If you asked me what I did last night, one answer might be “I drank wine while a man with gold leaf on his face vomited milk into a bucket”. However, a fuller answer would be “I went to Ha Ha Gallery to see Benjamin Edwin Slinger‘s From the Island of Truffles to the Kingdom of Misunderstandings.”
According to the event description, this is an “extreme performative work” that “re-enacts a selective view of history through falsified historical documents, conflation of opposing artefacts” and is “a text book written by a dog that just chewed up the sofa.” What it consists of is a number of suspended textured rubber sheets, each of which has a smaller cloth panel with patterns of blood blotted from wounds made on the artist’s back (as I understand it). Leant against a wall, two smoothed branches have been transformed into spiked clubs by the addition of Ikea pencils. A collaborator in a black horned mask plays electric guitar discordantly. The artist sits on a chair, one leg of which is replaced by a statuette of Popeye. He has gold leaf stuck to his face. There is a bucket at his feet and he holds a large plastic container of milk. He drinks copiously until he vomits into the bucket. Then he drinks again, vomits, drinks, vomits, sometimes putting his fingers down his throat to do so – until the container is empty. The guitarist stops, they both leave. Flakes of gold leaf have fallen onto the floor.
So, what was it about? Slinger’s focus is on “pranks, abuse of power and experimentation in the violence of physical material”. The notion of a prank is unclear here (to me at least), but was there violence related to the physical material (milk)? Certainly it was ingested to the point of discomfort and expelled, though I’ve seen enough drunken puking (pub kicking-out time, undergraduate drinking contests) not to find extremity in the piece. Do the spiked clubs and wound-prints reflect an abuse of power – the mistreatment of a prisoner maybe? The hangings remind me of the vampires’ library of ancient parchments from the film Blade, so could represent false/fake documents – is the texture that of skin, or a section of the ground? Both might be walked upon, but only one would require subjugation. Does the gold leaf reflect the tasteless dictator-chic of Trump’s decor? Maybe, maybe not – but how this relates to history, or the artist’s view of it, I couldn’t say – I doubt there is a single, direct reading. I can say I’m glad I went – not to see a man vomit per se, but to wonder with others about the meaning of the piece, even if the outcome of that might be to shrug, laugh, nod sagely, facepalm or simply be pleased that there are spaces where such events can happen.