Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The Chapman Brothers in Hastings

This morning I drove to Hastings, listening to a woman taking about death. It was quite fitting, as I was on my way to see the Chapman Brothers' exhibition before it closes on Wednesday.

Jake and Dinos Chapman seem to have a knack of upsetting people. Their Facebook page includes the following comments:
  • "You guys are disgusting! Your work is coming from minds darkest places, you are doing anything to get fame. Shame on you both!" - Arash
  • "Prison is the only place you should be in! Shame you!" - Otta
Inspired by Bosch, Goya and the Holocaust, works like this excite strong feelings, from admiration to outrage:

I must be a bad person, as I admired the apocalyptic scenes of Nazi soldiers, skeletons and crucified Ronald McDonalds . I felt that the Chapmans' art had a clear moral purpose, compared to the lazy, sixth form humour of a work like Martin Creed's prize-winning 'The lights going on and off'.

Their art also made me laugh:

 Asked to explain the reason for the Ronald McDonalds, the Chapmans provided this explanation:

"We take McDonald’s as being a marker of the transformation from industrialisation to the end of the world. McDonald’s once represented the idealism of fast food and the space rest era. Now it’s consistent with the dilation of the ozone and a litigious clown who’s lost his sense of humour."

(Source - www.deliberation.info)

I'd always perceived the Chapmans as one-trick shock jockeys, gaining notoriety by deliberately picking the most contentious subjects. Visiting the exhibition made me revise my half-baked ideas, realising how much thought and hard graft had gone into their work.

In contrast to the horror and depravity of the Chapman Brothers' art, the De La Warr Pavillion in Bexhill is having an exhibition of art from the Ladybird books, beginning on January 24th. As a lifelong fan of Ladybird, I can't wait.


Lucille said...

Thank you for the advance notice about the Ladybird exhibition. I look forward to your review. I think I have missed the Chapman Brothers.

Roger Allen said...

If you can find it- I can't; it keeps being suppressed- Lynn Barber's interview with the Chapman brothers is one of the funniest I have read

Brian Busby said...

I can't imagine I'm alone in thinking that your own work should be included in the Ladybird exhibition. 'The Ladybird Book of the Recession' and 'The Idyllic World of Peter and Jane' rate amongst the very best blog posts - yours or anyones - I've ever read.

David said...

Having, as a child, spent many hours painting Airfix toy soldiers, I think the amount of work that must go into an exhibition like that is simply staggering.

I had heard about the Ladybird exhibition, I might even come down to see it if the trains work...

Steerforth said...

Lucile - There's still tomorrow (Wednesday), I believe.

Roger - I've tried to find it, but haven't had any luck. Lynn Barber's always good value for money, so I can imagine how entertaining it must have been. I'll keep looking.

Brian - That's very kind of you. I enjoyed doing them and Ladybird were very good-humoured about the whole thing, which was a relief, as I'd naively assumed that they wouldn't see them.

David - It really is staggering. There are literally thousands of models, including a breathtaking, two foot high pile of bodies clambering over each other. Whether you like the art or loathe it, it's hard not admire the sheer hard work that has gone into it.

George said...

There was an embarrassingly bad short silent (but colored) film that used a clown Christ figure, and was sometimes inflicted on Catholic teenagers in the 1970s. Those showing it somehow imagined it to be deep and thought provoking. I wonder whether the Chapman Brothers ever saw it.

If I haven't asked this already, how does one dilate ozone, or is that just them playing dumb, along with "space rest" for "space race"?

gabrielle daly said...

The Chapmans are almost too good to be true. Even their Wikipedia entry seems to be having a go a them.

As for your Ladybird pic, do you know the correct name for those cans the boy is walking on? My sisters made them out of old baked bean cans and called them 'dibbenstrutters'.

Steerforth said...

George - I was wondering the same thing. Surely they mean the "space age", when many of us assumed that we'd be taking our holidays on the moon by now. As for 'dilation', I suppose they mean the hole in the ozone layer. In spite of this, it was one of the more articulate answers I've read by a contemporary artist.

Gabrielle - "Dibbenstrutters" is a wonderful word. I must admit, I hadn't come across this novel use of tins before - I now feel quite deprived.

Dale said...

Are you sure that wasn't spelled "de bean strutters" Gabrielle? (only joking)

We just called them "stilts".

You could restring them for use as telephones, too.

