Returning to the upcoming Eat Yo Self show, I am able to discuss with Bentzen briefly about the myriad instances of the anthropomorphic cannibal cultural phenomenon, which he designates “disturbing, yet oddly satisfying.”
(Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for concision)
Kew: When was the first time you saw this phenomenon?
Bentzen: I don’t remember the first time I’ve seen it. Probably on a business sign, for some reason I especially like a dentist’s office where there’s an anthro tooth is brushing its teeth.
K: Like a tooth brushing it’s teeth or a tooth brushing itself?
B: I’ve seen both. But more the tooth brushing its little teeth in its little mouth. Like what? How is this a thing? In the states you see a lot of BBQ restaurants, and there’s a pig on the signage presumably barbequing its compatriots. It’s disturbing.
K: Perhaps it’s like a Disney situation. Like Goofy vs. Pluto.
B: It could be a thing where it’s two variations on the same animal. One’s human, one’s the food animal. It just seems really disturbing. Like especially a cow or pig where it’s slicing it’s own rump. It’s crazy. That’s the thing that’s supposed to draw people into your deli or restaurant.
K: But it is a popular thing. Why is it so acceptable?
B: I just think that most people haven’t stopped to think about the reality of it! On the surface it makes sense. They’re selling meat, a cow. The cow is in the image. But if you think a bit deeper about it, take that moment to think about the logistics of it: that creature, that character, in their universe — it’s kinda sick! I love it so much.
K: When did it pop into your mind as the next show?
B: In February I had a pizza themed show. So I was thinking about food a lot. The name of the show [Eat Yo Self] popped into my head at the same time. It all kinda just fell together. I don’t really know where the idea for shows come from.
K: But it’s definitely something people are aware of right?
B: This one’s not as much as a draw! I think people are a bit confused by the idea. Maybe it’s too high concept. I’ve had to turn submissions away. They’ll be anthropomorphic but there’s no cannibal aspect. Or they’re cannibals but they haven’t been anthropomorphized.
K: It’s particularly weird because you have the humanization of the thing that’s eating itself, but it’s also accepting of the fact that it’s food.
B: The way those animals are being portrayed, they’re always so happy to be consumed or to be consuming themselves. I’m mostly a vegetarian, though I do eat fish. But maybe that’s a part of it, why I noticed it in the first place. It’s very disturbing to me, but it’s also very enjoyable. I’ve got some submissions that have come in. There’s this one with a cupcake eating a little cupcake. The lil cupcake is very sad cause it’s gonna die. In this one, the bag of milk is drinking this cup of milk.
K: These are particularly disturbing because of the disproportion of size between two individuals of the same species. It’s reminiscent of the vore fetish.
B: There’s definitely a power relationship. The large consumes the small; big fish eats little fish. In this case maybe the parent eats the child. That’s really disturbing. That reminds me of this mural I’ve seen.
*We begin looking through a gallery of anthropomorphic horrors*
B: So, it’s a mural of burritos. There’s two burritos that are eating tiny burritos. That’s where I was referencing the type for the show flyer. That’s just so weird. And it’s gross too. The burrito people’s burrito filling is spilling out.
K: It’s like Pizza the Hutt, from Space Balls. He was oozing and would eat himself.
B: This is so weird.
K: Why does it keep happening?
B: It might be people who don’t really think about design. They’re just like, yeah! A fish cooking up a catfish.That’ll be amazing. A fancy restaurant will hire a company to do their branding. This is a guy figuring it out and then hiring a sign company. When I originally put the callout I thought I’d get a lot of people into design; visual culture they’re used to seeing, even as novelty.
K: Now this is not quite the genre, but there’s this [Eat Chicken Wraps] truck downtown, and the mural is a horrified anthropomorphic chicken wrapped in a tortilla. And its eyes are gaping wide, it knows it’s going to die. It’s screaming but it has no language.
B: Yeah, that’s eating a live creature right there.
K: Or check this out, Cookie Puss, from Carvel. They sell cakes which are characters, like Fudgie the Whale. During the 80s they renamed him to Cookie O’Puss and made him an Irish themed cake. He’s supposed to be an alien. The initials CP stand for Celestial Person. Like he comes from another planet and floats around.
B: The flier for the Hot Art Wet City pizza show was actually an anthropomorphic pizza girl eating pizza. Apparently this is the year of anthro character
K: Do you know other instances of this happening in the art world?
B: Well, there are some artists in the US that I’ve seen. This artist from Toronto, Cindy Scaife. Her card has an anthropomorphic maple leaf, and she does all these anthro characters. In lowbrow and pop surrealism there’s always been that side of things. Not a lot of people touching on the cannibal part though. Andrea Hooge who shows here, she’s always anthropomorphizing things. Or takes already human things like dolls and makes them even more human, creepier.
K: I think this is something that emerges in a Disney/Pixar context. Like cars are alive then you take it to food.
B: Well there’s this YouTube series, Cinema Sins. He did Cars and he didn’t understand the logic. Like, is there a hierarchy? Because the lead car is in a rig. And there’s helicopters too? It falls apart once you consider the logic.
K: Also they eat human food, they eat sushi in the second movie. But I think they still have oil. And then you have Sausage Party coming out. But do you think Eat Yo Self is a good means of making people evaluate what they’re eating; use that design element to make people question their food?
B: I don’t know if anyone will think that deeply about it. I feel like that because of the subject matter people might get caught up so much in what they draw that they don’t go deeper. That’s at the roots of pop surrealism; there’s something deeper, a story, something to put it in a universe versus just doing a portrait. What’s the bigger picture?
K: Once all the art is together, it will be interesting to see what power dynamics emerge.
B: Well, there’s still a week and a half left to get the art in. Maybe I’ll put that challenge out to people, to look a bit deeper into the universe of their food, or inanimate objects.
K: Like the cupcake, what if the background wasn’t abstract, but instead a dinner table, suburban. Would it be more disturbing?
B: It’d be very disturbing. It’d break down that layer of cute. It’s a whole thing that’s happening. It’s not a one-off. It’s a whole scenario. You start to get a glimpse of that world too deeply, and you get a bit scared.