Currently showing at VITRINE Gallery is a sculpture and text-based installation by artist Jamie Fitzpatrick, entitled ‘(Loudly) Chomp, Chomp, Chomp’. With visual impact that prompts feelings of disgust and repulsion, the piece makes potent reference to ‘the theatre of the absurd’, intelligently interweaving outrageous comedy with political metaphor and symbols of Western power hierarchies. The complex juxtaposition results in a satirical, quasi-performative installation-cum-stage set that questions ideals of authority and undermines patriarchal power and supremacy.
‘(Loudly) Chomp, Chomp, Chomp’ is composed of a three-character play script mounted on the wall of a long vitrine, with several large wood and wax sculptures depicting the characters from the script positioned in front. Fitzpatrick cleverly uses the vitrine to enhance the reference to the stage, as the work is on public display twenty-four hours a day, and therefore the characters perpetually ‘perform’ for the audience. The script is an absurd exchange involving two characters, The Horse and The Nurse, and concerning a third, The Gentleman. References to gluttony, tyranny, dishonesty, denial, and control emerge out of an ostentatious dialogue punctuated with comical violence and crude humour. The comedy mimics that of Punch and Judy-style mobile puppet theatres, neatly calling attention to the total installation as a temporary and unfixed performance itself. The text reinvents the expected roles of the characters with immediate comic effect but interestingly it also functions to dismantle conventional patriarchal positions - The Nurse is tyrannical and symbolises power, for instance, The Horse has more agency than man, and The Gentleman is rendered weak and self-defeating. Embellished, lofty language detaches the absurd content of the text from its well-articulated form, revealing how vocabulary and tone are used to impose power or authority, and how meaning and interpretation can shift when language is methodically manipulated.
Fitzpatrick’s sculptures also demonstrate, in the use of materials and methods of display, how ideals of authority and power can be questioned through experiments in art and representation. Three grotesque wax depictions of the characters stand on crudely handmade supports. The pieces reference the bust, a historical sculptural form used to honour individuals of authority or prestige. Fitzpatrick employs wax as the primary sculpting material, one that has a similar historical association in its use in the creation of effigies to honour the elite. Wax sculpting is now arguably a low-brow art form absorbed by popular culture and accessible in venues such as Madame Tussauds. Deviating from the typical treatment of a bust or a wax figure, Fitzpatrick’s sculptures are sloppy and repulsive rather than glorified and attractive. Their messiness renders them brutally unresolved and therefore temporal, rather than permanent. The crude shaping of the wax dehumanises the characters, while wooden stakes and grotesquely large legs stand in for the quintessentially dignified plinth, further degrading and demoting the figures.
One final, close look reveals that the sculptures make feeble, failed attempts through jerky motorised gestures to move their mouths, presumably to communicate and assert their authority. The movements are so pathetic that one wonders if the motor has actually malfunctioned - is the work ‘broken’? Perhaps it is. Or perhaps this is another subtle and clever reference to the theatre of the absurd, where humour and vulgarity together aid the breakdown of communication, and with it inadequate hierarchical systems begin to falter.