Friday, December 16, 2011 at 9:43 a.m.
In an exhibition that could have been born from Occupy Wallstreet (though its origins predate the movement), "Everybody Wins"
by David Sollie takes a satirical look at capitalism, consumerism, and corporations in a whimsical and sometimes morbid way. The show, which runs at Soo Visual Arts Center (VAC)
through January 7, draws from images of America's commercial past, and in so doing turns the American Dream inside out and shows its darker side.
SooVAC refers to the exhibition as a "Shackway Corporation retrospective and product pavilion." There's no indication on the gallery's website or signage that Shackway is anything other than a real corporation. According to SooVAC's website, it was founded in 1948 by Sollie's grandfather Bruce Milburn and "rose from humble beginnings," selling products "ranging from the shockingly dangerous to the heroically ingenious."
In a way, it doesn't matter if Shackway is real or not. (Though rumor has it that it was actually incorporated by David Sollie himself
). It doesn't matter, because the atrocities committed by Shackway are a symbol for any number of atrocities committed by any number of corporations.
The specific apology Shackway owns up to in the show is the company's practice during the 1950s-70s of heavily insuring unworthy sea ships full of junk, sending them through troubled waters, and cashing in on the insurance while sailors lost their lives. So, maybe it didn't "actually" happen, but you can substitute this for oil spills, cheating on safety regulations, dishonest trading, sending American jobs overseas, or any number of bad things that corporations do.
Most of the exhibition acts as a celebration of sorts, of kitschy advertisements that are each in their own way subversive. Whether it's a cut-out cow riding an airplane constructed of toys, an advertisement for a hypnotism kit, a whistle that you can blow under water, or a swiss army creature (a kind of crab with pull out knife, fork, and spoon attachments), Shackway is shown to be a mystical corporation that goes beyond the limits of the imagination.
Shackway is a business where anything is possible, where ice cream is laced with Lithium, where dogs and cats sip cocktails at fancy restaurants, where "everybody wins." But there is an underlying sadness and a horror that subtly plays out in many of the cutesy images, such as a woman suffering from Alzheimer's depicted as a scribbled child lost in a memory, a young woman gazes into a mirror as her reflection looks suspiciously back at her, and a man drives by a fire with a giant diamond on the dashboard of his car.
While the most intensely horrific images are those of the Shackway ships sinking, bringing cash to the corporation at the cost of lives, that darker theme can be seen throughout the exhibit. And yet, it's not all gloom and doom. The title itself is rather tongue-in-cheek, but the two pieces that carry the phrase "Everybody Wins" are happy-happy rather than happy-dark. In one, three children are playing a game like Pin the Tail on the Donkey, except they are pinning leaves to a giant bush picture. While the game doesn't look like it would be that fun, the kids seem to enjoy it, and there's certainly nothing menacing about it. Similarly, in a larger piece that has the same phrase, art goers are encouraged to donate a non-perishable food item in exchange for being allowed to pin a flower to a giant tree.
The "Everybody Wins" interactive pin the flower on the tree game acts as a kind of resolution for the Shackway Corporation's sins. And even if there were no sins -- even if this is all just a figment of David Sollie's imagination -- the message is the same. The anecdote to the sins of capitalism are the rewards of good deeds -- of caring for the earth, of caring for one's fellow human beings. So, though there is a derisive element to the exhibition as a whole, it ultimately has a very hopeful and uplifting message: Corporations are bad. Take care of each other.
IF YOU GO:
Soo Visual Arts Center 2638 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
Through January 7, 2012