It's wonderful the toys we improvised in the days when the British toy industry was still on the ropes from the War, and the Far East had not yet discovered its toy mojo.
Eleven of us there were, living in this hole in the ground.....

Canadian Chickadee said...

I have an idea the Ladybird art collection would appeal to me more than the Chapman's "art." I've never really seen the point of glorifying the ugly and the base. Some things are simply best left unseen., though I realise I am probably in the minority here.

zmkc said...

I find that first image really offensive if it depicts Auschwitz or some other such place - on a telephone screen it's hard to see. Today of all days I would not advocate any kind of suppression of such work but I can't see it's worth. Is it depicting what I think it is? If so, is it really reasonable to conflate the most unspeakable act up till that time enacted by human beings and a multinational company that makes fairly disgusting food? I'm struggling but perhaps it's just bad eyesight and a lousy teleohone that's the problem

Steerforth said...

Dale - I tried the cans as telephones trick. I have to say, I always found it rather disappointing, but I suspect that my expectations were unrealistic. I had similar feelings about blow football.

Carole - It depends what you want from art - should it shy away from the uglier side of human nature? I think there's a place for everything and I like something that makes me sit up and question my reaction to the point where I still don't know what I think about it.

I can't say that I'd have the Chapman Brothers' work in my home (other than for financial reasons), but for a gallery visit, it's certainly far from dull and far more interesting than a pile of bricks or a urinal.

Zoe - I don't think it's a depiction of Auschwitz or an attempt to conflate the Nazis with the fast food industry (I certainly hope not!), but simply an attempt to confront the audience with the darker side of humanity. I'd always vaguely disliked the Chapmans from the articles I'd read, regarding them as a glib, postmodern novelty act, but seeing the work made me think again. The amount of effort that went into the dioramas is staggering and to my surprise, I found something compelling in their dark vision.

Canadian Chickadee said...

We recently visited an exhibit at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, showing a pile of what-shall-I-call-it? rubble, to simulate the type and variety of objects found in the wake of the tsunami in Japan a couple of years ago. Horribly depressing. I didn't need to be reminded that things were terrible when the tsunami and earthquake hit Fukashima. It made me feel a little sick, and I couldn't wait to get out of there.

Steerforth said...

Carol - I think that's the right reaction. I hope that most people felt the same way about the artwork, rather than viewing it dispassionately.

It's interesting how differently we can react to exhibitions and museums. We all bring our unique emotional baggage with us and I enjoy trying to work out why I feel a certain way about a particular place.

I think my most disarming experince was in the Anne Frank Museum, where I suddenly found myself in tears amongst a group of strangers, which was rather embarrassing. I wasn't expecting to react like that, as I already knew her story. You could say that it was simply a natural response to a tragic event, but why was I the only person who had lost their composure?

I can't say that any work of art has had a similar effect, but I still find myself being disarmed by my strength (or lack) of feeling sometimes.

Canadian Chickadee said...

I do understand, Steerforth. I felt exactly the same way at the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. I'd read so much history about the war, and didn't expect it to affect me so much. Yet, the weight of sadness, and the thought of all the young men who died there completely overwhelmed me. My sister-in-law said she felt exactly the same way at Culloden. It's as if the very earth/stones/water were steeped in blood and sadness. I think I'd worry if someone WASN'T moved by such a scene. Hugs, Carol

zmkc said...

While emphasising again that they should be allowed to make whatever they want, the co- opting of the deeply poignant image of Christ on the Cross seems pointless, a cowardly target, designed to shock in a puerile way. I suppose they'd make reference to idiot fundamentalists and evangelicals but what an easy target to use to offend - and what is the point in setting out to offend anyway? They are very old to be enfants terribles.Apologise for sense of humour failure

Kid said...

I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that the 'explanation' for the use of Ronald McDonald figures was thought up some time after the creation of the piece (maybe even in direct response to the question), rather than being the reason behind its origin. (As are so many answers to what motivated or inspired someone to do something.)

Steerforth said...

Zoe - In the art world, you're never too old to be an enfant terrible. But frankly, I just like anything with toy soldiers.

Kid - Too true. I suppose it doesn't help that the public are always asking creative artists what things mean.

Dale said...

That reminds me of the maxim that it's never to late to have a happy childhood.

That's the rule I'm living by - in my case, a second one!

The Poet Laura-eate said...

I'll be there re the Ladybird exhibition!