New York

Superflex

Peter Blum Gallery

Since 1993, the three-person Danish art collective Superflex have been encouraging locally driven, globally networked forms of self-organized cultural and economic labor in order to counter the abstractive tendencies of post-Fordist global capitalism. A well-known project is Guaraná Power, 2003–, an actual soda for sale and consumption, which Superflex are producing in collaboration with a cooperative of guarana farmers in the Brazilian Amazon. They have also tested the possibility of “free” economic exchange, for instance with FREE SHOP, 2003–, wherein real shops are temporarily converted into places in which goods or services can be “purchased” free of charge.

By contrast, for “Flooded McDonald’s,” Superflex’s first “solo” show in New York, the collective presented three video works: Burning Car, 2008; The Financial Crisis (I–IV), 2009; and Flooded McDonald’s, 2009. The first is a deadpan, nine-and-a-half-minute-long HD video documenting a burning Mercedes surrounded by darkness. The video, which is shot in a single take, begins with the explosion that sets the car alight. Flames leap high into the air; the car windows explode; and the camera slowly circles the burning object, zooming in for occasional close-ups of paint bubbling off the chassis, tires popping, the interior cage smoking madly. By the video’s end, all that is left is a burned-out hulk.

While the video could be read as a celebration of the destruction of an icon of advanced capitalism—presumably reflecting a desire to burn through our seemingly unquenchable commodity fetishism—it also offers a commentary on the uncomfortable interrelationship between the spectacle of consumerism and the spectacle of anticonsumerist protest. As Guy Debord suggested many decades ago, spectacle consumes contradiction. Seen thus, Superflex’s flame-engulfed car functions as an emblem of a postcontradictory world, wherein the spectacular codes of capitalist culture and of anticapitalist invective are functionally equivalent. On the level of micropolitics, Superflex do emphasize commitment to an open-source, postcapitalist model of informational, intellectual, and artistic exchange, having made this movie available for free downloading via the Pirate Bay, thereby espousing a “copyleft” relationship to their own artistic production (even if the piece is, at the same time, an edition of three with one artist’s proof).

The Financial Crisis (I–IV) takes on the current/recent financial crisis through the unlikely agency of a hypnotist (an actual hypnotist named Bo Groth Christensen), who, as Superflex state on their website, “guides us through our worst nightmares to reveal the crisis without as the psychosis within.” Beautifully scripted and elegantly shot, the video is designed, perhaps ironically, to be therapeutic. Christensen says, “Close your eyes. . . . Try to imagine that you live in a nice house that means a lot to you. . . . Now you can only watch the system collapsing and there is nothing you can do. . . . This is a disaster for you. . . . You have no money, you will lose your house, your pension, and your credit cards.” He then intones, “You are losing everything.” Whether this results, for the viewer, in a psychically revelatory process, further alienation, or both, is the question that Superflex probe here.

Flooded McDonald’s, meanwhile, meticulously documents the gradual flooding of a handmade, to-scale, detailed replica of a McDonald’s restaurant. It is shot and edited expertly, generating deadpan hilarity and unlikely dramatic buildup. At the start, water begins to seep in under a door, and for the next twenty minutes it keeps slowly rising, as the hyperfunctionalized site of consumerism turns into a topography of trash, and the store’s contents (Ronald McDonald, french fries, soda cups, etc.) become unmoored. Whether the result of a busted sewer line or nature itself as the return of a watery repressed (read: global warming), the simulated space of the hegemonic fast-food economy is eventually swallowed up and becomes a prehistoric primordial muck.

With the videos in this exhibition, Superflex reproduce the seductive, high-tech codes of television ads in an attempt to intervene—at the level of media language—in the symbolic visual mechanisms of global capitalism. In the process, the collective invoke a tradition of critique and political activism in video art, and complement their already manifold tool set.

Joshua Decter