The Girl Who Ate Harvard

This is not a metaphor—she actually eats concrete. Sometimes with corn syrup.

If you are what you eat, Emily Katrencik is the Carpenter Center.

While a graduate student in Visual Studies at MIT, Katrencik used the headquarters of Visual and Environmental Studies for her thesis, “Architecture: Consuming that which consumes.” The interactive study explores how an invididual can defy the contraints of architecture in modern society—by eating it.

Katrencik started her project in 1999. “One night I went to the Carpenter Center and began to eat it,” she said in an interview for an exhibit at Artists Space in New York City this past summer. “I sanded the edges with a rough sand paper, catching the dust in my hand and then licking it from my palm.” Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.

Katrencik’s idea was born in the 1990s, when she saw the furnaces in her hometown of Pittsburgh being torn down and replaced with strip malls. Unnerved by the creeping consumerism that she sees as a “consumption” of people, Katrencik decided to fight against architecture’s role in this movement.

She has taken her project beyond the Carpenter Center, most recently to a New York City gallery. There, she spent 41 days consuming 1.956 inches of sheet rock a day from a section of the wall between her living space and the gallery.

Katrencik, who could not be reached for direct comment, likes to share her culinary experience, encouraging her audience to “take an active position towards architecture” by consuming it. While showing her work at the Carpenter Center in 2000, Katrencik made lollipops of sugar, corn syrup, and concrete, and in her recent project, she presented visitors with bread containing minerals from the sheet rock.

Maybe the spoonful of sugar helped the concrete go down.