Are we the consumers or the products in today’s digital marketplace of targeted adverts? ‘Meat’, an absurd alter-ego created by the artist, investigates
With every click of the mouse, Google search or Facebook post, the information generated by our online activity facilitates the construction of a consumer profile. British artist Jeremy Hutchison’s new durational performance, Work the Meat, Pleasure the Dessert, proposes a playful mode of resistance to algorithmic data gathering. Hutchison has created this new work as part of his residency at the White Building, Hackney Wick, London’s centre for art, technology and sustainability. Opening on Thursday 28 January at SPACE Studios on Mare Street, Hackney, Hutchison’s three-day durational performance – encompassing new film based work and a series of spoken word performances – sees him construct a fictional version of himself to ridicule the way online advertising tries to construct a version of us as a consumer.
Talking to Hutchison in his studio in preparation for the performance, he explains his view that the information collected on our consuming habits exemplifies how we are “constituted by our present socio-economic condition.” Generated without our explicit consent, and by tools and products we don’t even pay for, Hutchison implies that we, as consumers of free products that pay for themselves through advertising, are ultimately the product itself. A map of our consuming habits is constructed for us through data harnessing, so that we can be sold things more effectively.
In precisely that mode, Hutchison developed ‘Meat’ as a tangent of his subjectivity. Beginning with what Google already ‘knew’ about him, Hutchison wrote a series of sloganistic and absurd sentences that mock the language of consumer advertising; he writes in the first person as his euphemistic constructed other, ‘Meat’. With choice observations such as ‘Meat was disappointed by lack of variety in COS sale’, or ’Meat likes to select from classics range e.g. crayfish & rocket’, Hutchison creates a tragi-comic consumer subject reflection of himself, rephrasing the data harnessed about him to comic and subversive ends.
Hutchison then gave ‘Meat’ a tangible digital form, by using a handheld 3D body scanner to scan different parts of his anatomy in sections. This process allows Hutchison to divert his “unpaid labour as a consumer” away from his embodied matter and towards a digital counterpart. This meeting of the digital and organic produces all manner of glitches and distortions; each scan is ‘dismembered’ at a certain point where the hand-held scanner can no longer reach. The purposely flawed, almost schizophrenic process of digital embodiment represents the “limitations of the attempt to be contained as a subject.” For Hutchison, the range of psychographic data obtained without our consent cannot capture “the ineffable, the uncontained, the poetic unknowable” that constitutes the truth of our being. Hutchison’s project demonstrates the inability to be accurately defined: something he finds liberating.
With choice observations such as ‘Meat was disappointed by lack of variety in COS sale’, or ’Meat likes to select from classics range e.g. crayfish & rocket’, Hutchison creates a tragi-comic consumer subject reflection of himself
The resulting digital forms, in their smooth grey physicality, are positioned within a dark expanse, abjectly rotating and spinning, devoid of agency or immediate meaning. Each form recalls a chipped or broken piece of classical statuary one might find in a poorly kept museum of classical antiquity. Despite its digital mode of fabrication, the project’s mimetic process forms part of a long museological and artistic history. Hutchison’s digital project questions why we project onto ‘bodied’ objects such as the Belvedere torso. Is this mimetic tradition, which constructs an embodied canvas for our own psychic projections, what draws us to museums?
The forms Hutchison creates live a zombie-like, half-existence. The zombie in Hollywood tradition is frequently a stand-in for the consumer, the somatic workforce. Comprised of “ones and zeros and a 2,500 square pixel ratio”, Hutchison’s inscribed fragments of his own body “enjoy their own macabre existence, perfectly encoded in that visual realm.” The schizomorphic process of separating the self and embedding part of it in an external object has roots in Julia Kristeva’s notion of the ‘abject’; what Hutchison terms the “distance between the self and the horrors of the rest of the world,” is where this project begins. Hutchison stresses the catharsis that this deeply personal process brings him, placing all these things into what he terms his “psychic dustbin.”
Hutchison’s project of fragmentation and disidentification with his consumer self counters the need to offer a coherent, presentable subject. The contemporary impulse we feel to project a constructed reality of the self “operates exactly like a company or corporation.” Where this intellectual tradition to avoid categorisation has roots in queer and feminist practices, Hutchison seeks to resist identification by market and capitalist forces. This project draws from Foucault’s notion of the ‘care of the self’: how to be aware of our relationship to our environment. Hutchison’s work highlights these changing conditions. As much as the care of the self is a work that is never finished, Hutchison’s practice demonstrates that a radical, evasive artistic practice can never operate from one fixed position; the conditions of its realisation are constantly shifting.
Within this complex and deeply personal project there is a sense of emancipation, bordering on a utopian logic. With this work, Hutchison seeks to swerve the “endless interpellations” of a culture that seeks to perpetually categorise us as individuals, using humour as a tool to bring this identification to light. Crucially, Hutchison embraces his many potential selves, acknowledging the impossibility of being perfectly, and fixedly, defined.
The performance takes place between 6pm on Thursday 28 January until 4pm on Sunday 31st January. To conclude his presentation, the artist will then read a newly-commissioned text entitled Forever Youth Liberator, between 4-6pm on Sunday 31st January.