( note: This essay needs to be updated and will be undergoing some transformations. If you want to edit, go for it. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org)
“I am sick of thinking. I am sick and tired of thinking. I want my work to be more like a vomit than a rumination. I just want to go ‘Blah!’. Or ‘Woosh!’”
We live in a society where desire is programed through behaviorly-persuasive forces to participate in extreme consumption.We mass consume reproductions of technology, information, food, fashion, art, drugs, images, objects, music, films, television etc. Post-modern art cannot be separated from this consumption and thus can be considered a product of consumerist social conditioning. If we are living in a post-modern consumerist society, post-consumption can be read as the next movement but also part of a continuous cycle. A constant cycle in which artists binge and purge as a key part of a creative process and production. As our consumerism is often driven by provocative and visual stimulation, whether through advertisement or our own desire; it is only appropriate that an critical examination such as this be provocatively visceral and raise issues of desire as well. As Nicholas Bourriaud writes in ‘Postproduction’: “Global culture today is a giant anamnesis’, bloated with repeated concepts and tropes. In such a space, what is left to do but spit, vomit, puke, purge.
The ‘Post-Consumption’ exhibition consists of the ‘Sick Film’ series by British artist Martin Creed and the ‘Post Consumer’ photographic series by Polish artist, Natalia Lach-Lachowicz. Ayden Gallery acts as the location of the exhibition due to it’s placement in a major institution of consumption and spectacle; the International Village Mall. The juxtaposition of Creed’s ‘Sick film(s)’ against Natalia Lach-Lachowicz’s ‘Post Consumer’ series creates a dynamic dialogue for a new consideration of our current globalized reality. In our contemporary environment the audience can utilized these works to
consider what is after consumerism and the post-modern existence of collection. These works also contrast against the current themes of food and plenty that have been populating the art spheres; such as communal consumption of excess in Jennifer Rubell’s food installations.
In a sense, this piece of writing (along with every other written word) is nothing more than a regurgitation of learned concepts, ideas and ideologies. As Roland Barthes explains in his essay “Death of the Author”, each book consists of “multiple writings, proceeding from several cultures and entering into dialogue, into parody, into protest”. Post-modern art can also be seen through this lens because what is the current focus of artistic creation, but a purge of pastiche, experience and acquired knowledge? This can be considered true in our current place in time and space (western culture) more than ever before in history, due to our instant-gradificational mindset and the plenitude of objects and information. These works are unlike outright activist art such as Chris Jordan’s photographic series of critiques of mass-consumption in that they allow room for the viewer. My interest is not to present this exhibition as a problem or a solution but as an anti-poetic notion of the current state of contemporary art. To cause an interruption, even a brief reconsideration would allow for a space; for a digestion of concepts that are not spoon-fed or candy covered.
Martin Creed’s ‘Sick Film(s)’ can be viewed as a record of an experience of an extreme moment of “a’ l’etat brut”, which Marcel Duchamp describes in his essay ‘The Creative Act’ as a “subjective mechanism which produces art in the raw state” which is later refined by the viewer. Through the audience, the films of students performing self-induced vomiting transforms from a documentation of purging (or a ‘body doc’) to a prismatic experience in which the viewers reaction contains much more meaning than the art object or screen. Creed’s ‘Sick Film(s)’ include ‘Work No. 503’, ‘Work No. 610’ and ‘Work No.583’ and appear on television sets; a common vehicle of consumption which allows the work to play with the binaries of public and private space.
The use of the body is key to both Martin Creed and Natalia Lach-Lachowicz’s works and
function as a platform to connect the audience to the experiences of the art objects. Nancy Spector explains that “the body blatantly displays itself as a communicative vessel”, in her essay ‘Subtle Bodies’, although unlike the works featured in Spector’s essay, ‘Post-Consumption’ is purposefully explicit. Natalia Lach-Lachowicz’s ‘Post Consumer’ series can be read as a more accessible less extreme version of Creed’s; more of a spit up than a full regurgitation. This distinction can be likened to the watering down of art concepts for the mass audience of consumers. This idea is repeated by the choice of photography as a medium and the subject of the young female model. Yet the works are less intrusive than Creed’s; the model acknowledges the camera and seems to be teasing the viewer. ‘Post Consumer’ can be viewed as having a push-pull effect that is almost pornographic in it’s voyeuristic fetishism involved in the act of regurgitation.
If Piero Manzoni’s cans of “Merda d’artista” (Artist’s shit) linked excrement with artistic production and the artists body in 1961 (modern); Martin Creed’s sick films and Natalia Lach- Lachowicz ‘Post consumer” photographs can be seen as a symbol of artistic production in the post- modern now. The artists do not use their own bodily fluids or bodies, and both works use a screen between the work and the viewer. Manzoni was offering up his own body as an artwork, juxtaposed against the works of Creed and Lach-Lachowicz, the viewer can see that the artists are twice removed and their identity has lost importance. Bourriaud states: “We are creating time readymades, no longer out of daily objects but out of objects that are part of our culture”, and in this case, human bodies objectified into symbols are gleaned from the concept of representation in the public and commercial sphere. In this way these works also differentiate themselves from the naive “puke art” of Lance Ozanix; a contemporary painter who regurgitates a paint mixture onto canvas in a very literal gesture of abstract expressionism.
Vomiting or regurgitation can also be read as a replacement of the excremental trope used in art and literature. Joshua Etsy explains this trope in ‘Excremental Postcolonialism’ as the concept of: “shit
act[ing]… as a material sign of underdevelopment; as a symbol of excessive consumption; as an image of wasted political energies”. If shit can be read as a symbol of a colonial excuse to move into “unkept” developing space, than the vomit trope or post-consumption can also be read as a symbol of western excess. This excess is separate from the excremental trope in that it is less concerned with having and keeping and is privileging novelty in repeated and remixed concepts. In a reflection of the socio- economic obsession with consumption, the contemporary art world is always hungry for the new; for more. Perhaps to appease this desires the artists have developed a case of creational bulimia nervosa; always aware of the pressures of novelty from the commercial realm.
An example of this obsessive consumption can be found in the character of Mr. Creosole in “Monty Python’s the Meaning of Life” made in 1983. He can be read as a satirical stereotype of the unquenchable desires of the bourgeois and thus the commercialization of art. Mr. Creosole is a morbidly obese man who arrives at an upscale restaurant and commences bingeing on a huge quantity of food and then vomiting and eating and vomiting. He eventually explodes after consuming one bite too much and his emptied body is presented the check. This skit can be examined as a metaphor of capitalism in the art world but also shows an extreme of post-consumption; a cautionary tale of the pitfalls of gluttony and desire. When applied to the collection and representation of ideas and images one wonders: when will we explode?
* I have avoided the term “shock art” and “the obscene” throughout this piece of writing purposefully because of the outdated ideologies behind the terms. With an excess amount of information comes a desensitization and with it “shock art” and “obscenity” become obsolete concepts.
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