DC at Night

DC at Night

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Art Provocateur Jake Chapman @The Hirshhorn


They've been called the enfants terribles of Britart. They have been accused of making provocative art that is nasty, horrific, and psychotic. When they burst onto the art scene in 1992, they described themselves as "sore-eyed scopophiliac oxymorons ... disenfranchised aristocrats, under siege from our feudal heritage ... our bread is buttered on both sides ..."  It has been said that their art strikes at "the fears that lie at the heart of the Western psyche". They have given their intricate, involved works name likes "Fucking Hell" and "If Hitler Had Been a Hippy How Happy We Would Be."

But to Jake Chapman, the younger of the two Chapman Brothers, the appropriate response to his and Dinos' work is not shock, but laughter. "We're very serious about humor," says Jake. "Humor is the most destabilizing appropriate response to death. I think (our work) is  truly funny".

Recently, the younger Chapman appeared at the Hirshhorn to discuss the Chapman Brothers art as part of that institution's current major exhibition Damage Control. The brothers have a piece "Insult to Injury to Injury" in that exhibition.


In that piece, the Chapman have taken a portfolio of 80 etchings from Spanish master Francisco de Goya titled "Disasters of War" and "reworked and improved" them by placing puppy and insect heads on the figures.

As part of his presentation, Chapman read a grotesque original story involving an inventor, an apparatus, a woman named Chlamydia, hot sex, and monkeys both in and out of cages, while a film about the Brothers' latest exhibition in London's Serpentine Sackler Gallery "Come and See" played in the background. That film featured several shots of one of the Chapmans' recurring figures, models of Ronald McDonald, one of the symbols of the ubiquitous fast-food chain. Chapman explained that they like to use McDonald's in their art because "it went from a Utopian idea of cheap food for everyone to a capitalistic motif that plots the downfall of the West. There was this strange trajectory where the clown loses his humor."

Chapman admits that he and his brother like to create art that overwhelms and assaults. "We want to kill the eyes with art," he said. But the artist says its harder to now create surprising works. "Our art doesn't settle for stability. It seeks out instability. But art is always being appropriated into the critical culture," he said.

In an earlier interview printed in The Guardian, Chapman put it this way: "The idea of making 5,000 little toy soldiers all running around mutilating each other, and then find pathos in that - it's alarming that people are prepared to cathartically reappropriate these things which are so redundant and void. It took us three years to make 5,000 people. It took the Germans three hours to kill 15,000 Russian prisoners of war".

A scene from "Fucking Hell".
Chapman says he and his brother are trying to make "a schizophrenic body of work. We want a frenzied, berserk attack. We're trying to attack the idea with as many perspectives as possible. We want to make it impossible to reduce the work to one particular thing."

He believes he has reached an understanding of why so many people fail to grasp the work. "They make the mistake of thinking that the work is about them. But it is about political discourse," Chapman said.

Jake (on left) and Dinos
He adds that while he does believe Hell to be more interesting than Paradise, he is not as disturbed as some people believe when they encounter his art. "I really lead a boring life. But I do believe that art should have something to do with pleasure. Art lets me expedite the fantasy of my life as being more interesting than it is."

Chapman's art has attracted some, to put it mildly, strange fans. "I remember this one girl. She used to bring me sweets and bundles of notes. Then she said, "don't call the police; I am not dangerous. Which immediately made me want to call the police because I was now convinced she was dangerous."

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