Dinos and Jake Chapman: Singularity is a superstition left over from monotheism: unitary God unitary Man. In our experience, anatomical transgression usually elicits laughter which, if convulsive enough, can kill singularity or, at least, choke it a little.
Damianovic: What are your creatures? They seem to embody a desire to jettison themselves beyond pre-conditioned boundaries required by normative behavior. What are they running from and where to? Besides alluding to instability, vulnerability and mortality, your anatomical phantasmagoria seem to suggest an anarchistic unleashing of forces capable of intense transformation. Is your playground of images a metaphorical flight from various authoritarian enclosures?
Chapman: No. Mortality is committed to the physical phobia of entropy. Even "being" and "becoming" frame the organism in a nonsuperconductive state weighed down by burgeoning effects of gravity. The Freud-Newtonian theory of resistances suggests neurosis as an inefficient or blocked passage of energy residing within the organism, while psychosis suggests superconductive discharge because it is uninhibited. The body can be jettisoned beyond identity, ostensibly because it is obsolete.
Damianovic: Do you wish to propose the excessive image as a revolutionary efflorescence of identity, a kind of post-humanist revolt, a jouissance?
Damianovic: It is interesting that you call your characters "organisms." To me this implies a rather detached, scientific sense of identity, that leads to an extreme ambivalence, an uncomfortable correspondence between coldness and cruelty, pain and an explosively splintering jouissance. Do you deliberately obfuscate and interplay fantasy, fetishism, violence and voyeurism to surreptitiously purloin, confuse or disturb our gaze?
Chapman: We're not psychiatrists and we decline the invitation to treat the spectator as analysand. In this sense we reject the provision of an aesthetic "abreactive therapy" or "cathartic method" implied by overtly didactic ambitions like "obfuscate," "purloin," "confuse." We regard these aims as reactive, indicative of a masochistically geared self satisfied critique.
Damianovic: I can't help but noticing that you wrest a visually stunning, but sinister and terrible beauty from the flawlessness of your renditions. The more aggressive your representations, the more they bring us they bring us to an ambivalent edge between fascination and repulsion. Do you deliberately use the conflict between beauty and ugliness as a formal device, an artifice, to provoke a more disturbing set of tensions?
Chapman: No. Not a provocation, but a convulsion; simply a convulsion.
Damianovic: Your reduplication of store dummies seems coldly reserved in its seriality and hyperrealistically clear; yet, your representation is full of slippages and semantic gaps that sidestep interpretative resolution in a way that hinders the otherwise straightforward visual authority of the image. It is permeated with a psychotic moment that subverts clarity. This aspect of your work seems to address the issue of conveyance at the heart of contemporary critical discourse. Do you think that this obscurity has anything to do with the idea that language lacks words to express the offense of what Primo Levi called the "demolition of humanity"?
Chapman: Freudian melancholia states that "every organic state is preceded by an inorganic one," and that "the aim of all life is death," hence "the offense of the demolition of man" simply details the terror of pure pleasure.
Damianovic: The efflorescence of excess, mannerism and perversity is one of the most exciting features of your work. In the Fuckface series, for instance, mutant, nude children depicted with assholes for mouths, penises for noses, or fused into Siamese twin anatomies. This would seem to suggest that clarity of vision would also require a clarity or harmony of situation that is in rare supply today. Are you structuring provocation out of a rhetoric of the controversial and contestable? Is there any image that you would consider both a capable and viable response to today's nanosecond spectacle? Does your image of violence attempt to counter the bankruptcy of the collective gaze with shock value?
Chapman: You've slipped a silent imperative between "disturb the gaze" and "today's speed and image." The implication is that today's mesmerizing velocity of " the spectacle" has to be resisted: as if its pleasure were simultaneous with the breakdown of some deserving "pondering self-reflexive" culture. We are bankrupt because it is the condition of our experience, but to be polite we'll overlook your liberal deformity.
Damianovic: In other words, it seems that you're proposing a profligate ethos (i.e."whatever gets you through the night" or "give into temptation") as an efficient, forceful and above all engaging communicative structure. In Fuckface you propose a wonderland of stigmata, deformities of all kind, to fascinate, to aggressively and openly seduce the eye. Do you think, or do you even take into account the question of whether your representations are discontinuous enough to disengage from the objectification of exploitive fetishism and what are your thoughts on the question of image correctness, and on the imposition of limits on form or on artistic self censorship?
Chapman: Ethical limits and censorship supply the tensile meniscus through which transgressive acts tear. Moral outbursts are as effective in discharging libidinal energy as any other corporeal eruption. Even "lively controversy" can be exhausting.
Damianovic: The circumvention of realistic representation with the aid of irrational details or disturbing moments in your representations reminds me of the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites and the strange quality that often underlies the bizarre depictions of, say, Ford Maddox Brown. You similarly play the uncanny Freud's word for what happens when the terrifying and the familiar overlap. Have you ever noticed this similarity and what are your thoughts on the uncanny?
Chapman: Our work makes hallucination palatable for non-narcotic users. We associate psychosis, particularly Freud's melancholic clinical, pathological version, with Kant's aesthetic sublime.
Damianovic: So, like Plato's demon that existed between the human and the monstrous, you want to locate your representations in a synthetic intermediary realm. Your work seems in general to be situated between a series of seemingly incompatible dualisms not only in terms of its uncanny flavor, but also lurching between harmlessness and violence, humanity and monstrosity, normality and perversity. Why is the Chapman image a Siamese addiction?
