BY Michelle Grabner in Reviews | 02 JAN 97
Featured in
Issue 32

Mandy Morrison

BY Michelle Grabner in Reviews | 02 JAN 97

Mandy Morrison's video and sculpture installation, 'Os' (1996), castigates mass entertainment for obscuring the 'real' social constructs that inform our lives. Concerned with its homogenising force on mass culture, specifically in the prevalent and clichéd texts of Disney, Morrison attempts to illustrate the false consciousness of manufactured illusions. Believing, like Adorno, that mass culture colonises the minds of the people, Morrison accuses the entertainment industry of creating a cultural space which collapses diversity into artificial territories of misleading pleasures.

Transforming Automatic Gallery's long exhibition space into a dark hall anchored at one end by a hanging string of handmade, stuffed animals and at the other with a wall-size video projection and a creepy audio track of obsessive, mechanical breathing, Morrison creates her own sinister analysis of the dangerous implications of Oz. The suspended stuffed-clothing animals are generic 'dopes' sewn together like a mutated DNA strand, each with its head stuck in the arse of the creature above it. Strewn about the floor below are the severed remnants of animal figures: pulled-off legs, arms and torsos spewing stuffing.

A neat, narrow path of tiny sunshine-yellow ceramic tiles stretches along the floor from the foot of the animal string to the wall-projection. This domesticated yellow-brick road delineates the space between the audience and the image: the big screen Zenith and the media-induced imagination. Formally, this delicate yellow lateral line is the most successful design element in the installation. Unlike the stuffed animals, Morrison's yellow-brick road analogy can hold its own as a sculpture.

The continually looped video component is comprised primarily of a black woman's hands calmly dissecting a Mickey Mouse doll. Sometimes she uses a seam ripper and sometimes only her hands to peel away the fur, remove the stuffing and dislocate the limbs. Briefly spliced into this unpleasant demonstration is a clip of Dorothy's air-bound Kansas home and a haunting poltergeist head, mouthing commands at the viewer in the same way the great and powerful Wizard of Oz terrified Dorothy and her friends.

It's quite easy to assign deconstructed roles to Morrison's cast of characters. The stuffed figures represent the blind 'cultural dupes' parked squarely in front of the screen. The video is an attempt to have the 'other' methodically unravel Disney and its monolithic industry. And finally, the tile-brick road is one of enlightenment for those ignorant consumers of mass entertainment who are willing to pull their heads out of their arse and follow Morrison's path to inclusive cultural territories based on 'real' needs and 'real' desires.

One great flaw in Morrison's critique is her inability to realise that her visual analogies are condescending, assuming all audiences follow blindly into the 'mass-media light'. Perhaps it would be prudent for Morrison to explore the social experiences of the audience rather than examine Oz and Disney in isolation from the people who consume them. This would also eliminate the

inherent paradox of critiquing mass culture with mass culture. Another gap in Morrison's investigation is her negation of the incestuous relationship between Capitalism and the entertainment industry and the more obvious dichotomy between art and entertainment.

Past bodies of work have shown Morrison's fascination with the manipulative aspects of popular culture, but there her uses of recognisable media imagery were more insidious. Large wall paintings, beautiful in colour, form and scale also became ghastly icons of mass culture's ever-present threat to high art. 'Os' lacks this indifference to moving back and forth between the forms and ideas of high art and mass culture. Here, Morrison uncharacteristically employs the language of art simply to dispute the language of mass entertainment.

Stuffed animals and dismembered dolls are tired assaults on exclusive systems of authority. Paul McCarthy's re-orchestration of B-movies, sitcoms and American horror films exaggerates the perversities endemic to these genres of entertainment by underscoring what the audience already suspected. Morrison, meanwhile, accuses us for watching it all. In this pessimistic one-sided interpretation of media-manufactured space, Morrison forgot what McCarthy, Alix Lambert and David Robbins already know: mass entertainment, as dominant as it is, still empowers its audience.

Michelle Grabner is an artist, curator and professor in the Department of Painting and Drawing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is Director of the exhibition spaces The Suburban in Milwaukee, USA and the Poor Farm in Wisconsin, USA.