The Sum of All Evil: solo exhibition with Jake & Dinos Chapman
White Cube Hong Kong (50 Connaught Road, Central, Hong Kong). May 22, 2013 – Aug 31, 2013
(See also: Jake & Dinos Chapman 1 – Corpse Love by Travis Jeppesen)
Hitler’s bodyguard died recently. Rochus Misch was 96. He said Hitler was “a very normal man” and “He was no brute. He was no monster. He was no superman.” What a relief for Jews, Russians, gays, gypsies, and social democrats, to name a few.
The tens of millions of victims of violent autocrats in the 20th Century – in Germany, the Soviet Union, Korea, China, Cambodia, Burma, Chile, former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda – can now be neatly tabled in history textbooks and Wikipedia footnotes, fondly recalled by former servants and monstrosity filtered through monstrous parody in third-rate films like “Iron Sky” (2012). Calling these criminals monsters allows a distancing, a separation from experience, memory and what we optimistically take for “human”. But it is also the beginning of blindness, seemingly willed—the conversion of real acts into childish parable. Good night! Sleep tight! Don’t let the Hitler bug bite!
“Notions of beauty conceal the nature of the world.” (Jake Chapman)
So here we are with Jake & Dinos Chapman’s (in)famous “The Sum of All Evil”, installed in White Cube’s Hong Kong gallery. Visitors gobble up the scene—fingerprints and snot smear the four vitrines, arranged in a form evocative of the Nazi swastika and literally, in profile, “a cross-section” of the blood bacchanalia, a slab of soil supported by anachronistic trestles and surmounted by an icing of Nazi zombies in a wasteland, fucking and killing everything. In fact, here fucking and killing are the same. It recalls the vitrines of Joseph Beuys but even more the dioramas of obsessive miniature railway enthusiasts (inevitably middle-aged white men) creating old fashioned bucolic utopias for their toy trains to chug around. And the God-modeler himself stands in one corner, naked below the waste, his penis peeking out from steel wool pubes. His legs are covered in pin-like hairs—a hobbyist Saint Sebastian. He has spent years perfecting the scene means and has suffered for his sacrifices.
So let’s look: so many writhing bods inflicting all sorts of dementedly inventive tortures on one another. They can’t stop. It’s endless. War may be hell but here hell and war are mundane, endlessly recycling. Pain is irrelevant because it is no longer relative. And we are but visitors, easily distracted, prone to boredom, possibly already thinking about lunch.
Which is okay because Ronald McDonald is there too (along with Hitler), serving up cheesy kids burgers with his marketing pals in that hokum old-style McDonald’s restaurant, made for mass-production and the masses (apparently modeled on the brother’s former local in Old Kent Road, London). He’s been a grumpy, litigious clown in recent years, more enviro-mental than enviro-friendly.
“Pathos is death driven. Underlying all the great works of art is death” (Jake Chapman)
“The Sum of all Evil” is informed by German Expressionism, especially George Grosz, but it gestures beyond expression. As Jake Chapman said at the press conference, they’re interested in “what happens when representation begins to collapse on itself.” That is, when there is an excess of representation, when we’re fully addicted, mainlining death, and can no longer separate self-realization and self-medication, when reality and its imagos fuse.
These little men—always men—are not alone, particularly in Asia. Think too of Do Ho Suh’s crushed multitudes, Shen Shaomin’s soldiers relaxing in the Tiananmen “wellness” resort, and Zhou Xiaohu’s Claymation cadres. But of course the principal role model is Swift’s Gulliver on his metaphoric safari. The point here is perspective. For all the nihilism of the Chapman’s depictions, the sublime excess, raw and greedy, everything is contained. Even the Gulliver-God is exposed, not aroused; cut-off, not revered; repellent, not charismatic. We can gawp and turn away, the scene safely quarantined, save for certain errant leaks, including from Syria.
The exhibition is supported by a number of smaller dioramas but the counterpoint, if one was even necessary, is the few reworked portraits, ruinous antique amateur daubs rescued, restored, revived by J&D’s special facial treatments, defacements that raise the anonymous to the unique, adding superficiality by revealing the corruption beneath. It’s almost penitent. And it’s a true momento mori, because you do think on death but with the promise of resurrection.
So if at first the pleasures of the exhibition seem hackneyed and glib, then that alone should demand we look closer, because if this is cliché then reality is more bizarre than ever we allowed ourselves to fear. Except occasionally, but we prefer not to think about that, except (increasingly) in clichés.