Category Archives: superflex

Urbanization & its Effects


The National Museum of Singapore

The National Museum of Singapore. Photo by Chua Ju Wei Jeremy

by Chua Ju Wei Jeremy

The large air-conditioned spaces of the National Museum are quite a contrast to the Biennale site at Old Kallang Airport, where one had to travel to hot and humid spaces to experience the art works, and these factors enhance the entire experience and ties in with the theme that is laid upon the National Museum, that is to be like a night market.

With works ranging from China, Cambodia, Vietnam, India, the United States, Switzerland, Japan, etc. it is amazing how the themes and messages are all similar (to a certain degree) even though the origins of the artworks and artists are diverse – almost like a global phenomenon that we humans face as we advance through modernity – and that they are brought together under one roof – very much like a night market where people with a wide array of different, relatively cheap goods for sale (as compared to items sold in Orchard Road for example) are there for one goal, to sell, form a larger entity.  However, the works hold deeper messages and views that can be summed up as a series of takes on rapid growth of countries and the impact on rural or urban social spaces. These are very suitable topics to talk about in the local Singapore context. Perhaps it is a reminder for Singaporeans to pause and look at how this rapid growth has affected communities and individuals.

Compound, Sopheap Pich. Photo by Chua Ju Wei Jeremy

Sopheap Pich’s Compound is the first artwork I see as I step into the National Museum. It immediately grabs our attention with the sheer scale of a unique cityscape surrounded by bomb-like shapes forming the entire sculpture made out of rattan, bamboo and burlap. Like a hint of what is to come in the following artworks, Pich seems to be speaking about the effects of Cambodia’s rapid growth and modernization and its loss of heritage, or things of the past that are being replaced or destroyed to make way for the new.  Rattan, bamboo and burlap have been used in the past to make many different kinds of household furniture and refer to agriculture through traditional weaving. In Singapore rattan has been and is still in used for household items or for punishment (the cane). By mixing the traditional and the modern through woven structures, Pich’s message comes across very well and I cannot help but pick up on the similarities between Cambodia and Singapore on this issue. The bomb-like sculptures that surround the ‘cityscape’ in this artwork suggests destruction of the city or more like a destruction that is happening within the city where buildings are waiting to be destroyed or replaced. In Pich’s words, “Can we build without destroying?” Are countries just focused on growing and gaining more and more despite the effects of these actions taken by government and business?

'Spring and Autumn' series 2004-10, Shao Yinong and Muchen. Photo by Chua Ju Wei Jeremy

In the cavernous exhibition hall downstairs, hanging and swaying with much grandeur, are Shao Yinong and Muchen’s, ‘Spring and Autumn’ series of large-scale embroidery of different currencies, from different times, which are no longer used.  In general, Chinese art seems to be more exaggerated (mostly in performance art or photography), and the artists have a right to do so as the messages (mostly political- due to being under communist rule) hold much significance for them.
For the husband and wife team, their works are highly detailed in the use of a traditional Suzhou embroidery technique – like in Pich’s work where traditional methods are used to make modern day representations and again, addressing the change that countries go through.

'Spring and Autumn' series 2004-10, Shao Yinong and Muchen. Photo by Chua Ju Wei Jeremy

The banknotes hang high in the space and create a path with translucent cloth draping down on each side, shielding people within the path from the influences of the outside. In a slightly far-fetched sense, this is very much how China was, before it slowly opened up to the outside world.

To view the famous faces depicted in them, the viewer would have to tilt and shift our gaze up, almost in reverence toward the once powerful banknotes and move around the space which becomes  a memorial of banknotes, in remembrance of how power and beliefs were once imbued within these banknotes, how money was and is the main driver for many countries these days.

Flooded McDonald's, Superflex. Photo by Chua Ju Wei Jeremy

There’s a very similar tone to the video installation, ‘Flooded McDonald’s’ by Superflex, which shows us the leader in fast-food, making its way to its own destruction. The video features a typical McDonald’s burger joint, a well lit area, heated lamps gleaming, fries still heating up in the trays, a steady drip of soda from the drink machine like a loose tap, everything is in its right place with the exception of half-eaten burgers and toppled French fry containers with their innards strewn on the table. Without a single human being in sight, this is an abandoned McDonald’s awaiting destruction. As the title of the work suggests, the burger joint slowly gets filled up with water and eventually floods the entire vicinity in this strangely mesmerizing, apocalyptic 21-minute film.

