Jud Wimhurst, Gimme Freedom (or Gimme Death)
Bendigo Art Gallery; 5 November, 2016 to 12 February 2017
Nostalgia isn’t always the referential craning back for a better time. It isn’t always rose-coloured glasses and halcyon days. Sometimes, the fun-time good-times of the days of yore are dark hearts inside fluffy clouds, where clowns reveal the cracks in their makeup and toys become weapons turned against their owners. Jud Wimhurst harvests such ideas as he recasts and replays childlike games set low on the floor of the Bendigo Art Gallery in his exhibition Gimme Freedom (or Gimme Death).
Two teams of branded warriors battle each other across the surface of white plinths. Plastic soldiers from an era of post-war twentieth-century American suburban life wear the colours of major fast food chains, recognisable as McDonalds and KFC. Soldiers launching bazooka guns loaded with Big Macs face off against other soldiers armed with rifles made of French fries. Ketchup splotches litter the battlefield with spent ammunitions of chicken legs and chips. The weaponry, while hybridised with food, and the fatigues of the army personnel all read historically as mid-last century, as the time at which American military might was at its arguable peak, the point at which the Americans were, for most of the western world anyway, the ‘good guys’. Perhaps at least from an infantile point of view where clearly demarcated soldiers on planar fields battled in strategic chessboard moves across a colonised world. Of course, the title of the show itself harks back to the corporate beginnings of the American regime at the birth of the revolutionary war.
The introduction of corporate branding positons the war in a mostly western framework – or at least an internationally capitalist one. Still reading a little nostalgic, when battle of the brands seemed as clearly defined as the tin soldier manoeuvres of warmongering generals and dictators. The 1990s anti-globalisation movement springs to mind, riots in Seattle over the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund. A climate in which the strength of multinational brands subsumed nation states and in its most sinister outings began subsuming the military-industry complex. McDonalds thrusting obesity on children through the cackling grin of a clown; Shell Oil contracting assassins in Nigeria to murder activists; Monsanto forcing non-reproducing seeds on peasant farmers in India. All while millionaires became billionaires as ghost entities in offshore locations siphoned finance from the poor and sequestered it into the Swiss bank accounts of the mischievous and immoral.
On the surface these things fly immediately about the gallery. American imperialism turned open itself in a sporting death match between corporate powers. Fast food is a pile of shit into which antiquated machinery that was once designed to express human ingenuity and ambition has been crashed at full tilt. Our inventions turn from tools for the proactive enjoyment of life to weapons of devastating destruction rendered upon our fellow humans, and ultimately ourselves. Childhood games reflect our adult dysfunctions and we recycle, regurgitate and reflect our most primitive urges into carefully choreographed death matches.
At that level Wimhurst’s work is easy enough to enjoy and decipher for those inclined to unpack the codes that are cast, moulded and painted across the figures, objects and compositions. Sit with it long enough and this patterned reflection starts echoing and expanding. An accompanying video provides insight into the manufacturing process of the artist and throws up context and additional depth. Produced in a shed in a small peri-urban town in central Victoria, the figures stand in contrast to the mass-produced nature of the toys they imitate. Hand-made figurines stand in contrast to factory outputted commercial products and raise questions about the artist’s hand, dictatorial oversight in the creation of meaning through the assembly of the human figure (real or otherwise), and global power-plays between corporations and nation states in a Trumpian era of anti-China rhetoric.
Sporting metaphors sit on the surface of Wimhurst’s work in his carefully constructed branding apparel, the coloured flags and heraldic symbols. And the idea that sport is a sanctioned expression of violent human urges played out within defined territorial boundaries and established parameters of behaviour is a definite touchstone in the work. And it is here that my unease unfolds and amplifies. When the anti-corporate movement was at its height at the turn of this century, a team of branded fools coopted a technological expression of human ingenuity and ambition and crashed it full of innocent humans into another technological expression of human ingenuity and ambition, murdering many more innocent humans. And now we see one team of branded fighters battling another team of branded fighters inside a defined religious playground of operation in the name of Sunni versus Shia.
American imperialist-style battleground infighting over the same fast food bullshit of religious junk thrust upon children to fatten their souls and slow their development. It’s Roman battalions marching across Europe, English redcoats murdering indigenous Australians and insurgent jihadis exploding market places. Human beings turning on themselves in the conflation of their instructive urge to consume the beauty of the world and distill it of its goodness in the name of immediacy and greed. And we package it all up and feed it all back to kids so they can repeat the process and find ever-more inventive ways to refine our murderous intent and amplify our shit-producing capabilities.