Friday, March 5, 2010

Are You Gonna Finish That?

Millennial pop culture will be remembered for a few marked trends- communication in 140 characters or less (which will hopefully be laid to rest in the cemetery of anachronistic bad ideas, alongside bustles, the pet rock, and tribal tattoos), vampires with Victorian sexual mores, and the apocalypse. Fascination with end times saturates the current cinema. The Book of Eli, The Road, and 2012 came out within months of each other. Dime store psychology suggests anxiety and alienation about our modern moment. And what better stage for the existential dramas of our time to implode than in a McDonald’s?

While wading through knee- deep February slush down 29th street to the Peter Blum Gallery, one may think they have indeed entered the apocalypse. But the smug anorexics behind the reception desk will assure you that people still populate the city, even west of 10th avenue, so one can resume wallowing in the low- grade misanthropy to which one has become accustomed.
The Superflex “Flooded McDonald’s” video installation provides a moment of repose from the living. The Danish collective, founded in 1993, scrutinizes power, agency and ownership. This is the group’s first solo show in New York City, and they make a strong statement in the financial capital of the world, with the consummate symbol of America, homogenization, free markets, the neoliberal devil, et al.

The 21- minute film takes place in the lurid browns, reds, and yellows of an older McDonald’s, a garish, muddy predecessor to the sleek McCafés of late. There are no lollygagging teenagers or screaming toddlers in the store, just their half- eaten French fries and unwrapped Filet- O- Fish linger after the Rapture. It looks as if people vacated the premises in frenzy. For a few moments, before the eponymous, inevitable flood washes the restaurant into a watery grave, one’s baser appetites might beg the question “are you going to finish that?” as the camera pans over newly minted Big Macs. Like Morgan Sprulock’s Supersize Me, utilizing McDonald’s as a symbol for deconstructing gluttony— in health or economics—can be problematic, as the audience may end up craving that which is being criticized. Not that I would know.

The exhibit is so captivating because it avoids the esotericism characteristic of many gallery video installations. McDonald’s patent uniformity provides a universal experience that any viewer can sink into, making the immediacy of the flood tangible. It is us who are drowning. We recognize this apocalypse.

As the flood waters rise, the lights go out, cups and soggy fries swirl like algae, the submersion envelopes, and the film begins to feel less like high art and more like a documentary that is all too real. The images are hypnotizing and grotesque, suggesting the groups’ commentary on mass food production or globalization or whatever. So much can be read into this allegory that it is a worthy endeavor to slog through the gray puddles of the west side to interpret “Flooding McDonald’s” according to you own political inclinations and fast food preferences. And your distaste for humanity will be lifted after you leave, as you will be relieved to return to the land of the living.

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