and food, using it to jolt us into awareness. If we consume artificial food, Ramirez seems to suggest, we must then also be consuming artificiality in other aspects of our lives. Ingredients is Ramirez’s attempt to utilize language in a way that pushes us to come to a deeper realization about the nature of modern consumption; read alongside his Meat series, Ramirez seems to be implying a new kind of artificiality that underlies modern life, one that is at odds with the natural, mortal, organic beings we are.
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