The Pleasure Principle
The Pleasure Principle at the Hoxton Art Gallery is an exploration of Sigmund Freud's concept of the same name and how it exists in today's culture. These works are self-conscious in their bright colouring, shininess and sexually explicit nature, and in seducing us, they themselves engage with our pleasure principle.
Ashitha Nagesh21st June 2012
Walking into the gallery, the first thing to greet you is a pair of eyeballs, watching you suspiciously. The eyes, which after a couple of seconds fixate on some other corner of the room, are part of Steven Dickie's Great Leap Forward (2012), a wall-mounted sculpture incorporating LCD displays, showing three steel and graphite 'laptops' arranged next to each other.
This work - in which a consumer product watches you - sets the tone for the rest of the exhibition at Hoxton Art Gallery. The Pleasure Principle is an exploration of Sigmund Freud's concept of the same name and how it exists in today's culture. Freud developed his theory of a pleasure principle in 1921, which explores the aspect of our psychosexual development in which one unreservedly seeks instant gratification of their desires, regardless of how superficial or depraved they may be. Freud argued that, in normal development, reason replaces these hedonistic impulses as a person grows older and more mature. However, with the democracy of the digital age and the unrestricted access to sexual and consumerist gratification that comes with it, can we truly consider ourselves to have matured out of this state?
This show explores, then, how consumerism perpetuates and feeds this pleasure principle in disparate ways. On the ground floor are works exploring the perhaps more easily-digestible aspects of consumer culture - luxury objects which most of us don't need but most likely have, such as the aforementioned laptops, or Rebecca Griffiths' speakers - the sort you may find as part of an elaborate home sound system - in Complexi (2012). Also featured here are two new works by South Korean artist Ha Young Kim, which portray a series of indistinct figures, described by Kim herself as "characterless characters," all staring in unison at unknown spaces off-canvas. They all have the same look of irrational lust and idiocy, as though they were under a trance. Certainly, Cyborgs and Stem Girls (both 2012) distinctly recreate the blind desire of a mass of consumers. Indeed, the figures in Cyborgs fall within the eye-line of Rebecca Griffiths' Complexi.
The remainder of the exhibition explores the less shiny aspects of consumerist culture: that is, the constant and insatiable consumption of pornography and the instant gratification of almost any conceivable sexual fantasy through the democratic medium of the internet. The flailing hands in Kim's Ribbon Man (2011) alludes to bondage fantasies, whilst her signature trance-like character stares from multiple points of the work, with faces arranged consecutively in the shape of a ribbon that winds itself around the canvas in bright, garish colours, glaring out of the image with a look of mindless lust. The other work of Kim's displayed here, In Cyberspace Everybody Has a Peanuts (2012) is more overt, with her characters sporting large phallic noses. The work references censorship efforts ('peanuts' rather than the implied word 'penis') and their ultimate futility. By replacing the forbidden word with a homophone, the forbidden meaning remains intact - a nod, perhaps, to the Baidu Ten Mythical Creatures that were created to circumvent censorship in China, by possessing names homophonous to the most commonly censored profanities – for example, Fǎ Kè Yóu or 'French-Croatian Squid' which, when said aloud, is rather self-evident.
Also in the basement, British artist Tom Gallant depicts troubling scenes from western fairy tales, distorted by the superimposition of semi-abstracted characters from the Japanese manga/anime porn genre Hentai (which can be roughly translated as 'perverted') in his pieces, Qui Pourra Les Renseigner and Les Filles de la Ferme (both 2010). However the most striking work in the entire show, in my opinion, is Gallant's Elle va L'attraper (2012), another fairy tale scene of a little girl walking her dog in the countryside - an image that, upon closer inspection, is entirely composed of pornographic imagery. The clear sky, startlingly, is actually corrupted by a graphic image of two young girls performing sexual acts, seemingly a poignant reflection of child abduction. However, it becomes all the more interesting when we consider that the title translates to 'She will catch him,' thus placing the girl herself in the predatory position. Gallant seems to imply that, rather than the sexually objectified women, consumers are the real victims of their own insatiable desires.
What we see, then, is that as a culture we are regressing back into Freud's hedonistic stage of infancy - the show exposes how we have become dependent on consumption and immediate sexual gratification. Indeed, these works are self-conscious in their bright colouring, shininess and sexually explicit nature, and in seducing us, they themselves engage with our pleasure principle.