The Wonder of Breadface: Seattle Art Fair's 2019 Star

Bread Face. Courtesy of the artist @breadfaceblog
Bread Face. Courtesy of the artist @breadfaceblog

A 30-something woman smashing her face into a six-pack of King’s Hawaiian Rolls is not typically what you would anticipate seeing at a world-renowned contemporary art fair. Fortunately, that’s exactly what you’ll get at this year’s Seattle Art Fair. Formerly the chief curator at Creative Time, and now artistic director at Philadelphia Contemporary, Nato Thompson is back for his second year as the curator of the West Coast art hub.

Thompson’s intention with the fair this year was to “build a beautiful confounding discussion around a great project that really sparked the imagination.” He has taken on the subject of Wunderkammers, the early 18th century cabinets of curiosity that were important precursors to museums. This was an era when people would collect things, particularly men of letters would gather pieces from their various travels. Thompson continued, “They would put various things like unicorn horns in their art. It was a mix of art, science, and discovery, all put together. Since then, in the 20th century, art has been put into a different category than natural science. This is an opportunity to put them all back together.” His post-human vision for the fair includes Patricia Piccinini’s sculptural mutant children, Stephanie Dinkens’ narratives of race and AI, and most notably, the Instagram star, Bread Face.

The anonymous Brooklyn-based artist has amassed 195,000 followers since her start on @breadfaceblog and will give an interactivelive performance of her signature “breadfacing”. I caught up with Bread Face to chat about the odd-coupling of a leading curator and Instagram star and the relationship between contemporary art and the internet.

Bread Face. Courtesy of the artist @breadfaceblog

What was the draw to start breadfacing? Had you seen it done before? I've always wanted to do it. I thought it would feel good and I was right. I'd seen it once—there's a moment in View from the Topwhere Gwyneth Paltrow and Christina Applegate are fighting and she softens a blow with a loaf she finds on the ground. It gave me that itchy blood feeling when something is not laugh-out-loud funny but...a different kind of funny.

Did you see the potential for this to become an ASMR sensation when you started out? (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response; a sensation of pleasure brought on by hearing certain gentle sounds) It was all really an accident. Honestly, I didn’t know about ASMR at all until I start breadfacing and people were telling me that I was tapping into their ASMR. It’s changed since I started. Having to make the videos is really emotionally laboring. You turn off the AC, you’re anxious about any outside noise at all.

How do you manage no outside noises living in Brooklyn? I’m pretty nocturnal. I have to do it at 3am. I don’t like natural light.

The kind of bread used is so integral to each video. How do you choose? I have done a SheWolf sourdough boule. They fuck up your face, but they make the best ASMR. I’ll do it for the crunch, though I do prefer the kinds that are more conducive to face smashing. I never know how I’m going to approach it until it’s time and I always try to do it in one take, because I want it to feel very spontaneous.

Portrait of Breadface. Courtesy of Cultural Counsel.

Are you strictly bread? Do you ever involve baked goods? Does gluten-free Udi's count as bread? Bread is bread. I count cakes and pastries as well. Gluten free still counts.

Have you ever done an interactive piece like this? Are you nervous about your anonymity? I’ve been at it for a while now and my anonymity is still intact. I haven’t done anything like this, but working with Nato has made the whole process feel much more comfortable. The types of bread used for Seattle are still under wraps, we’re amidst a baking experiment.

ASMR hasn’t been a part of the contemporary art world until now. Did you consider your practice “art” before Nato sought you out? How do you navigate your place among the rest of the art fair participants?I guess if I were to be called anything it would be an artist but I’ve never really considered myself that. It’s quite intimidating but yes, I considered myself to be an artist before Nato found me… it wasn’t a knighting situation if that’s what you mean. I think what I most accurately am is a creative person who was bored, depressed, and frustrated with social media who then accidentally stumbled upon an audience. To be amongst legitimate artists is embarrassing and humbling. I just feel lucky. Not many 9 to 5-ers get to do random stuff like this!

As for Thompson, he closes our conversation repeating his excitement for Bread Face’s show, “There’s such a theatricality to it and it’s so hypnotic. I’ve never been a fan of what is or isn’t art. But what we’re working with here… it’s art.”

The Seattle Art fair runs August 1 through 4.