Cameron Platter: Solid Waste
From 6 February to 14 March 2020, WHATIFTHEWORLD will present Cameron Platter’s latest body of work, Solid Waste; an involuntary intoxication protocol of hallucinogenic stimulants opening up a world of mass-consumption, violence, hyper-masculinisation, and exhilarated culture.
“What does our rubbish say about us?” This question is central to Platter’s practice, a memorial to the everyday objects of our time. The title of the show, directly referencing refuse removal services, characterises his work as both consumables (trash) and precious. Platter asserts that, in his language, there is no difference between high and low, trash and value. Everything, everyone has equal status.
Existing primarily as an installation, the show is a collection of new functional and non-functional or dysfunctional sculptures, drawings, tapestry, and ceramics. These are joined by a video and web piece made in collaboration with Ben Johnson.
Platter arranges a group of absurdist but functional art objects in the gallery’s main space, constructing it almost as a living room, airport lounge, rave, or chemotherapy suite. All of the objects in this space rotate around one totemic monument— the centrepiece of the show: a fountain modelled in the style of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. Florescent tubes erupt from a dustbin column buried in the centre of a plastic clamshell sandbox replicated by the artist from wood. Love Beauty Desire Sex Fertility Prosperity Victory Death is the central piece to which all others in this dystopian drumming circle relate. Made from a conglomeration of seemingly uncorrelated items, its value is established not by the items themselves, but by history and rituals of interacting with art: of art-making, showing, and looking, of taking part in the valuing of objects. The artist, the gallery, the viewer, and the buyer all hold shares in the meaning of the objects in this room, in Platter’s effaced temple.
The iconographic design of this totem sits somewhere in the petri dish of Platter’s interrogation and appraisal of ‘culture’. The work is, in many ways, a tribute to the various forms of high and low art influencing Platter’s practice: two of which are the resonance of Henri Matisse’s Rosary chapel, and the wonder of a skilfully balanced cigarette box tower found in Downtown Durban. The latter’s influence can also be seen in Platter’s hybrid objects Solid Waste Zero Ultra (Blue) and Solid Waste Khaos (Orange). Modelled as high-end Charlotte Perriand-like designer armchairs, these carved wooden forms cast the shape of cinderblocks; bricks used to build low-cost RDP housing in South Africa. The block chairs are paradoxical and confusingly confrontational in that they fail to successfully perform both non-functional art and functional furniture. Knowing that one could sit on these objects, that they are structurally sound enough to hold the weight of their sitter, does not necessarily mean that one gets the sense that they should sit. These objects are bound by the weight of history and of context: of “the dance”, as Platter calls it, between symbol and meaning.
Platter interrogates our culture further in Optimism, a hand-dyed wool tapestry woven by an arts and crafts centre in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Once started up by Swedish Missionaries, it is now run by a community of isiZulu women. The craft centre is based on contentious land, the site where the Battles of Rorke’s Drift and Isandlwana took place during the Anglo-Zulu War. The large-scale textile work is formed from individual tapestries, each sized to the format of a yoga mat, stitched together to create a counter-narrative pop-object using old looms and artisanal craft. The sayings and fonts which make up these designs are informed by bumper stickers. Again, he mixes high and low culture, using ‘lowbrow’ African craft as a sartorial device to translate his naive style. The piece when considered within the context of power and privilege interrogates capital, class, labour, and colonial exploitation.
Other sculptures such as Lovers Plus: Do What You Want To Do and Lovers Plus: Passion Composition combine functionality and leisure in a way analogous to urban South Africa. These objects could be read as ‘His and Her’ tanning lamp reading chairs reserved for vapid, idle hours scrolling through Instagram. Although carved from wood, the chairs reference common-known plastic garden chairs, and are both a homage to and a mockery of mass-produced suburban housing industries; manufactured from ‘cheap’ labour in China. Platter extensively references South African formal and informal trade markets as a counterpoint to sanitised Eurocentric consumption, by extracting symbols and shapes from pan-African urban landscapes. Here, convenience stores proximate pre-boiled eggs and deep-fried potato chips to screen repairs on cellphones with built-in torches; and next-door is a laundromat with a sectioned off Internet Café. This hybridity — of the iron-age conflating with the techno-age — is indicative of our obsessive relationship with accessible consumption, of wholesale trade, and digital marketing. Platter’s work is an ode to human ingenuity; art borne from necessity, and our organic adaption to use and need. Platter takes these concepts further in Blue Lagoon A New Memory Go Slow, a deck chair with a swivelling snack/drinks/work desk. These ‘anti-stress’ convenience objects are symptomatic of our condition of constant stress.
