Great Deeds Against The Dead by Jake and Dinos Chapman (1994)
Jake and Dinos Chapman lie awake at night, dreaming up a nation’s nightmares. Exiled in a self-made world of teen boy gross-out contests, the brothers constantly up the ante on doom through a never-ending source of DIY special effects. It’s the plausibility of it all which makes it so effective. The Chapmans’ reflect contemporary thought by taking the headlines to their ultimate conclusion: genetic modification, nuclear war, cultural holocaust, anti-capitalism. The most disturbing thing about the Chapmans isn’t the violence, or the cynicism, or the outright perverted: it’s the looming question of What If?
The Chapmans’ sculptures of mutated children are possible by-products of gene tampering, nuclear spills, or cloning experiments gone horribly awry. Whatever the evil, it’s not the children’s’ fault: they’re placid, angelic creatures who seem to take no notice that they have 4 legs, or 12 heads, or genitals for a face. If they’re disturbing, that’s the viewer’s hang-up. The children themselves seem to relish their strange beauty, know that they’re one-of-a-kinds: each one having been made by hand in the artists’ studio.
Zygotic acceleration, biogenetic, de-sublimated libidinal model
In Zygotic acceleration, the Chapman’s take aim at the world of advertising. A team of pre-teen ‘girls’ osmose in a bizarre, sexualised fashion orgy. Their genital-less bodies melt into each other, creating a single hermaphroditic torso. This is the world of department store mannequins: gracefully posed, glossy and dead. All similar, but inherently unique, their faces (some angelic, others distorted like porn blow up dolls) read like a celebration of image-marketing and globalism, pointing to an underlying corruption: this piece uses the same moralistic strategies of a Benetton poster. Black Fila sneakers suggest they’re perhaps a death squad.
Tragic Anatomies is an artificial Eden constructed from Astroturf and catalogue-order plastic plants, populated by conjoined nymphs designed for the sole purpose of onanistic gratification. This isn’t Hironymous Bosch does Genesis, but rather two men dreaming up the beginning of the world as they would have preferred it.
Great Deeds Of The Dead
It’s hardly surprising that the Chapmans would choose as their mentor the 19th century Spanish painter Francesco Goya: the great chronicler of the Peninsular War, whose works became progressively tortured through his dementia-infused demise from syphilis. Great Deeds is a sculptural interpretation of one of Goya’s etchings: a life-sized hanging tree, hung with dismembered mannequins. The Chapmans’ literally play with history: they remake it in plastic. Like a big toy.
Disasters Of War
Goya’s Disasters Of War etchings capture every horror imaginable, they show a real-life hell on earth in a modern era. The Chapmans’ versions of these works are true to every detail: hand tinted etchings, they have an historical authenticity, and a certain stylistic semblance. The Chapman’s, however, recreate their Disasters Of War in high-school-drop-out style. Delinquently scratched like toilet stall graffiti, their images are comic depictions of terror, reminiscent of heavy metal album covers.
Comprised of 9 giant terrariums laid out in the shape of a swastika, the Chapmans’ Hell is a hobbyists’ Apocalypse Now. Taking 2 years to make, hundreds of tiny trees and rocks purchased from model shops make up perfectly miniaturised landscapes inhabited by over 5000 figures (each one cast and hand painted). This could be Verdun, or Vietnam, or somewhere a lot closer to home. It’s a lad’s war game learned from movies and Xbox. By reconstructing hell in miniature, they replicate the detached experience of watching real evil through the compact window of a television screen. The Chapmans place the viewer in the position of ruthless gods, looking on with awe and wonder at the destruction they’ve willed.
The Chapman Family Collection
The Great White Hunter story is the swarthy backbone of British lore. The Chapman Family Collection consists of 34 tribal fetishes, displayed in Victorian museum fashion in a classist piss-take. These totems are a 19thc. logoism of imperialism, trophies from the extermination of an ancient inferior race. More disturbing still: all these ju-jus oddly look like stuff from McDonald’s.
Exquisite Corpse is a series of 20 hand coloured etchings which show a clear division of labour, with the Chapmans taking it in turn to draw a half of each image, while the rest of the drawing is kept hidden. Their joint creations look like an illustrated mix from Greek mythology, giant insects, and monsters from Where The Wild Things Are. These etchings contain some of their most outrageous distortions but seem acceptable because they are based on a game.
Talk about a face only a mother could love! (No, the Chapman’s aren’t taking the Oedipus Complex to a whole new level!) Fuck Face is a horrible parody of the terrible twos – a sweet toddler turned repulsive monster. If it wasn’t for his unfortunate birth defect he’d be as loveable as Ron Mueck’s Pinocchio, instead he’s just a horrible little prick with a shameless tell-tale ‘nose’.
Two Faced Cunt
Kids are just smaller versions of the adults they’ll become. Fuck Face will always be a dick; these pretty Siamese twins are already a Two Faced Cunt. It’s a psychology worn on the outside. In these two sculptures, the Chapman’s treat genitalia as a sort of ‘branding’. Though innocent of their deformities, there’s a certainty that the kids some how fit their ‘label’. Whether it’s a trait that’s genetically inherent, or merely the children conforming to viewer expectations, everything you need to know about them is worn plainly on their faces. It’s hard not to imagine the politicians and ex-wives they’ll grow to be.