Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
Liz Hickok has created dozens of urban Jell-O landscapes.
No architectural model lasts forever, but Liz Hickok's facsimiles have less time than most: hardly a week before the mold sets in. That's because Hickok's choice material comes not from the art room but from the lunchroom.
Despite its undeniable kitsch, Hickok swears she's not in the urban Jell-O model business for the novelty. "It's because it's alive and changing, just as our real cities are," she writes in an email. "By using a medium that is perishable I can speak to the fragility and impermanence of our cities."
Her biggest Jell-O landscape, various iterations of San Francisco, is on display in these photographs. Rarely has an entire city been constructed in one go. Usually Hickok creates smaller scenes of particular buildings or neighborhoods. She's done dozens of such projects over the last decade.
The buildings, only inches high, are cast in molds using regular store-bought Jell-O or straight gelatin. Hickok alters the water content of the mixture to maximize the resilience of her structures.
Once assembled, she's never sure how the landscape will evolve. For a recent model of San Francisco, Hickok says that "over the course of the installation, some of the buildings molded, some of the buildings melted, and some hardened into rocks. It is very hard to predict what it is going to do, which is one of the reasons why I love the material." The sweating City Hall below, for example, was entirely unforeseen.
But the real art, according to Hickok, isn't the Jell-O cities themselves, but her documentary photographs, which are available as high-quality, limited-edition prints.
All images courtesy of Liz Hickok.