This is a project I made as part of a poetry class at NDSU. The assignment was to make any kind of representation of modern art and then to explain why it counted as art.
“Bowl of Fruit” Modern Art
I call the piece of modern art I created “Bowl of Fruit, Violence, and Body.” It is a sculpture that involves a few media, including found art, painting, and sculpting with silicone. The genre of the piece is intended to be surrealist body horror. The work is meant to be a parody of the traditional still life “bowl of fruit” style painting with the bowl replaced with a military helmet and the fruit painted to look like severed body parts.
I took inspiration from several modern artists to create the bowl. The first is Pablo Picasso’s 1914 piece, “Bowl of Fruit, Violin, and bottle.” I altered the name of this piece to make my parody. Picasso’s work takes the bowl of fruit, one of the most recognizable and often-depicted images in art, and distorts it to give a different perspective on the item using his abstract style. The painting is created from various pieces of paper–as well as paint made to look like paper–to create the collage effect. Picasso’s painting takes something ubiquitous to earlier genres of art and skews it in order to comment on the genre itself. With my project, I wanted to take the bowl of fruit concept and make it as disgusting and unappealing as possible.
-Picasso’s “Violin, Fruit, and Bottle,” 1914
The main inspirations I had visually and technically came from horror film props. Specifically, they came from surrealist body horror films. This genre of film, which takes its horror largely from the distortion and mutilation of human bodies, traces its roots back to the early 20th century. One of the earliest and most famous examples is the film Un Chien Andalou, directed by Luis Buñuel. The film was co-created with famous surrealist artist Salvador Dali and is best remembered for its scene in which a woman’s eye is cut open with a razor blade.
-Un Chien Andalou, 1929
In her book Figures of Desire: A Theory and Analysis of Surrealist Film, Linda Williams calls Un Chien Andalou has “become the very emblem of sureality in film in much the same way as Dali’s melting watches have functioned in painting” 63). In the movie, the shot of the eye being cut with the razor is match cut with a shot of a cloud passing by the moon, with the cloud’s movement over the moon mimicking that of the razor over the eye. Williams describes how this cut plays with film convention by comparing it to a scene where a kiss on a train station is punctuated by a train whistle. In this example, the background action of the whistle is providing a comment on the main action of the scene, the kiss. Un Chien Andalou reverses this by having the plot action seem to be the secondary compliment to the moon, which has no narrative significance (61). This makes the juxtaposition of nature and violence even more disturbing because the violence becomes dissociated with the narrative. Unlike the whistle and kiss example, the moon and eye are not related in any way except visual similarity, so the violence is both more gruesome because it’s compared to a beautiful nature shot, and because the lack of connection to the other shot is so loose that the violence seems arbitrary and senseless. This is the sense of disgust I wanted to elicit from my art. There is no reason to associate fruit with severed body parts, so taking the edible and appetizing fruit and making them disgusting and violent is more impactful than the wounds would be if they didn’t have that juxtaposition.
Similar body horror can be found in the work of David Cronenberg, who made a career out of the type of gross-out body horror I tried to recreate. His film VideoDrome contains a prop of a VHS tape that is made to look like a bodily organ.
Aside from simply getting a reaction, this art has the effect of making the viewer question what–if anything–they find appealing about it. David Sanjek writes about Cronenberg “Our desire to gaze upon physical torment not only makes us complicit in the process but also punishes us for our voyeurism by making us in part responsible for the horror we observe” (56).
A second juxtaposition I wanted to have in the art is between the hard metal of the helmet and the oozing organic tissue of the human fruit. This mesh of organic and metal has a long history in modern art. H.R. Giger famously merged technology, particularly weapons, and organic pieces to create a discomforting effect, such as in this piece, “Birth Machine:”
The other element of my piece is the military helmet. It’s a Hungarian military surplus helmet. I chose it to provide a violent contrast to the bowl of a typical bowl of fruit. I chose a military helmet firstly because it it fits with my violent theme, and secondly because war imagery is common in modern art. The futurist’s aero art and painting like Picasso’s Guernica represent opposite sides of this. However, I used the military imagery because I wanted it to be a tongue-in-cheek parody of how obvious and easy it is to use modern art to comment of war. Here is an example that I think embodies this:
This is a work by the graffiti artist Banksy. It depicts young girl hugging a bomb with the word “no” written over it. While I like the piece aesthetically, it’s easy to criticize the war imagery as being tired and ineffective. A lot of Banksy’s art falls into this, seeming to take random people and objects and adding bombs or gas masks to make anti-war statements that fail to feel very substantial. This is what I tried to poke fun at with my art. I literally chose a militaristic aspect because I felt it would be the easiest and most obvious way to make it appear like I was trying to make some sort of statement with the art when in reality I just wanted to make something more along the lines of Halloween decor or B-movie prop than protest art.
Banksy. Untitled Girl with Bomb. N.d. Art of the State. Web.
Giger, H.R. Birth Machine. 1967. HRGiger.com. Web.
Picasso, Pablo. Bowl of Fruit, Violin, and Bottle. 1914. The Nation Gallery. Tate. Tate Liverpool. Web.
Sanjek, David. “Dr. Hobbes’s Parasites: Victims, Victimization, and Gender in David Cronenberg’s “Shivers”” Cinema Journal 36.1 (1996): 55-74. JSTOR. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.
Un Chien Andalou. Dir. Luis Bunuel. Screenplay by Salvador Dali. Perf. Pierre Batcheff and Simone Mareuil. Les Grands Film Classiques, 1928.
Videodrome. Dir. David Cronenberg. Perf. James Woods. Universal Pictures, 1983.
Williams, Linda. Figures of Desire an Analysis of Surrealist Film. N.p.: n.p., 1977. Google Books. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.
Build Pictures of “Bowl of Fruit”