Archive for June 18th, 2008

Fucking Hell

June 18, 2008

Fucking Hell

I don’t usually leave the confines of my hovel, unless it’s to buy milk or biscuits. Despite my better judgement, I made the effort to visit the White Cube gallery in London’s glamorous Piccadilly last Saturday in order to see Jake and Dinos Chapmans’ ‘Fucking Hell’. The next room housed their ‘If Hitler Had Been A Hippy How Happy Would He Be?’ It’s the former I’ll attempt to review, as the latter was shit.

So – ‘Fucking Hell’. Firstly – the gallery was crammed – which is always bloody irritating. Trying to poke your head through a couple of haircuts to catch a glimpse isn’t at one with the essential nature of art, surely? You’re meant to be free to contemplate, getting all pensive about the work in front of you and coming to glorious conclusions about the nature of everything.

That’s not possible when you’re getting irritated by the prick with the bad breath and the clear-framed media spectacles whose babbling on like a twit about contextual continuity to his exotically ugly bird. But that’s not really the Chapman’s fault. They need to make The White Cube a bit more oblong to house the ponces who inhabit it.

The nine cases display a vision of hell on an epic, yet miniature scale. The detail is inescapable immediately upon setting your eyes on it. A lot of work has gone into the placement of the figures and the fine tuning involved in painting them. With every slight eye movement there’s a new scenario, set up solely to shock. Skeletal Nazi stormtroopers float on a raft with smiley face paint daubed on them. Stephen Hawking sits in a military wheelchair for no apparent reason. Severed heads on sticks protrude from the ground a countless number of times. Pigs seem to shit out the dead whilst eating severed limbs. Figures wander the terrain with skin half flogged off. Crucifixes hang deformed weird humanoid creatures with multiple heads. Peek through a broken window and bizarre Nazi experiments are being carried out, just a little too far away to be distinct. A factory appears to be fashioning numerous Hitlers from a collection of torn off arms and legs.

It’s all quite horrifying.

But once you’ve seen the first box, all of which are arranged in a swastika formation, you’ve kind of seen them all. The extent of the destruction and plasticated violence becomes irrelevant, serving only to highlight how banal it all becomes. The violence is replicated to some extent – with cloned figures seeming to go through the motions by box nine. There are slight variations on location – a ruined building for one, a factory for another, a church – but the violence pretty much remains the same with minute changes from area to area. There are little touches – Hitler the painter with his easel and palette, the baptised baby with the moustached dictators head etc… that all force a smile, but beyond that it’s carnage for the sake of carnage.

Visiting only out of curiosity rather than to bore people in bars about how amazing I thought it all was, when it came to thinking through what this all actually meant, I could only come up with the following. Jake and Dinos Chapman make art to shock, first and foremost. The fact that they are masters of their craft makes their work entertaining, but in terms of its significance, very little is said here. They play with the shocking imagery of Nazi regalia haphazardly, with no real accuracy or thought. They scatter violence without prejudging the intelligence and sensitivity of the viewer and they make little visual gags among morbid scenes for their own amusement. It’s childish.

Having said that – it is an epic, brilliantly realised and painstakingly constructed immaturity. You can’t help but be impressed by the scale and craftmanship involved in making this nightmare unfold – not least when you consider the first version burnt to a melty pulp in a warehouse. I’m not sure if celebrating glee in the horrific is necessarily a good or a bad thing, but it passed a Saturday afternoon pleasingly enough.