These sculptural elements sit in combination with four pencil drawings, aptly titled War Zone Tours, The End, True Love, and You’re Next. These hint at the anxious dizziness, agitation, sexual excitement, and fear narrating our contemporary moment. Platter’s surrealist, punk-capitalist approach points to the absurdity of our time by conflating explosive war scenes with heavily saturated fonts and a digitised martini glass, as seen in The End. In War Zone Tours, Platter translates the iconography of a landscape into a radiated palm tree against a nuclear sunset: the contemporary replacement for Microsoft ’s Windows XP ‘Bliss’ screensaver.
Further accompanying the installation, is a series of large ceramic buckets, two of which are glazed to mimic a plastic tub of Mass Builder protein powder. Here, Platter turns his scrutiny on excessive consumption and the actual volume of our waste today: of landfills, sewerage dumps, factories, and meat farms; of our on-going mission to procure more and more space to destroy. This entitlement and hyper-masculine ‘pumped-up’ rush to expand is a theme that Platter often revisits in this work, using the iconography of brands such as Mass Builder, KFC, and Monster. Platter’s works embody the wired, Americanised, unethical capitalist frenzy exemplified by, for example, Monster as a brand. Engaging with his work is like experiencing mania while simultaneously witnessing a massive class come-down or the sugar crash at a kid’s party. It is the unfolding of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock: “the dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future.”[i] Monster’s existence as a franchise, culturally-dispersed through skateboard stickers and trucker-hat merchandise, is as baffling as a formal analysis of the logo (a video of a Christian activist at a book fair that went viral on the internet in 2014)[ii] linking each of the three claw-tears to the Hebrew letter for ‘6’, equating it to the satanic lettering ‘666’. Additional ceramic buckets included in the installation, done in a charcoal underglaze, present images of cockroaches, acid, and fingernails. These works function as cultural remnants, as monuments that reflect our age of synthetics, sex, design, and drugs, and reveal just how destructive and failed we are.
In the video room, Amplified Mass XXX, an enormous yellow and red zebra-striped, penis-shaped soft sculpture sewn from leather, asserts itself. This flaccid bean-bag functions as a rest-stop during the screening of Solid Waste, a video made in collaboration with Ben Johnson. Amplified Mass XXX, when seen in conversation with Love Beauty Desire Sex Fertility Prosperity Victory Death, could be understood as a ridicule of the phallocentrism of our age, and the toxicity of machismo; particularly within global politics. Our world economy controls sex, sexuality, fertility, infertility, and gender through biochemical, computing, electronic, or communications industries; as suggested by Paul B Preciado in Testojunkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era[iii]. As humans, our bodies and sexualities are modified by the Pill; SSRIs; synthetic steroids; artificial insemination; cosmetic surgery; hormones; Viagra; prosthesis; ingesting plasticisers; pharmaceutical and recreational drug use; digital transmissions; and ergonomic design. Platter takes the ludicrousness of this governance and control, and translates it into one crass, obnoxiously bulbous mass, raising the status of it almost to fetish object.
The video, Solid Waste, is both entrancing and perplexing: deeply repugnant and somehow satisfactory to watch. The absurdist, animated video, is Platter and Johnson’s invitation to the viewer to sit back, relax, and enjoy the unfolding of one terrifying show. The video is an ongoing archaeological web project documenting and parading some of our most embarrassing cultural trophies. It is set up almost as a screen recording of what we get up to in our private time: of the hours spent in the YouTube vortex watching short clips of a woman licking her elbow or a four-year-old trying to use a water fountain. But, it is also the ugly reality of tweens googling how to get high off of nutmeg; of incels trolling web forums; the Dark Web; hacking; and of data theft. Solid Waste is almost pornographic in its proximity to shame and is the final coming together of all the themes tying Platter’s exhibition together. As a whole, the works making up Platter’s latest exploration position themselves as tombstones to our consumer culture.
Text by Lindsey Raymond
[i] Toffler, A. 1971. Future Shock. Bantam: United States of America [ii] Jukin Media Verified. 2014. MONSTER Energy drinks are the work of SATAN!!! [Video] Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bntfUA6TmLs [iii] Preciado, P.B. 2013. Testojunkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era. The Feminist Press: New York City.
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