Chapman: We take the "monstrous" to describe a numenal or vampirical sublime which preys upon corporeality in moments of aesthetic bliss. Eros inseminates Thanatos and Thanatos inseminates Eros with such force that it is impossible to figure out who came first. One thing for sure is that "humanity" and "monstrosity" are not dislocated as a duality, are not even related equivalents but the same. Human monstrosity describes the superconductive ability to expend energy which occurs perfectly well in psychosis. Humane monstrosity merely describes activities sublimated along "meta-scatological" levels.
Damianovic: Your cultivation of a rude aesthetic seems very cheeky. Is it related to a specific British critical heritage and does it demand a special faith in the authenticity of what it enacts?
Chapman: "Faith" raises the potential for religious delusion and hyper-cathexis to allow the spectator the possibility for total expenditure; to discharge without (Cartesian) doubt. Some of our best critics are delusional schizophrenics, even our detractors have their moments.
Damianovic: The cruelty of your anatomically perverse representations is amplified by using clone-like store mannequins that introduce a horrible, almost mathematical feeling of standardization. Is the disturbing and impossible vision in your work a necessary, preconditioned situation?
Damianovic: The allusion to abject states, filth, humiliation, degradation and violence in your work suggests a connection with Bataille's discussions of the abject. What kind of agitation are you aiming for by using the abject?
Chapman: Critical agitation is Oedipal trauma seeking revenge on sublimation for inhabiting its primary will. Political correctness lends itself as a phallic maypole around which all the naughty children skip and play and recite obscene rhymes. We are only doing what has always been required of us.
Damianovic: It seems to me that, in depicting what might be called awful accidents or genetic nightmares or things gone mad, you are developing the abject image to emphasizes both a general state of precariousness or victimization, and as an image of resistance that confronts a kind of pre-determined or predictable empiricism or idealism of thinking?
Chapman: Genetics or other anti-humanist viruses cause nightmares only for light nightmares only for light sleepers reluctant to close their eyes in the dark. While Humanists hate toilets they love to be disgusted. This elevation is flattering but dubious. The excremental cannot be re-fertilized to procure use-value. Repression is only an accessory to pleasure, a reification of secondary pleasure into hybridized taste.
Damianovic: In Zygotic you expose innocent faced, rosy-cheeked children, who are totally nude except for their generic black running shoes and are all linked together in anatomically anomalous groupings. This image, so full of troubling sexual innuendo, indicts any guises of harmlessness we could imagine: it seems located on a very shaky and anxious ground between childhood sexual insouciance and the violence of our adult projections.
Chapman: Our organisms are genetically mature and dislike being called children. They wear sneakers so that they can run fast like super- powered nomads.
Damianovic: For me, the hybridized image of Zygotic is politicized in the sense that it casts a shadow on the question of how identity is cultivated, or reigned in by social norms or authority. Is your playground of misbehaving images proposing a kind of discontinuity game, an escape from structures of closure?
Chapman: When was the last time you saw 21 "children" joined in a circle? What would it's mother look like? What kind of reproductive organs would be needed to give birth to Zygotic? There is an axiomatic slip which sends interpretative accounts sliding in shit towards the super-ego. We are really, really, really interested in this kind of socio neurosis.
Damianovic: Nonetheless, the way I understand it, your representation leads us into a broader discussion on different structures and mechanisms of control, such as socialization or communication. Although your organisms are cartoonish and imply a generally harmless situation, as if no harm can actually befall their artificiality, they also embody a chilling, painful and threatening violence. They call to attention the link between desire, the gaze, power and violence.
Chapman: We have never raised questions about the relation of violence and power. We believe that language "should be" an economy linked with power and violence.
Damianovic: I understand that your life-sized, realistically colored sculpture Great Deeds Against the Dead was inspired by Goya's horrific vision of death and destruction in his etchings Disasters of War. With its image of debauched butchery, it more closely reminds me of infamous photograph of a Chinese man being tortured during the 1905 boxer rebellion that was taken by the French ethnologist Louis Carpeaux and later reproduced in George Bataille's Tears of Eros. Do you know this photograph and did it influence you?
Chapman: No. We were interested in making a dead sculpture. Dead in content and dead or inert in materiality.
Damianovic: Is your representation all spectacular and fascinating effect or can we also talk about an effect of critical consciousness? In fact, doesn't the dramatic visual appeal of your images bring us to the edge of consciousness?
Chapman: Its difficult for us to agree to meta-aesthetic judgments about the work and its ambitions since they often appear overly optimistic.
Damianovic: You seem to present us with a state of permanent conceptual and moral withdrawal. Nonetheless, for me your representations also project a febrile unrest that invades our consciousness. Are you trying to structure a telepathic mode of communication that blurs the psychic barrier between the interior and the exterior and calls being into question?
Chapman: The neurologist Paul Mobius suggested that the "self is only an
organ." Using the topographical figure of the mobius strip he described the
cutaneous and subcutaneous membranes circulating the body as a single
continuous plane. While this spatiality dissolves the interiority and the
exteriority it also democratizes the anatomy thereby disinvesting the brain
of its sovereignty. What can be said about being after that?
Text: © Copyright, Journal of Contemporary Art, Inc. and the authors.