The Disney juggernaut has long held a contested place within Western consumer culture, serving on the one hand as a promulgator of mainstream liberal ideologies and on the other as a force that both appropriates and flattens the cultural artefacts it consumes. As such, both in its tropes and also in its cultural function, it serves as a powerful metaphor for a hyper-globalised, hyper-consumer homogeneity that came to be viewed for a time after the end of the Cold War as the ultimate sociopolitical end-state, Fukuyama’s famous (and, as it turns out, ironic) ‘end of history’.
Undead Dreams (2020) is a genre-defying mixed media diptych, created in remote collaboration with Pipsinella via digital ‘messages-in-a-bottle’ as well as via the shared ‘isolation-in-common’ of coronavirus lockdown. In it, the artists give a trenchant response to the pandemic that draws on cinematic tropes from Disney and Hammer Horror, anticapitalist urban graffiti art, and themes from millenarian movements both old and new.
The works draw on the schlock visuals of Hammer Horror, Troma and Peter Jackson as well as the gothic iconography of Mary Shelley and the millenarian imagination of seventeenth-century England, itself rooted in the Book of Revelation. These allusions are juxtaposed with artefacts and materials that are either disposable or evanescent to evoke the fleeting nature both of ‘civilisation’ as we know it and also of the apocalyptic fantasies with which we both deny and dream about its ending.
In Meurt Maid In China, a plastic ‘paint your own’ figurine depicting the ‘mermaid’ princess from the Disney film is rendered in crude, jarring colours evoking a post-apocalyptic hellscape in which the superficial glitter of our throwaway consumer culture has faded, leaving only restless hunger and keening loss. In a plague-convulsed world where any division between hyperconsumer globalism and its cinematic metaphor, the infectious zombie apocalypse, seems to have collapsed, Meurt Maid expresses both a mourning for the previously entrancing surface of the ‘dream’ and also the frightening hunger beneath its surface.
Meurt Maid In China (2020)
In Frozen, an orb of pure water was frozen, then treated with salt and pigment to create a slowly-disintegrating ‘heart’ whose inner workings only become apparent as it evanesces. But unlike the redemptive melting of the heart in the eponymous film, this ‘heart’ becomes less lifelike as it melts, returning by degrees to something abstract, unknowable and serene.
Is Meurt Maid an ironic commentary on the fragility of a world where landfill groans with disposable merchandise aimed at innocent children? Or a lament for the days when we believed, with Clinton, that the spread of consumer capitalism worldwide would inevitably result in the adoption of global liberal democracy? Does Frozen despair at the futility of thawing a frozen ‘heart’ that will be revealed as containing nothing warm or loving, or rejoice in the otherness of the artefact as it changes? At turns transient, ironic, plaintive, disturbing and beautiful, this work asks more questions than it answers – a fitting evocation of the times we live in.