Breaking My Keto Diet
I wade through a crowd of flowy pants and DIY tops congregated before a mural. Up a set of stairs adorned with bright floral arrangements is The Loft. I enter. I’m at Elsewhere, a Brooklyn-based venue host to a myriad of party-goers, candy kids, and general cultural consumers. Today, however, I’m here for Bread Face—an anonymous Instagram personality who achieved unexpected fame, as well as the label “artist,” after videos of her slamming her face on bread went viral. I first came across her videos in 2016 while scrolling through my Instagram “Explore” page. Whether the encounter was through pure chance or algorithmically fated, I was nevertheless intrigued. Clip after clip, I watched her facial features navigate the terrain of challahs, pitas, pullmans, tortillas, muffins, and more. In some, her cheekbones, brows, eyelashes, and lips plunge into pillowy loafs; in others, her face slides across, defying tactile expectations of satisfaction.
Her videos are multi-sensorial and unique, each one receiving its own ambient treatment with attention to sound, lighting, setting, and dress. In one, a panettone is squashed under the cast of a dim red light to the tune of Roy Orbison’s “You Got It.” In another, the bridge of Bread Face’s nose smashes through a stack of pumpernickel to Drake’s “One Dance” in a well-lit kitchen. Bread Face’s artistic practice stems from her ability to digitally recontextualize aberrant behavior as art. While in another context smashing one’s face into bread would seem absurdist or infantile, she manages to elevate this act by applying intentional curatorial elements to her videos and posting them in the interactive digital arena of Instagram. To the dismay of a few attendees, there would be no live “bread-facing.” Instead, a screen tucked in the right-hand corner of the room plays a video made exclusively for Elsewhere’s seasonal arts program, Landscape. One of the program’s aims, as explained by Elswhere’s Art Director, Molly Surno, is “to encourage our audience to have spontaneous interactions with art. By showcasing a diverse range of emerging artists, you will inevitably be confronted with new ideas, materials, and visual experiences…creating somewhat of an exquisite corpse, where slowly each corner of the structure will house an artist’s intervention.”
To achieve this, Landscape highlights local artists and individuals who represent Elsewhere’s surrounding community, encouraging community-oriented engagement. This communal imperative is evinced as I stand in the glow of the display, watching Bread Face sink her face into Café Standard Breads and naan baked just a few floors down at Mission Chinese Food. Bite-sized samples of the breads in the video rest on metallic platters beneath the screens. Attendees mill about the space, some acknowledging the display with a nod of recognition, others simply reaching for a snack. I wait, hoping to encounter someone—a person endowed with an insatiable experiential hunger, a person impassioned enough to raise a piece of the sample bread and in a mimetic outcry, press it to their own face. This does not happen.
Instead, I ask an artist munching on a piece of platter bread nearby if he’s heard of Bread Face. He hasn’t, and tells me digital isn’t his thing. He’s a woodworker, but admits to having browsed her Instagram upon seeing her name on the program. “I feel almost guilty,” he says. “There’s something embarrassing about watching [the videos] …you know,” he gestures at the tahini-smeared Bread Face on the screen, “like the ones where there’s sauce on them. It’s sort of…erotic.” I do not disagree. However, this discomfort extends far beyond a saucy referential image. Watching Bread Face comfortably fluctuate between the physical and the visual, engenders what media critic, Laura Marks, deems the erotic. She asserts,
“The ability to oscillate between near and far is erotic. In sex, what is erotic is the ability to move between control and relinquishing, between being giver and receiver. It’s the ability to have your sense of self, your self-control, taken away and restored…In the sliding relationship between haptic and optical, distant vision gives way to touch, and touch reconceives the object to be seen from a distance. Optical visuality requires distance and a center…In a haptic relationship our self rushes up to the surface to interact with another surface.”
The seemingly inexplicable undercurrent of eroticism present in Bread Face’s videos is due, in part, to her ability to simultaneously confront the objects (or, in this case, breads) placed before her with haptic fervor, and to distance herself via digital, rather than physical (live) engagement with her audience. These acts of nearing and distancing are crucial to the success of Bread Face’s work, both privately and publicly.
Marks posits, “To maintain optical distance is to die the death of abstraction. But to lose all distance from the world is to die a material death, to become indistinguishable from the rest of the world. Life is served by the ability to come close, pull away, come close again.” This balance, however, is not achieved with ease, and demands, to some extent, a necessary relegation of Bread Face’s work in the digital realm.
Waiting in line for drinks, I approach Bread Face. She’s in a sourdough colored dress and wears a mask that covers the lower half of her face. I ask how it feels having her work in a public, physical space. “It feels good,” she says. “But it’s super weird seeing my own face on that huge screen.” Faced with the task of physically viewing herself and her art from the perspective of a public viewer, the unease she feels might otherwise be described as a bout with Kristevaean abjection—a shift from being within oneself to being a spectator, expelled from one’s self—an “exquisite corpse.”
As Bread Face stands in line, shaking hands, patting shoulders, and hugging attendees, her haptic relationship to her art is forcibly transposed onto the public. “So weird,” she says, glancing at the screen. On it, the bottom half of her face hovers above a mound of naan. Staring at her own face, the two halves are a disparate whole—bridging, for a moment, the void between the physical and the digital—the haptic and the optical. She turns back from the screen,
“Instagram sucks!” she says.