This exhibition critiques the wasteful excesses of capitalist society, drawing its materials from physical manifestations of said excess.
By CHIN JIAN WEI
Tangles of waste hang suspended at the Godown Arts Centre’s exhibition centre like synthetic clouds. Part of American artist Chadwick Moore’s latest exhibition titled Endless Buffet, the pieces interrogate excess and waste in modern society. Other than the sculptures, there are also seven mixed-media works on canvas with titles like Mid Mega Valley and A Landslide of Lucky Charms. As the titles would suggest, they critique capitalist society and the sheer amount of waste it produces. Moore uses parts of flyers and food boxes to make the works, creating surreal dreamscapes out of urban imagery.
The most eye-catching work is probably Atmospheric River. The title is a reference to a weather pattern that carries saturated air from the tropics across continents to higher altitudes, bringing with it storms and rain. Moore says, “Pollution is merging with the atmosphere and water becoming a hybrid creature. Nature itself is becoming a partly synthesised thing.” The work is made from bottles sourced from an auto-repair shop. “I asked them if they had any extra plastic, thinking it would be just a few bottles here and there,” Moore says. “But then in a few days, they had hundreds. There were huge, greasy garbage bags full of them. I’m guessing there were between two to three hundred bottles, and that constituted what they went through in a week, which was pretty astonishing.” Thinking about just how many auto shops there are in Kuala Lumpur really puts into perspective the amount of plastic waste required to keep our vehicles working.
“The collage imagery I get from my own photographs, Internet Google searches and advertising material,” Moore says, stepping closer to Mid Mega Valley. The work depicts spiralling mall walkways and staircases entwined with daubs of colour. “This one is mainly from Mid Valley and Gardens mall, it’s from their own promotional material, mixed with shots from my phone. I got interested in the concept of the Land of Plenty. I was reading and came across this fictitious place called Cockaigne, a place that medieval peasants in Europe sang about. It was a place where cheese would fall from the sky and rivers ran with wine. So I began to think about how we have marketed that idea through places like megamalls and these giant cruise ships and fast food and things like that, tapping into this notion of this place where you don’t have to toil and everything is easy. It was a theme for many Renaissance painters like Peter Bruegel, whom I like a lot. It’s a theme that has come up before in art history, and I thought since it’s been hundreds of years since anybody had really explored the notion so it seemed to be a fun thing to do.”
To a medieval peasant, the 21st century must seem like the mythical Cockaigne, at least at first glance. Another of Moore’s pieces, Buelah Land also explores a similar topic. It is named after a term in the Bible: a land of milk and honey that God promised the Israelites. The painting is what Moore envisioned the rural Southerners he grew up with would envision Buelah to be. “All KFC and waterslides,” he says.
“I think it’s funny that we’re still pursuing that idea in a time when there are such crises and concern for our climate and any number of resource issues that we’re going through,” Moore says. He also muses on the nature of cruise ships, a subject that appears in a few of his collages. “They’ve become like floating theme parks on the water. We’re using our technology and resources to create things like this when we have very real stuff to deal with like building sea walls to keep the rising oceans back. It’s a bit of gallows humour, laughing at the fact that we’re going to be the only species on Earth to engineer our own demise. And it seems like we can’t do it fast enough,” he says, laughing.
As Moore moves on to his other works, one’s eye is drawn to the familiar colours of his pair of cereal-related works, A Landslide of Lucky Charms and A Cloudburst of Fruity Pebbles. Moore explains that he is interested in how marketing employs tactics like colour psychology to entice consumers: blues and greens for cruise ships to invoke feelings of calmness, and red and yellow for fast food to stimulate appetite. The paintings depict decadent creations made from highly processed breakfast cereals. “It’s more artificial than it is real, but it is still something we give kids for breakfast for some reason. Diabetes in a box. In the US, every time a new movie or cartoon comes out they would make a breakfast cereal out of it. It became a way of advertising to kids through their food. It’s so diabolical in a way, the way marketing gets locked into our brains from such a young age.
“When I first started coming to Malaysia 8 or 9 years ago, I was pretty amazed at how recognisable a lot of things from American consumer culture were. Fast food, malls. I feel like it’s this terrible disease that we exported to the rest of the world,” Moore laughs. “I think it’s kind of sad when you adopt this homogenous cultural thing, it’s the death of a lot of your own culture and traditions.” Moore is not the first artist to notice this, many practitioners of traditional arts have bemoaned the decline in appreciation for their craft.
The featured picture is of Atmospheric River
Endless Buffet: Recent Works by Chadwick Moore will be exhibited at the Godown Arts Centre until 5 November 2023. For more information, head on over to Instagram. Entrance is free by registration at Peatix.
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