Flooded McDonald's, Superflex. Photo by Chua Ju Wei Jeremy

There is a strange allure or beauty to it all, perhaps it is the similar calmness that we feel when we suspend ourselves in a pool of water, in this case, how the chairs, burgers and objects float around the space, together with the slow panning shots and photographic-like compositions to some shots in this film and its ‘watery’ soundtrack, make the pace of the video very calming and tranquil at the start. It then slowly builds up towards a more chaotic scene when the water starts moving objects around. The water even manages to lift a statue of Ronald McDonald’s (an icon of a western culture) off the ground and makes him look like he is waving at us as he bobs up and down in the water and eventually sinks to the bottom with the rest of the objects.

In a strange, cynical sense, the video was very enjoyable . The idea of witnessing and enjoying destruction whilst being afraid of it happening to us is probably why I feel guilty about it.
Perhaps in this case, the destruction of something evil evokes a certain amount of satisfaction as well.

There are many issues that this piece of work addresses, such as mass consumption, large corporations getting bigger and disregarding the environment as they keep up to the demands of the masses and this leads to environmental problems. It all ties down to the ignorance of certain individuals and the priority money takes over ethics, also known as capitalism. McDonald’s, being fully aware and guilty of this, continues to exist even though it is the target of many attacks. In a way, Mcdonald’s flooded itself.

But like McDonald’s, capitalism is a global phenomenon that’s here to stay, and artists all over the world will continue trying to fight it in their own way with more and more interesting works.

Flooded McDonald's, Superflex. Photo by Chua Ju Wei Jeremy

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Filed under National Museum, Open House Notebook, Shao Yinong and Muchen, Sopheap Pich, superflex

Apocalypse McDonald’s: 3 Artworks

Flooded Mcdonald's, Superflex, SB2011

By Lim Woan

WATER

Flooded McDonald’s, a 20 minutes’ long video on the slow flooding process of a replicated Mcdonald’s outlet, is an ominous parody of America’s impending doom, perhaps eventually leading to an end-of-the-world apocalypse, packaged in a light-hearted and more relatable manner. McDonald’s is arguably the most well-known epitome of ‘Americanisation’, being a product of pure US origins. Therefore, the comparison drawn between the situation in McDonald’s and the plight of America is highly apt.

The flooded McDonald’s is a reflection of WikiLeaks’ outbreak in America. The slow and gradual leaking of water inside the replicated version of McDonald’s symbolises the leaking of classified information brought about by WikiLeaks. In a sense, the water represents the WikiLeaks data and McDonald’s is an objectification of US citizens.

Initially, the calm leaking appears harmless and insignificant, however it eventually amounts to a serious flooding process overwhelming McDonald’s. This resembles the effects of WikiLeaks on America; what started out as a little mishap of revelation in time became a full-blown matter of concern in many affected countries internationally. The lackadaisical flooding as opposed to a sudden massive gush of flood also parallels how Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ founder, releases the cables in small amounts as leverage instead of bombarding information all at once.

The flood contains traces of McDonald’s commodities. The shots progressively move underwater to capture scenes of these objects floating about, as though submerged within an unknown abyss. This draws our attention to the similarity between the floating chair, cups, misplaced fries and US citizens; they are all ‘lost’ and ‘confused’ amidst the leaking-to-flooding procedure. The murkiness of the water resembles the shady doings of the US government and warns a greater level of despair that might hit America in the future.

The fused electricity circuit in flooded McDonald’s is akin to the loss of public’s trust caused by WikiLeaks in America. The ‘darkening’ of McDonald’s resulting from the short circuit foreshadows a “shadow of doom” that would come over America’s politics. In addition, the electrical tensions are representative of the existing tensions within US as a result of WikiLeaks. There is a paradox surrounding the short circuit. The ‘darkness’ of McDonald’s after the fuse blows reflects the US public in reality gaining knowledge, seeing light, about the actual goings-on of their government and that they were ‘blinded’ before WikiLeaks’ release.

The submerged Best Employee plaque ominously symbolises the ‘sinking’ of America’s reputation as the initially perceived ‘Best’ country. Ronald McDonald is the mascot of the fast-food chain and thus the embodiment of the country. The collapse of his imposing figure is further representative of downfall of US reputation as a ‘Big Brother’ figure.

