Turning Ten: Shannon Gillette Discusses our Birthday Piñata

Posted by Drake, February 20, 2014
Behind the glass: Shannon Gillette's Drake Turns Ten Piñata.

Behind the glass: Shannon Gillette's Drake Turns Ten Piñata.

The piñata has forever been a familiar birthday party game. In 16th century Mexico, the blindfolded faithful would hit a clay pot filled with colorful feathers, allegorically beating at their struggle with temptation and evil. (Today, this would be akin to binge-watching the second season of House of Cards, or indulging in a slice of chocolate mousse cake.) Piñatas, for all their outlandish, paper mache glory, represent a celebration of life, with fallen treasures of candies, gift cards, and maybe even a couple Come As Your Are vibrators.

Those are just some of the treats that may or may not be included in the Drake’s birthday cake piñata. Currently sitting in the hotel’s front vestibule, it will be struck at precisely 10:10pm in our front lobby during our #DrakeTurns10 festivities tonight.

Drake Hotel curator Mia Nielsen commissioned Montreal-based artist Shannon Gillette to create the six-feet tall confectionary sculpture. Shortly after a last-minute touch-up of the cake-topper — a replica of our Evan Penny sculpture — on-site earlier this week, Gillette spoke with assistant art curator Rea McNamara on the story behind the pinata’s tiered layers, and the nuts of bolts of constructing a piñata.

Rea McNamara: First off, can you give us the pleasure of a guided tour of your piñata cake?

Shannon Gillette: Well, it’s a cake that’s dedicated to the Drake, so I tried to encompass all the different elements. The bottom layer is a cityscape of Toronto, the next layer is disco, representing the dance and nightlife aspect of the Drake. The next level is martini glasses for drinking, the hamburger for the restaurant, and then ten candles, and then a replica of the Evan Penny sculpture you own as a homage to the space.

RM: How did you come into working with the piñata form?

SG: I made a Death Star for a friend’s birthday, and then just decided that that was what I was doing from now on.

RM: What’s meaningful for you about the piñata?

SG: The process and materials. I usually do them in plastic, sometimes paper mache, but usually plaster. I just working with the material. It’s a puzzle every time. Figuring out the shape, because it’s always something new, and I always think to myself, how am I going to make this? Because it’s not a repeated shape that I can just keep making. So each time it’s a puzzle, and something interesting to figure out.

RM: What sort of troubleshooting was involved with this particular piñata?

SG: Well, the scale, for one. I haven’t done something six feet tall before, so structurally, I had to reinforce things so the hanging was in place.

RM: What do you find to be a gratifying moment of the piñata process?

SG: I think the final product when you give it to the person. Or even watching the smashing, which I generally don’t get to watch. That’s fun too. It’s such a weird visual: people are all excited, and ooh-aing and aah-ing, and you know, that’s kind of fun.

RM: In some ways, you seem protective in not seeing it.

SG: Totally!

RM: Your last memory will always be this pristine object.

SG: Yeah. But sometimes people don’t smash them. One time I made a dog for my friend, and she still has it. It has candy inside of it, so I’m assuming it’s rotten now. She’ll bring it out for parties, and it’ll just sit on the table. So that’s kind of cool when they aren’t smashed. Before, I used to feel kind of sad … you’re like a chef, you know; you make these beautiful things, and that’s it. It’s so momentary and present at the time, and then, it’s gone.

Posted in: Art

Tags: artistinresidence  fivequestions  Piñata  Shannon Gillette