Blame capitalism. Blame Bush. Blame Goldman Sachs. You needn’t have watched Michael Moore’s documentaries to know that much reportage on crises resorts to finger-pointing, and although that impulse is understandable—especially when you’re struggling with unemployment or standing on a roof while Katrina’s floodwaters rise—such thinking can reduce political dialogue to the binarism of “evil perpetrator” versus “innocent victim.”
Offering a refreshing break from this two-dimensionality was “Flooded McDonald’s,” the first New York solo show of the Danish collective Superflex. Founded in 1993, Superflex is known for social interventions that apply what the group terms “counter-economic strategies.” Its projects have ranged from helping Bangkok farmers convert pig excrement into biogas to collaborative “performances” with convenience-store owners, in which unsuspecting, real-life customers are told at the cash register that they can walk away with their “purchases” for free.
The most visually captivating of the three films shown at Blum was Burning Car (2008), which records the fiery destruction of a silver Mercedes in slow, rhythmic pans that soften the drama. More ambitious, and creepily comical, was Flooded McDonald’s (2009), at 21 minutes the longest of the films. For this piece, Superflex meticulously re-created a McDonald’s interior, right down to an employee-of-the-month plaque dedicated to one Jorge Nguyen, a cash-register sign reading “Want More? Get Bigger, Big Mac,” and promotional graphics for the Olympic Games on waxy soft-drink cups. The restaurant is devoid of employees and customers, although half-eaten Happy Meals sit on tabletops, and chairs are pushed back as if everyone had made a quick yet orderly exodus. Water rushing in from underneath a door slowly begins to fill the space—first dislodging a life-size Ronald McDonald statue, which floats eerily upright, arm still raised in a cheerful wave—and continues rising until everything is submerged: French fries, coffee pots, Hamburglar figurines. Eventually, the electricity shorts out, leaving the scene in murky darkness. As the waterline rises above the camera, a churning sea of detritus fills the screen.
Consumption of another sort was addressed in The Financial Crisis (I–IV), 2009. Broadcast last year on national television in the U.K., it features a professional hypnotist, who guides viewers through a quartet of therapeutic visualizations that each begins with imagining a condition of plenty and leads to the evocation of financial catastrophe; each session concludes with a spell-breaking snap of the hypnotist’s fingers, and a directive to wake up feeling comfortable, fresh and happy.
Both this film and Flooded McDonald’s refrain from either vilifying or vindicating the individuals and corporations that have become targets of populist rage. They also show that much as we may thrill at the idea of toppling seemingly indomitable entities like multimillion-dollar fast-food franchises or Wall Street CEOs, when destruction actually hits them, it is as frightening as it is liberating.
Photo: Superflex: Flooded McDonald’s, 2009, film, 21-minute loop; at Peter Blum.