Li-Ming Hu is an interdisciplinary artist who employs a carnivalesque sensibility, to explore the relationships between cultural production and the construction of subjectivities.
by ELIZABETH DALEY
November 11, 2010
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Mice perch atop a cake, sickening with gluttony, as it collapses from their feasting. A mallet strikes a glass jar of yellow paint. A pyramid of Ivory soap is subjected to the dissolving effects of water, and patrons pick up guitars, smashing them against the wall. In a world in which art is often prized for its durability, increasing in value with age, “The Self-Destructing Art Show” at the Flux Factory in Long Island City takes on a particular challenge: construct something meant to ruin itself in three weeks.
Curators Jean Barberis and Georgia Muenster were inspired by a 1960 exhibition, “Homage to New York” in which the artist Jean Tinguely invited 250 guests to the Museum of Modern Art 50 years ago to watch as his eight-meter sculpture — made from city refuse including wheels, a bathtub, a go-cart, a piano, bottles, fire extinguishers and a weather balloon — committed suicide by sawing, hammering and melting itself to bits. A firefighter eventually put an end to the mayhem. According to Muenster, Tinguely’s piece failed to entirely destruct, so the crowd picked it apart, taking souvenirs from the smoking rubble. Apparently, making something built for ruin is not as simple as it would seem.
It takes centuries for plastic to decay, and it will be 100 years before a soda can returns to its original state.
In a world of permanence, the temporary becomes novel. “It adds preciousness to it to have it be ephemeral, because you really have to be there, rather than something you can have and it just collects dust” said Brendan Coyle, creator of the melting “Soap Pyramid.” “That being said, I am making a permanent piece of out of dust that will hopefully collect more dust,” the artist said in all seriousness.
Inside its kiddie pool, Coyle’s soap sculpture will dissolve to reveal a further structure inside over time. Muenster said many artists “leapt at the chance to make things that would fall apart,” but that it did “take a very certain type of person to be able to watch their artwork go up in flames.” Some of the pieces are meant to erode slowly, while others will meet a more immediate end.
John Roach’s “The Sweet Sound of Self-Destruction” focused on musicians driven to their own demise in an installation set up to resemble a motel room. Ash falls upon a record playing in the installation, destroying the original sound and altering it.
Artist Dana Sherwood tackled self-destruction from a literal and cultural perspective, housing six white mice in a hollow white cake made of mouse food and shaped like the New York Stock Exchange. A crowd gathered, watching as the mice slowly ate themselves into seemingly dangerous states. Sherwood said she decided to make a NYSE-shaped dessert because she wanted to explore “what happens when there is no restraint.” The cake began to collapse like the stock market, while two of the mice, chubby bankers munching on the fondant, looked ill from the endeavor. “The mice don’t know when to say no,” Sherwood said. “They ate their way out in 20 minutes.” Sherwood’s piece was as disturbing to some spectators as it was fascinating. Watching the mice eating while mingled with their own refuse, fur sticky with food, one could not help but wonder why they persisted in their gluttony — a reflection that was quickly turned inward as I thought of my own negative behavior patterns. I felt my self destructing! Step back even further, and life at its essence is a self-destructive, decaying process.
For artists Kerry Downey and Claudia Salinas, self-destruction is as conceptual as it is literal. Their video installation “Yesterday, Once More” wasn’t supposed to self- destruct, but perhaps taking its cue from the rest of the show, the projector broke on opening night. The video featured images of domesticity thrown into disarray. Downey said she and Salinas were trying to focus on self- destruction from an emotional and feminist perspective. To Downey, the crash and burn aesthetic exemplified in many other pieces in the show represented a less-subtle masculine mode of annihilation. “Self-destruction has to be more conceptual. It has to be the things that are conjured up in one’s mind when looking at the piece — it’s about loss,” Downey explained.