Report from… Hastings, England
Jake & Dinos Chapman: ‘The Realm of the Unmentionable’ at the Jerwood Gallery
October 25, 2014 to January 7, 2015
Rock-a-Nore Road, Hastings, East Sussex
Just a few months after taking over London’s Serpentine Gallery, Jake and Dinos Chapman have another large-scale outing. The brothers spent their teenage years in Hastings, on the south coast, and most of The Realm of the Unmentionable is an enjoyably mischievous reprisal of the greatest hits you’d expect from the local boys made bad. That’s ideal for anaudience who may not have seen much of their work before. For those more familiar with it, the obvious focus is on the show’s relationship to place, and on the newer streams of work, which push forward the Chapmans’ interest in value, originality and fame in art.
It’s relevant that Hastings, which has important historical associations and was a fashionable tourist destination in the 19th Century, had become one of the least salubrious towns in the south of England by the 1980s: the Chapman view of existence, brutal to the point of satire, had to come from somewhere. Of less relevance is the fact that this author went to Hastings Grammar School, which became William Parker Comprehensive by the time the Chapmans attended. Appropriately there’s an Archive Cloud of 79 drawings, gathered in 2012 but dating back to school and college days and demonstrating that the Chapmans were just as juvenile when they were juveniles. The Sum of All Evil, 2012-13, is a version of the original Hell, destroyed in the MOMART art warehouse fire in 2004. It features not just thousands of individual figures at 35:1 scale, but also one god-like pair of feet at full human size, dressed in locally sourced rainbow socks. There are a couple of the brain machine sculptures, one expanded by the addition of three spectating mannequins from Hastings junk shops. Each member of this nuclear family holds a pair of eyeballs, as if to emphasise their failed striving for true vision, and the head of each contains a radio blaring out. The competing channels yield a cacophonous clash of cultures which infects the whole show. There’s also a new set of repurposed Victorian / Edwardian portrait paintings from the series One Day You Will No Longer Be Loved, 2014. Not significantly different for some of the originating canvases, these are again sourced locally. The show’s site specificity, then, is weak: we have work made in Hastings, and material sourced in Hastings. What we don’t have is any work about Hastings or explicitly derived from experiences in Hastings.
There are new works of known types. Sturm und Drang, 2014, a grotesque bronze version of an old Chapman favourite, Goya’s Great Deeds – Against the Dead; a naughty boy defacement of Los Caprichos, all phallically elongated noses and tongues; and hand-coloured etchings (Human Rainbow II, 2014) which exploit the imaginative use of rainbows in dark settings. There re also new examples of Living with Dead Art, 2014: small views of designer interiors featuring classic masterpieces alongside the Chapmans’ own work; Twombly and sex dolls; Rothko and mutants; Guston and Ronald McDonald; and so on.
Two new work types, however, advance the bothers’ interest in originality and fame in art as a way of challenging the value ascribed to it and hence – by implication – value systems as a whole.
First, they have remade Tracey Emin’s tent of everyone she slept with, which their fellow White Cube artist has steadfastly refused to recreate following its destruction in the said MOMART fire. Resisting the temptation to stick themselves in, the only apparent differences from the original are blank panels where no photo documentation was available. The title makes the risibly false claim that this is The Same Only Better, 2012. It hasn’t gone down well with Emin, but I guess the Chapmans would be disappointed if it had. Here it reads as a run-down seaside parallel – her Margate, their Hastings – as well as a way of questioning the primacy of the original and the fetishizing of the lost.
Second, they reboot their serial use of Hitler, the artist. There’s no doubting how notoriety affects the attention paid to his dull paintings. A muddy still life attributed to him is installed – unmarked, for a change – in its own reverential space, but with the ceiling lowered to less than five feet. That undercuts the reverence, but also forces the adult viewer to bend down in front of the Führer’s art. Then again, the ceiling is also a child friendly nod to the ‘join the dots’ drawings installed nearby – under an ironically full height ceiling – which evidently plays on the reactions Jake recently provoked by saying that it was a waste of time to take children to art galleries.
So Goya, Hitler, Twombly, Emin, children’s book illustrators and their own past and present are all reduced / elevated to the same level. What, then, is the Chapman “realm of the unmentionable”? Perhaps the point is that the realm is unpopulated: nothing is too tasteless, immoral or cheap to be included. The world is so wicked, in their vision, that cynical laughter is the only response.print