BY Stuart Morgan in Reviews | 05 SEP 96
Featured in
Issue 28

Anand Zenz

BY Stuart Morgan in Reviews | 05 SEP 96

Elegant but sepulchral, the grey gallery contains easels with giant pads of paper and the punning instruction 'Rip Off'. Each sheet bears a 64-line list, and all three of these easels form part of the same, apparently endless, list of complaints. 'The pitiful idiocy of pests/the blissful idiocy of marriage/the strained idiocy of sport/the cultivated idiocy of gardens...'. If hatred is taken to its limits, then so is the English language. From a series of adjectives describing 'breeders' come the words: 'farting', 'warty', 'flaccid', 'battologous', 'nostromaniacal', 'algolagnian', 'evaginated', 'pleonastic', 'neotonous', 'ultracrepidarian' and, best of all, 'mallemaroking'. (Consult Chambers, not the Oxford English Dictionary.) Zenz uses language to fire his own hatred, it may seem. Yet, the result is more far-reaching than this. In the gallery, another room has been built to contain a low, square table and, in a slightly different colour grey, the words 'Nothing plays on my Mind' stencilled on the wall. Could this mock-retiring-room be a boudoir in its literal sense: a place to sulk? Could it be an attack on Modernism and what it might mean now? Or could it be a glimpse of hell as Modernist design?

Outside, the pet hates are rehearsed: peerages, religion, cars, meat, consumerism, circumcision... the list seems endless. The enemy as Zenz sees it is platitudinous and facile, stuck in a rut so deep that escape is unthinkable. Does his excessive, almost medieval detail prove its own undoing? (His model is Sir Thomas Urquhart's translation of Rabelais.) In the suit he designed for Milch in 1994, Zenz revealed clothes as subliminal advertising, never fully understood by the wearer. His dim room within a room, a place of disappointment and lack of fight, and his posters that exhaust feisty readers, hint that the entire installation constitutes another experiment in subliminality. In Zenz' approach, humour, calculated pointlessness and subtle subversion are indivisible. Conformity plus mediocrity equals paralysis, Zenz is insisting, but the complete change of tactics from those of his book No Non Zenz (which doubles as a catalogue for his T-shirts) simply provided another approach to the same problem.

'Subvertising', Zenz' own term, addresses perception in general, recalling Situationist tactics. And, like a classic Situationist, Zenz works hard to avoid 'art' and its accoutrements, risking charges of redundancy to create an area of soporific blankness in order to oppose it. The charge against him could be that he fights fire with fire, or redundancy with an even greater degree of redundancy. The numbing result is a test of the power of the attack Zenz is launching, on the nominal artistic avant-garde as well as on material, materialism and materiality.