Dinos & Jake Chapman

The analogy between the nose and the male sexual organ is a recurrent theme in Sigmund Freud’s correspondences with Wilhelm Fliess, the author of a treatise on bisexuality and nasal mucous membranes. According to Fliess, the nose, whose cavities are lined with hair similar to pubic hair, had not received adequate attention from psychoanalysis: “The nose is an unsolved mystery of medical science!”

As if taking up this challenge, Dinos & Jake Chapman, the British masters of the grotesque, carry the psychoanalytic speculation of Dr. Fliess to its extreme in each of the five Fuck Faces (all 1995). All the kids in “Five Easy Pissers 1-5,” have a more or less erect penis for a nose and an orifice for a mouth, thus short-circuiting the Freudian distinction between anal and oral zones of pleasure. These sexual freaks obviously don’t care about theories of the libido—they simply force their atrocious faces on you.

What might sound like a good one-liner ends up being something more. The effect produced by this group of provocatively posed kids is one of absolute obscenity. It’s nor only the grotesque faces that create the atmosphere; it’s the unbearable freshness of their white T-shirts, their Bobby Ewing-style haircuts, and their completely new, shiny Nike jogging shoes. Like Charles Ray, the Chapman brothers succeed in creating a sense of bodily presence that surpasses reality in a way that is eerily Real.

The surrealistic sensibility detectable in much art of the ’90s—in the work of Ray, Robert Gober, and Paul McCarthy, for example—is often a combination of the grotesque and an extreme matter-of-factness. As with Gober’s wax limbs, there is nothing dreamlike about the Chapman brothers’ mannequins. Standing on a white platform, these mannequin kids are meticulously finished pieces of careful craftsmanship. They are nightmares that have become a concrete and implacable reality.

Just as Mummy and Daddy Chapman, 1994, shown here in its entirety for the first rime, was a rather unflattering portrait of parenthood, these children are no Von Trapp family. Even someone who had never objected to Freud’s assertion that childhood was fraught with sexual impulses might find the boy in the center of the group, pulling up his T-shirt in a dirty gesture of exposure, an oversexed monster.

Daniel Birnbaum