Saturday, December 21, 2013

'Jake and Dinos Chapman: Come and See' at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery

Glistening viscera oozes from executed innocents.  SS Kommandos furiously fuck on a carpet of dismemberment.  Mengele-warped human perversions stagger through the chaos.  Driven mad by his mutilation a man screams in horror.  Skeletal, spear-wielding demons pursue escapees through the trash ridden forest.  Somewhere Ronald McDonald is screaming as he's subjected to unimaginably blasphemous indignities. In the corner Adolf Hitler proudly ejaculates on a heap of severed limbs.  Me?  I laugh and laugh and laugh.

I relish the point where horror tips into absurdity, it's in subtleties that true horror lies, so when I see something utterly bonkers mad crazy the only viable response is to giggle childishly.  That moment comes about three seconds into Come and See (named for Elim Klimov's 1985 movie), the Chapman brothers excellently barmy exhibition in the Serpentine Sackler Gallery. In a bestial taxidermy fucktrain, a fox bangs a hare bangs a rabbit bangs a rat bangs a mouse.  Silently regarding this interspecies orgy is a smiley-badged Klu Klux Klan member, rainbow hippie socks and birkenstocks peeking out from below his robe.

There's zero gradient and no brakes; everything at this packed exhibition having spilled fully formed from the depths of a deranged mind.  To criticise this collection for aiming for straightforward boneheaded shock value would be totally valid but then what's so bad about with shock value anyway?  I'd much rather be teased, jolted and poked than cosseted with coolly minimalist abstraction, able to walk out of an gallery safe in the knowledge that what I've seen slots neatly into a classy art 'experience'.

A series of Little Death Machines nicely summarises the Chapman brothers aesthetic; microscope-precise craftsmanship, beautiful materials and astonishing levels of attention to detail combined with an scatologically aggressive fuck-you philosophy.  There's no genuine anger behind this work, just the illusion of that it's been created by some childish, violently thrashing id-creature chained up in a dirty basement somewhere.  It's this conscious illusion that powers the show, which, for all the blood n guts is actually pretty lighthearted - if you're of a certain frame of mind.  Most illustrative of their philosophy is a machine sculpture whose focal point is a ceramic severed cock attached to a ersatz Sybian, below it a post-fucked brain (ours?) oozing a bilious cocktail of paint, semen and maggots.  

It all feels like an assault on classically bourgeois sensibilities.  Politely dull political preoccupations are challenged at every turn, the artists slyly getting us to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and mirror the poses of the KKK.  But of all their attacks on taste and taboo, the most successfully shocking arrow in their quiver is aimed right at art itself.  To deface an existing work, even a deeply crappy and inconsequential one, is an ultimate taboo - a liberal heresy on par with building a bonfire of books.  

The Chapman brothers defaced series of 19th century portraits is probably the only thing here that causes some genuine discomfort in the audience.  It's one thing to create something disgusting, yet quite another to destroy something beautiful in order to do it (even if it's a chintzy, pointless beauty).  As we stare at a portrait of a flaxen haired Georgian child frolicing with his dog in some dappled forest glade (probably now underneath a Morrison's car park) it's impossible not to imagine the original artist handing it over to the child's pleased-as-punch parents - happy that a glimmer of childhood innocence had been preserved for eternity.

This was a object once treasured, yet those to whom relevant have died - first the dog, then the parents, then the child - all now an equally dusty pile of forgotten bones.  So what the hell does this object mean to us? Should we keep it knocking around just because of crap sentimentalism?  Nope - this is once more a blank canvas and so the paragon of innocence finds his face rubbed out and replaced with a hell-pixie needle-teethed grimace, blood pouring down his cute waistcoat and britches.  Now it finally becomes something interesting; the spawn of a raped canvas.

Throughout the exhibition you hear muffled screams and snatches of industrial noise music coming from behind a curtain.  This is Fucking Hell, a film played within the Kino-Klub installation.  The cinema, pre-filled with the KKK attendees (it's interesting how quickly you begin ignoring these guys) is cosy and warm.  What's on screen isn't. It's warped sketch comedy closely mirroring the tone of Chris Morris' Jam.  Rhys Ifans stares on in horrified wonder as (in an echo of Takeshi Miike's Gozu) his wife gives birth, in slimy gynecological detail, to a fully-grown man, or David Thewlis teaches a vacuous life-drawing class with a two-headed model at the centre. There's a pleasant childish exuberance to this stuff, even as the creatures within frantically bleed and copulate with each other.

Despite this panoply of wonders, the obvious highlight is the intense dioramas of atrocity. It's Warhammer meets Bosch in a crackhouse, Where's Wally by way of de Sade, Iron Maiden crossed with Francis Bacon: thousands upon thousands of tiny flayed corpses stacked on top of each other, sprinkled with tortured killer whales, enslaved and debased McDonald's characters, hordes of slavering Nazis, lewdly fucking dinosaurs, moon landers pouring out more Nazis, men fucking severed heads and... and... it goes on!  It goes on beyond all rhyme and reason, the worst depravities enacted in tiny plastic figurines in infinite detail forever and ever.

There's a fractal level of detail, allowing you to take in an epic God's eye view of this swarm of ant-like, indistinct horrors and for you to crouch down and focus on the anger and rage of an individual figure as he tears the head from his blood-soaked companion.  It's easy to get caught up in the marvel of the construction, to wondering how long and how much focus something like this takes to create.  But for all the crimes against humanity in front of us, we don't feel horror.  We giggle at it like we laugh at an Itchy and Scratchy  cartoon, the guts being strewn over the landscape so grand-guignol that it immediately, irrevocably strays into the outrageously ridiculous.

Click for biiiiiig version (recommended)
Come and See functions as a release valve for the everyday tiny horrors we encounter - fly buzzing dogshit in a park field, a pool of cold vomit on a Saturday morning high-street or a mother slapping her child in the crisps aisle of Tesco.  If you don't develop a suit of psychic armour you're never going to get through this awful world without turning into a boring, angry little git. The Chapman brothers art allows you the experience of rubbing your nose through dogshit and laughing about it afterwards.  It's super-fab - everyone should check it out pronto.

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