Hungry Ghosts, a group show presented
at The Douglas Hyde Gallery (10 June-25 July, 1998) comprising the work
of Nobuyoshi Araki, John Currin, Philip-Lorca diCorcia,Rineke Dijkstra,
Marlene Dumas, Keith Edmier, Karen Kilimnik, Sarah Lucas, Hiroshi Sugimoto.
All of the work shown has been widely exhibited internationally.
Broadly the work negotiates varying
strands of art practices read through portraiture, documentary, cinema
and popular culture, and employs various media including painting, photography,
drawing and sculpture. In this instance the works' configuration is framed
through the title of the show HUNGRY GHOSTS, a term from Buddhism referring
to insatiable desire, perpetual hunger, represented in Buddhist imagery
by a big belly and a small neck. Hungry Ghosts as a framing device situates
the distinct 'spiritual and philosophical ethos' of The Douglas Hyde Gallery
under its director John Hutchinson.
In the gallery handout, Hutchinson
"Extreme forms of desire are not
especially interesting, because those who are overwhelmed by them become
almost inhuman. Raw voracity is hellish, and it demands fulfilment. In
contrast, the people in Hungry Ghosts seem to be in a state of transition,
halfway between one world and the other. In a certain sense they are all
Hungry Ghosts is populated by John
Currin's 'realism in drag' type Miss Fenwick,1997, Dumas' Naomi Campbell
and Princess Diana, Great Britain, 1997, the 'rent boys' of Philip-Lorca
diCorcia's 'Hollywood' series, Rineke Dijkstra's scrawny adolescents from
the 'Beach' series, Kolobrzeg, Poland, July 26, 1992 and four of Dijkstra's
Matadors. There are also Araki's hotel porno people, Tokyo Cube (53-58)
and Kilimnik's Hello magazine types such as Death in America, Plaza Hotel,
1964, 1989, Sarah Lucas' Bunny--gets snookered no.9, 1997, and Keith Edmier's
sculpted from television African famine victims. A motley crew.
Sugimoto's photographic image Stadium
Drive in, Orange County, 1993, stands alone as the only image unpopulated
and yet the image is overcrowded by a populace just beyond the threshold
of visibility. The time lapse process by which the image is produced (exposed
for the length of the projected image on the screen) acts as a means of
evacuating the image (on screen) and foregrounding what is by necessity
usually absent, that is, the screen. This indeterminate presence/absence
in-betweeness disrupts the central focus making a blank non-space at the
centre exploding the punctum to the edges of the frame and the mise en
scene of both the actual space of spectatorship represented in the image
and the framing of film as 'product'. The Stadiums situation in Orange
County is spatially relevant, within driving distance of Hollywood but
closer to Disney.
The placing of Sugimoto's work at
the beginning of the exhibition and the foregrounding of 'framing' as an
activity enables a reading of the rest of the work and the show as a whole,
through the varying topographies of evacuation, the wider world of electro-visual
culture and the possible spectres this embodies. The Buddhist framing of
Hungry Ghosts as an exhibition, frames the work through a theological discourse
on "...the condition of longing, of unfulfilled desire"2
one that in a wider art context flows easily enough with Lacanian psychoanalytic
theory. This easily aligned mutual gratification has the potential to act
as a full stop though, creating an artificial closure to the plethora of
readings possible. The stillness of this if you like, the ISness of it
all, and the stasis it has the potential to offer, constructs an uncomplicated
doxa in the way the work is presented for interpretation. Does this in
some way close off discussion of how desire is constituted and mediated?
"The priest carried out the first
sacrifice, named castration, and all the men and women of the north lined
up behind him, crying in cadence, 'Lack, lack, it's the common law'."3
Thinking through the work of diCorcia's
'rent boys', Brent Booth;21 years old; Des Minew, Iowa; $30 and Edward
Earle Windsor; 20 years old; Atlanta, Georgia; $30 for example, what is
marginalised in reading these images through desire (with a capital D)
is the tenuous strands that infiltrate these spaces. It is not that desire
should be excluded from the discussion around these images (or even that
it could be excluded). Hutchinson referring to the 'people' in Hungry Ghosts
writes "...others are drained, as though they have been exhausted by a
fruitless quest for an impossible dream."4
This is not written specifically in relation to diCorcia's images, I have
chosen it as apt because it fits well with the typical 'otherside' negotiation
of Hollywood. However reading these characters through this trajectory
chooses to ignore information about the production of the images, that
they are paid performances, albeit underpaid. The images are taken in a
location were rent boys hang out, however there is an ambiguity as to whether
they are rent boys, but either/or, they are performing being rent boys,
for diCorcia's camera. It is this ambiguity in the set-up involved in their
production, that directs attention towards the viewing expectation (desire
again). The performative artificial aspect of the images maps an ambivalence
to the authority of documentary and opens up the interpretative process
to include the detritus of the image. Is this guy who is playing the part
of the 'rent boy', paid by diCorcia, drinking Pepsi, because, a) it was
part of diCorcia's compositional strategy or b) it was a happy accident?
