TRICK OR TROUBLE
Artists design bubble gum with help from schoolchildren in time for Halloween
Some lucky trick or treaters in Vancouver will score a special tasty treat this Halloween.
Among their haul of candy could be QA Chew’s Bubble Trouble, an artist-edition gum designed in collaboration with Grade 6 and 7 students at Queen Alexandra Elementary.
Artists Helen Reed and Hannah Jickling spent a year with a class at the school researching, developing and prototyping the gum. The final flavour was chosen by students in a vote.
The gum’s distinctive mauve packaging describes the gum in several different ways, including “Hello Kitty bubble bath,” “tastes like coffee powder,” and “zigzag sap highway.”
The packaging also has reflective lettering that acts like secret writing that can only be read at the right angle. It has phrases such as “Parents weren’t happy,” “Controversial ingredients,” and “People stick it on things.”
Inside, the gum comes in eight segments in a wrapper: four are grey and made with a natural base of chiclé, the latex of the sapodilla tree; four are purple with white bits and made with a synthetic gum base.
When Postmedia tasted the gum, both the natural and artificial segments tasted fruity without being a specific fruit. Adding the natural and artificial gums together created a smooth mouth feel.
Altogether, the gum tasted much, much better than expected.
QA Chew’s Bubble Trouble is a project that was funded through the City of Vancouver public-art program.
Reed acknowledged that gum probably doesn’t fit most people’s ideas of public art as monumental outdoor structures. Reed said she and Jickling think of public art in an expanded way to include an Instagram feed or the way a music album moves through a community.
The two artists are also interested in the tradition of artist multiples where there is more than one work that circulates among people.
The gum project also crosses into participatory art where artists work with people who may or may not identify as artists to “explore esthetic terrain.”
“It’s somewhere in between those two things — of thinking of creating artworks in collaboration and also thinking of artistic multiples as a medium that’s dispersed,” Reed said.
A big part of the public part of the QA Chew’s Bubble Trouble is the work the two artists did with the 11- to 13-year-old students at Queen Alexandra school. The research and development started with an afternoon a week which increased in frequency as production neared.
Students filled notebooks and work sheets with drawings and results of taste and flavour experiments. Flavour was rated along a scale from kindergarten to adult. Some of the research comments included “It looks like dog food” and “Why does this packaging look like cheese?”
Reed and Jickling’s artist residency at the school is called Big Rock Candy Mountain, which takes its name from the children’s song. In the residency, the artistic duo previously looked at the history of chocolate with students and produced the artist’s edition chocolate bar called Sour vs. Sour.
QA Chew’s Bubble Trouble is on display as part of the exhibition Mouthfeel, which opens at 5 p.m. on Halloween at Western Front. Trick or treaters who show up at Western Front that night will get boxes of QA Chew’s Bubble Trouble. Twenty families in East Vancouver will also be giving boxes of the gum away to trick or treaters.
The exhibition Mouthfeel includes other examples of art involving the mouth such as Salt Licks. They are the biomorphic forms made by cows and sheep licking blocks of salt which are shown in the annual Great Salt Lick Contest organized by Whit Deschner in Oregon.
Mouthfeel continues at Western Front until Dec. 15.
Once the artists work out details regarding retail sales, QA Chew’s Bubble Trouble gum will be available for $2.99 plus tax.
Helen Reed watches Hannah Jickling blow a bubble with their gum. The artists have made the gum, called QA Chew’s Bubble Trouble, as a public artwork project.