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Chocolate as an art form;Arts in Scotland;Exhibition

Collins Gallery. Strathclyde University, Glasgow until May 2 (Closed April 10-13).

It's not often that an art gallery curator begins an interview about a forthcoming show by handing out free chocolates, but I couldn't refuse the offer and tucked them in my pocket, resolving to pass them on to a more deserving person later that day.

In fact, there are lots more free chocolates where those came from - 5,000 to be exact - and they'll be doled out to school and community groups who visit the multimedia "Chocolate" exhibition at Strathclyde University's Collins Gallery in Glasgow between now and May 2.

"Chocolate" originated at the Collins, sparked off by the success of a previous exhibition on tea, and it is set to tour around Britain once it finishes its run in Glasgow.

It's the first show of its kind in Scotland to focus on how the nation's favourite snack food inspires, and is employed in, contemporary art. The most startling exhibit is the life-size mummy-like "corpse" of a woman, moulded from solid chocolate (the weight of four bags of cement, apparently) and displayed in a see-through coffin.

Glasgow-based artist Claire Baxter is painting trompe l'oeil chocolate bar wrappers directly on to the gallery floor, while Trevor Avery, whose father worked for Rowntrees for many years, shows how he ended up hating even the smell of chocolate, in a series of photographs. In a work called "Addiction", diabetic artist Steven Nimmo illustrates, with chocolate-filled syringe and other "drug" paraphernalia, how chocolate can both kill and save him.

Other artists (two of whom trained with actresscook Jane Asher) have produced chocolate houses and children, hands and teeth cast from real children, a miniature Venus de Milos and pieces (cast in Glasgow at the Jamp;A Ferguson factory) made from moulds of wounded body parts found in Russian and American morgues.

In addition, there's jewellery made from chocolate wrappers, 12 stunning felt hats based on chocolate desserts such as truffles, profiteroles and layer cake, and a film of a woman bathing in chocolate.

Despite a minimum of advance publicity, the exhibition has generated so much interest that television and radio producers are queuing up to do features on it and a fortnight of 40-minute schools' workshops are already fully booked.

Curator Laura Hamilton says: "The show is really cross-curricular as far as the 5-14 guidelines are concerned, because it takes in geography, history, art and design.

"For schools that have booked a workshop, I'll be giving them a quick tour of the art works, then we'll cook up an original spicy chocolate drink for them to try - because it was first drunk rather than eaten - followed by a taste comparison of three different types of chocolate and a chance to think up their own brand name for a new chocolate bar and design a wrapper.

"Schools who don't book can still come along to the exhibition and try the chocolate drink, do the comparison test and have a go at the design work. In addition, there is a work pack for any teacher who visits, with fact sheets about the history of chocolate and so on."

It's no wonder that the Collins show has excited so much interest. According to statistics, we're a nation of chocaholics with 90 per cent of the UK population consuming over quarter of a pound a week. Women are said to have the most complicated relationship with chocolate, overlaying their eating with feelings of, or worries about, greed, guilt and weight gain, whereas men seem more able to buy a bar of chocolate, scoff it and forget about it.

"More or less the full range of chocolate-related issues have been addressed by the artists in this show," says Laura Hamilton, "from politics to health to sex and some you'd never have thought of. But there is nothing overtly offensive. Although the exhibition will provide much `food for thought', it can be enjoyed on a superficial level as well as a more profound one by all sorts and ages of people."

As for those chocolates I received: reader, I ate them.

For further information, tel: 0141-553 4145

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