Go to content


Artist's candy breaks the mold


Artist’s candy breaks the mold
Thursday, May 11, 2006


Toi Sennhauser’s husband is delicious.

“I made him from chocolate espresso caramel with chili oil and Szechuan pepper,” she said. “He’s a stick-to-your-teeth kind of guy.”

Her dad is an enigma: plum and coca with a hint of green peppercorn. Her mom is salty orange, partly because mom eats oranges dipped in salt but mostly because she has a crusty exterior.

“My mom’s not easy or warm,” Sennhauser said. “She’s loving on the inside, where I don’t see it always.”

Sennhauser’s candy versions of her loved ones’ personalities are available in large glass jars at the Kirkland Arts Center during the run of “Menu: edible elements of art.”

At the opening, Sennhauser will invite the audience to participate in a puff pastry purge-your-soul ceremony. It works like this: Each person pays a dollar to step up to a mouthpiece covered in white yarn. A tube connects the mouthpiece to a puff pastry. After whispering a secret into the mouthpiece, people watch as Sennhauser fills the pastry shell with cream.

They can eat their own secrets or exchange with others, symbolically solving problems with a little help from a friend.

“Secrets aren’t usually positive,” Sennhauser said. She’s expecting everything from “I don’t floss” to “I’ve abandoned my aging mother,” and she thinks of it as a puff pastry first step to conscience clearing.

Sennhauser, 29, is best known for the bread she baked with her vaginal yeast for last year’s Seattle Erotic Arts Festival. The Seattle Health Department said she couldn’t offer it to anyone, even though, thoroughly cooked, it wasn’t a health risk. She displayed it along with the Health Department warning. Whether people ate it or not (many did) was up to them.

What she does falls into the loose category of body art performance, heavily influenced by Germany’s Joseph Beuys. He served in World War II as a fighter pilot and made art in an attempt to come to grips with the taint of his country’s Nazi past.

“He’s huge for me,” Sennhauser said, mentioning the felt, fat and honey he used in performances. While fat and felt haven’t appeared in her work, she’s upping the ante on the honey.

She has appeared on stage behind a black stretch-velvet screen, only her naked legs and bare feet showing. First she poured honey on her feet, then washed them, foot rubbing on foot, with milk. The honey milk ran into a cooking pot, from which the audience could serve itself a nourishing beverage.

She and Jodi Rockwell once balanced 100 raw egg yolks on thin Plexiglas strips, performing a wobbly ballet until all the yolks hit the floor.

Eggs are on her mind once more, as she’s carrying a fertilized one. She and husband Peter are expecting a baby in September. She is waiting, she said, till her belly button pops to film a video of herself in the tub, her pregnancy a perfect metaphor for island masses that emerge and disappear into the sea.

She doesn’t find her work as transgressive as, for instance, Karen Finley’s, who made controversial history in the 1990s when the National Endowment for the Arts had partially funded a performance of her smearing her naked self with chocolate and inserting yams into various orifices.

“I’m not trying to shock people,” Sennhauser said, “but some people are too easy to shock. I think in first-world countries people are encouraged to think their own bodies are disgusting.”

She was born in Thailand to a Thai mother and Austrian father. As she, her two brothers and a sister grew up, they moved between the two countries. In Thailand, she felt at home physically but not mentally, as she didn’t want to conform to her mother’s strict version of appropriate girl behavior. In Austria, she said, she felt comfortable mentally as a part of Western culture, but not physically. “Austria is 99.9 percent white,” she said. “I encountered a lot of racism.”

In deciding where to go to college, she had two homelands she wanted to get away from. She picked Seattle and graduated in 2000 with a degree in sculpture from the University of Washington.

She works full time as a cook in a local restaurant she preferred not to name, as she wasn’t sure the high-toned joint would want to be associated with what she does in her free time.

So far, she has exhibited only in alternative spaces, such as Soil Art Collective, Thread for Art and Crawl Space.

“I can’t imagine I’m going to make a living from art, which is why I’m working in a restaurant,” she said. “Food is my subject matter, and the more I learn about it, the better.”

Pregnancy will soon extend that subject matter. Besides her belly as an island, she is thinking of using breast milk in performances (“if there’s any left”) and maybe doing something with her placenta.

The possibilities for a body artist are endless.

Also in the Kirkland Arts Center exhibit are Josephine Balakrishnan, Patty Cokus, Dee Fontans, Edward Kranz, Theresa Lovering-Brown, Tom Muller and Carmen Valdes.



WHEN: Opens tonight, 6-9, runs through June 3. Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday


P-I art critic Regina Hackett can be reached at or .

© 1998-2006 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Commenting is closed for this article.