New York

Alex Bag

Elizabeth Dee Gallery

Alex Bag’s “Coven Services for Consumer Mesmerism, Product Sorcery, and the Necromantic Reimagination of Consumption” uses low-budget materials and DIY processes to transform the gallery into the corporate HQ of a sinister, world-dominating advertising agency/think tank/PR firm/witch cult. Coven Services’ clients include some of the key players in global capitalism today, notorious multinational corporations such as Monsanto, Bechtel, and AOL–Time Warner. The main wall—a sort of creative-visioning workshop in progress that also suggests the psychotic basement wallpaperings of TV serial killers—is a sprawling collage of text, drawings, Polaroids, and various appropriated information. Pages of handwritten research notes expose everything from Halliburton’s manipulation of the Iraq war to Johnson & Johnson’s cover-up of the health hazards of tampons, while recipes for magic spells tell us how to control child actors and communicate with the dead. Tabloid images of Britney Spears and Michael Jackson are taped up with the latest statistics on increasing depression and suicide rates in America (implying the exploitation of such studies by big pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies) and penciled storyboards for imaginary, diabolical ad campaigns. Bag ironically celebrates the joys of power and control not only in order to out the evil behavior of her “clients” but to reveal a larger picture of advanced capital’s tightening, ever more efficient, total grip on both consumer subjectivity and world politics today. Framed drawings and a video (a line of rubber rats leads the viewer to a screening room in back) are presented as finished “ads.” A satanic pentagram decorates the gallery floor.

In the video Bag and friends appear variously as hip consumers (“Before AOL I was a total loser”), an undead, blood-spitting spokesmodel for thong pads, robotic war hero Jessica Lynch, a Chase Bank card–wielding nun with vampire teeth, a Prozac-pushing witch named Eli Lilly, and so on. These hilarious promotional “spots” are intercut with footage from Paris Hilton’s amateur porn video, which looks as if it were filtered through some kind of night-vision effect that recalls televised war coverage and makes the hotel heiress’s eyes glow like a demon’s. Various shades of green—a wall painting in the gallery’s front room, the witch’s complexion, the grainy green of the sex tape—lend the trashy chaos of this cut-and-paste, antislick installation a bit of compositional coherence while producing an atmosphere the color of both cash and sickness.

While the installation and a few of its “products” seem to have been thrown together in an overnight frenzy, giving the whole thing a rushed high school report feeling, Bag’s intention is clearly not to achieve the spectacular efficiency of the enemy. The artist’s tactical “failure” to deliver a professionally packaged, market-friendly art show is as studied as her various embodiments of the powerless, medicated, zombified states a person is reduced to in consumer society today. Refusing to hand us a seamless, polished art product, she instead interrupts this program to conjure haunting images of the human subject as biopolitical product in progress, thinking and performing techniques of the self like a stand-up comic on a roll. The figures of the corpse and the zombie recur throughout the show, and if Bag has witch power it is in her ability to reanimate these gone bodies, to make them speak from beyond the grave, from beyond the market study. This is living-dead art, a critical-hysterical acting out of the deodorized-bathroom neurotic, the suicidal biochemical-test subject and the terminal media addict we all recognize as ourselves. Paris Hilton and Michael Jackson also recur as possible stand-ins for the artist as ambiguous self-producer/destroyer: the sad and beautiful monsters of control society, with all their strange genius and perversions intact.

John Kelsey