The consequences of a flooded Mcdonald’s and the large-scale WikiLeaks problem worldwide share many similar parallels. The former becomes a parody of the latter.

FIRE

A Burnt McDonald’s is symbolic of US’ global warming fate as a result of their rejection of Kyoto Protocol.

Scientists have estimated that the average global temperature will increase significantly. However, despite treacherous warning signs, the US government remains resistant to the importance and urgency of Kyoto Protocol. According to The Quiet Death of the Kyoto Protocol by Samuel Thernstrom, Barack Obama himself has voted to condemn the Protocol and adopted some of former President George W. Bush’s staunchly negative key positions in international climate negotiations, thereby ensuring the Protocol’s expiry.

The rising earth temperature caused by global warming is represented via the heat generated from the burning process. The small flames that start out, which gradually leap across the entire McDonald’s, become a larger detriment when the whole place is ignited ablaze and what remains are simply charred ashes of McDonald’s vendibles. This shows how America is slowly falling prey to global warming and eventually burning up in a ‘hot’ demise which results in dregs of blackened, toasted corpses. The final remnant of burnt McDonald’s is comparable to America becoming a wasteland, the corpses are a personification of McDonald’s combusted wares. Similarly, the Best Employee plaque being set aflame reflects how US’ reputation has literally gone up in flames.

The incinerated McDonald’s represents the destruction of America’s environment. Burnt McDonald’s forebodingly hints at US’ ultimate devastation if she continues to reject efforts to curb global warming and partakes in negative efforts to raise earth temperature.

ICE

Frozen McDonald’s parallels America’s plight of Obama installing a three-year freeze on the pay of US public service sector as well as spending on many domestic programmes. In this case, the frozen assets within the replicated McDonald’s are akin to the ‘frozen’ US programmes in reality.

The freezing of McDonald’s into an unmoving and unchanging entity is comparable to the stagnation of US development as a result of the freeze. The sharp icicles that shroud the dustbin, the table, the chair and the cashier machine represent US citizens being ‘frozen’ at a immotile stage due to the freezing of domestic funds. The frosted Ronald McDonald and Best Employee plaque, both serving as representations of America, point towards the direction of an unprogressive US nation due to the freezing of funds.

The coldness inside the frozen McDonald’s also symbolises the ‘cold’ attitudes of Republicans in response to the freeze proposal. “Given Washington Democrats’ unprecedented spending binge, this is like announcing you’re going on a diet after winning a pie-eating contest,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for the House Republican leader, publicly mocked the Obama administration’s decision in a ‘cold’ tone. The connotations of ‘unhealthy diet’ in Steel’s statement is further reinforced by the unhealthy diet of fast food (think burgers, fries and soft drinks) within the frozen fast-food store.

Water, Fire, Ice – These three ancient elements encircle the differing fates of McDonald’s, or rather, America. The flooded, burnt and frozen McDonald’s hint at end-of-the-world apocalypses, in a sense, that the destructive occurrence of these ancient elements on the replicated McDonald’s prognosticates the US’ tragic demise in reality. Therefore, the three art works, of which Burnt and Frozen Mcdonald’s are fictional and imaginary, foreshadow the US’ bleak future as a result of its major decisions and actions. A final element of Earth comes into role here. America’s downfall will sequentially bring about worldwide devastation, thus portraying an irony of the elements at work; Water, Fire and Ice have ‘collaborated’ to bring about the catastrophe of Earth.

These art works could be further improved by situating real-life exhibitions beside the projection of videos. The exhibitions of flooded, burnt and frozen Mcdonald’s can be modelled within air-tight glass enclosures so people can watch the entire process through the videos and then view the end results inside these enclosures. Thus, the glass containers will encompass what eventually happens to these replicated McDonald’s after the various elements hit them.

Viewing of these videos and exhibitions will fuel audience’s ‘food for thought’. Viewers are feee to analyse for themselves a comparison of damage. Which mode of destruction is strongest with regard to the replicated McDonald’s? In reality, which source of devastation is worst? How do the flooded, burnt and frozen McDonald’s hint at end-of-the-world apocalypses and bring about the terminal demolishment of Earth?

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Filed under Flooded McDonald's, Open House Notebook, superflex