Less fixated on the potential of this image to proffer information on the
ontological spaces occupied by the position 'rent boy'--what interests me
is how the banal functions as an interactive process between the artwork
and the viewer. Does he watch the same ads for Pepsi as me? Is he part
of the 'Pepsi generation'?
Approaching Keith Edmier's 'Ethiopian
Baby and Young Woman, 1984-5', two figurative sculptures in pigmented vinyl,
mindful of, as Dick Hebdige writes that "...we all live these days in the
airwaves as well as on the ground in three dimensional neighbourhoods"5,
Edmier's figures are obsessively 'real' based on tele-visual imagery of
Ethiopian famine victims. As 'copies' from the television they are 'copies'
from a complex network of codes circulating through global telecommunication
network's processing of, for example, Africa, the 'catastrophe', natural
disaster etc. With this in mind is the term 'copy' appropriate? Is there
an authority of resemblance in Edmier's Ethiopian Baby and Young woman?
Reference is deferred in these sculptures of images, images which can be
read as representations of particular codes. With Edmier's sculpture are
we in the space of simulacrum "...as images without resemblance" although
producing "...an effect of resemblance"?6
And, if this is so how are we to negotiate Hutchinson's desire to read
this work as accessing 'people'. This focus on the representations in the
show Hungry Ghosts as in someway directly accessing 'people' (the authority
of resemblance) allows descriptions which evacuates the mediation process.
Writing that "...some are the objects of love or longing, who have suffered
from the weight of their burden ...a few have become empty so they can
move, unresisting, with the flow of desire", allows an over simplification
in how viewers might want to engage with this work.7
Even within the terms of Hutchinson's own reference, in accepting these
representations as somehow directly relating to an accepted reality do
we want to read Ethiopian Woman and Child as Hungry Ghosts.8
To do this surely we displace the political spectres of 'globalisation'.
The figure of the ghost is situated
in recent cultural theory as offering political significance suggesting
as Allen Meek writes "...a paradigmatic shift in cultural studies where
the poststructuralist death of the subject encounters both the collapse
of Soviet communism and the 'revolution' in global telecommunications".9
In his mapping of 'spectral critique' he cites Derrida's politics "...of
memory, of inheritance and of generations",10
Meek's thesis is that a spectral critique would "...open global tele-capitalism
to the enigmas of visibility that call us back to our fundamental social
and political responsibilities: to the un-and under-employed ...to non-citizens
and to all those whose civil liberties are diminished or annihilated in
the New World Order".11
John Hutchinson writes: "When we
give up hope and perch on the edge of existence, without a steady foothold,
emptiness becomes palpable. If we're lucky, we may then begin to see life
clearly, with compassion."12
Colliding Meek (M) and Huchinson
(H) in order to read (H) "the edge of existence" as the (M) "under-employed
or the non-citizen" and (M) "annihilation of civil liberties" as (H) "without
a steady foothold", Hungry Ghost's focusing on (H)"the condition of longing,
of unfulfilled desire" rather than (M) "social and political responsibilities"
begs the question if (H) "compassion" is to be based on (H) "luck" are
we in danger of being haunted by what Jameson has referred to as "sheer
1 John Hutchinson, Hungry Ghosts
Gallery Hand out, The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, 1998.
3 Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari,
A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism & Schizophrenia, trans Brian Massumi,
Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1987, p154.
4 John Hutchinson, op cit.
5 Dick Hebdige in Towards A Theory
of The Image (Ed) Jon Thompson, Maastricht, Jan Van Eyck Akadmie, 1996,
6 Gilles Deleuze, Plato and the
Simulacrum, trans. by Rosalind Krauss, October No. 27, Winter 1984, pp
7 John Hutchinson, op cit.
8 Angeline Morrison also remarked
on this disparity while commenting on the visual similarity to Buddhist
images of Hungry Ghosts ie the big belly and thin neck (Angeline Morrison,
Gallery Talk, 22 July 1998.) In a specifically Irish context the aesthetic
codes of Ethiopian Woman and Child have a certain similarity to the 'Irish
famine monument' across from the AIB International Banking Centre in Dublin.
9 Allen Meek, Guides to the Electropolis:
Toward a Spectral Critique of the Media in Postmodern Culture v.7 n.1 September,
10 Derrida, Jacques, Spectres of
Marx: the State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International,
trans. Peggy Kamuf. Intro. Bernd Magnus & Stephen Cullenberg. London,
New York: Routledge, 1994. London, New York: Routledge, 1994, p. xix.
11 Allen Meek, op cit.
12 John Hutchinson, op cit.
13 Frederic Jameson, Marx's Purloined
Letter, New Left Review, No 209 Jan/Feb 1995, p. 86.