In three new works installed in the Zabludowicz Collection, Jemma Egan examines wildly popular pizza franchise Domino’s. Fast food is not a common subject for art, but the industry’s manipulations of technology and spectacle deserve closer analysis. The global leviathan that is the 21st century fast food industry was born in the post-war America of Eisenhower, Disney and the Bomb, and it still thrives on that period’s technocratic optimism. In it, the logic of the assembly line is amplified to an incredible degree. If the Fordist strategies of the early 20th century caused the labourer’s body to replicate the repetitive motions of the machine, the fast food industry has applied a similar process to the body of the consumer. Our senses have been isolated, tested and measured. Taste, smell and image are manufactured synthetically, and independently of one another, before being fabricated into a product which is as much an astounding feat of engineering as it is food.
The most interesting aspect of Egan’s three works is the way they play on these conditions of fragmentation and abstraction. The film ‘Dead or In Jail’ records a slow motion rehearsal of the trained movements of Domino’s pizza makers. Her presentation fragments the body and isolates the arms and hands – the artist’s head is not shown, and her t-shirt matches that of the backdrop. These strategies emphasise the surprisingly graceful choreography, while suggesting the way the body is figuratively broken down under the systems of mass production. The film is accompanied by ‘Danny’, a temporary wall onto which has been stencilled the motif of a cartoon smile, drawn from company mascot ‘Danny the Dominoid’. Danny is a lumpy, uniformed and permanently grinning representation of a Domino’s employee. A rather uninspired piece of branding, he is emblematic of the company’s relentlessly cheery image (as seen in ‘A Slice of Life’, the uncritical Channel 4 documentary on Domino’s that informs Egan’s work here). Formally Egan’s work resembles Warhol wallpaper, but her materials – baby oil slathered on MDF – create the sense that we’re looking at the abject backside of the image, all greasy excess and hasty construction.
Most successful of the works is ‘Porkies’, a series of floppy rubber rings which hang from the rafters and the benches, and lie forlornly on the floor. A riff on the industry’s increasingly grotesque hybrids (Pizza Hut famously sell a pizza in which the crust is stuffed with hot dogs), these objects have a slick and repellent surface quality, simultaneously abject and sterile. Clustered and knotted in groups, they resemble internal organs, but without any openings or variations in texture they assert their artificiality. They evoke a body that has been rendered synthetic, inside and out.
In the space Egan’s three formally disparate works raise interesting questions, but there is apathy to the way they hang only loosely together. Their relationship to one another seems uncertain, and the show lacks a unified critical force. This may well be the artist’s intention. Still, the fast food industry is a global phenomenon with real ramifications for the way we produce and consume. The topic is large and it is important, and I found myself wanting more of a sense of this scale and gravity. Although perhaps that desire for more, considering the subject, is only appropriate.