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Gruesome and Absurd: The Grotesque and Carnivalesque in Come and See

Date and time
Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Gruesome and Absurd: The Grotesque and Carnivalesque in Come and See

DHC/ART Education has created a pedagogical tool, Jake and Dinos Chapman: Movements, a four-part series that explores key concepts present in the exhibition Come and See: reification, grotesque/carnival, Baroque and collaboration. This week, we are presenting part 2 of this series: grotesque/carnival.

The term ‘grotesque’ comes from the Italian grotta, meaning ‘grotto’. It is first and foremost a decorative arts style from the time of the Renaissance. At its origin are the strange and extravagant patterns found in the ruins of the Domus Aurea, an ancient Roman palace constructed by Néron. An abundance of decoration, a tendency towards excess, metamorphosis, and a proliferation of images presenting fantastic creatures in the form of animal-human-plant hybrids are all characteristic of Grotesque style.

In this context, ‘carnival’, or carnivalesque, refers to the social manifestation of the grotesque.According to literary critic Mikhaïl Bakhtine, the carnival in the Middle Ages was much more than a festive occasion; it was an opportunity for the population to express themselves – loudly and clearly – and to temporarily overthrow both the established order and power, as well as the guiding principles of the social and material world. Carnival goers thus transformed their identity through costumes and masks, and indulged in sensual pleasures in the public sphere: food, drink, even sexual display or play [1]. The vulgarity of the body took precedence over the disembodiment of the spirit, crude expression interrupted refined conversation, delirium reigned, and reason was derailed. These various phenomena – all tied to basic instincts, excess, and the materiality of the body and the things that surrounded it – were carriers, for the duration of the festivities, of ripe fertility and abundance.

The spirit of the grotesque and the carnival is alive and well in contemporary art, and is present more than ever in the artistic practice of Jake and Dinos Chapman. A visit to Come and See is a carnivalesque experience par excellence, in all its intensity, vertigo, confusion, and ambivalence. In Come and See, we are constantly pulled between light and uncomfortable laughter, joyful excitement and paralysing fear, enchantment and disgust, the tragic and the comical.

Bakhtine states that “Carnival is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live in it, and everyone participates because its very idea embraces all the people”. It is also, according to him, a temporary escape from ordinary life.” [2]. In your opinion, in what ways are we, as visitors, pulled into the carnival as we wander through the exhibition Come and See?

The series of paintings One Day You Will No Longer Be Loved is the Chapmans’ appropriation of 19th century portraits that were originally commissioned by individuals in the upper middle class. Describe the ways in which this gesture constitutes a grotesque transgression.

Jake and Dinos Chapman created a series entitled Shitrospective in order to design their own amusing and irreverent retrospective of their works to date. In what ways does Shitrospective subvert the norms and usual characteristics of this type of exhibition?

About Movements:

Movements is a tool designed by DHC/ART Education to encourage in-depth explorations of key concepts evoked by the works presented in the exhibition Come and See. By highlighting these points of conceptual departure through the document Movements, the DHC/ART educators intend to inspire dialogue about the exhibition and to encourage visitors to elaborate on the proposed themes with their personal interpretations and reflections. Over time, these travelling concepts are subsequently enriched as they inform new contributions to our evolving conversations about art.

Movements also serves as a reminder that an aesthetic experience engages the body – its senses and its movements – as much as the intellect. The body’s physical, emotional, and perceptive gestures are intimately linked as we move through the exhibition space and our senses are awakened. The rhythm of our trajectories and changing perspectives also mobilize our vision; images take shape as our memory and imagination are touched by the emerging aesthetic landscape. Movements is thus an invitation for the visitor to become immersed – mind and body – into DHC/ART exhibitions, thereby developing a rich and dynamic understanding of the works.

[1] DUBÉ, Peter (2007). “Serpents with birds, and lambs with tigers joined: On the passage of one word and an idea through a culture”. La tête au ventre. Montréal: Galerie Leonard and Bina Ellen.
[2] BAKHTINE, Mikhaïl (1982). L’oeuvre de François Rabelais et la culture populaire au Moyen Age et sous la Renaissance. Paris: Gallimard.

Photo: Jake and Dinos Chapman. Kontamination examination of the significunt material related to human eXistenZ on earth. Detail. 2009. Courtesy of White Cube.

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