A Fruity Mechanical Treat

11 March – 23 April 2016

Zuzanna Czebatul, A Fruity Mechanical Treat, Installation view, Schmidt & Handrup, 2016
Photograph: Simon Vogel
Courtesy: Schmidt & Handrup

A Fruity Mechanical Treat is an offering, a heavily and brightly packed dosage of doomed decadence. For Zuzanna Czebatul’s solo exhibition at Schmidt & Handrup in Cologne, her first show at the gallery, the artist remaps the space into something of a dystopian lounge. On view are three new bodies of works that blur boundaries between commercial product, architectural relic, and art object. Extending the visual tropes of club culture well beyond the dark walls of after-hours, Czebatul presents desire, desperation, and hedonistic fatigue as moving forces, teetering dangerously on two hands.
Words like MEGA CASH SPEED JIZZ HYPE FROG run the length of the gallery. Casino carpets, infamous for their brash and hypnotic designs to keep gamblers awake and spending, are the departure point for this potent work. Disorienting and enticing the viewer down past their feet, and away from themselves, Czebatul disallows the boundaries of the room to escape our consideration. A coat of arms floats atop deep blue tectonic plates. Somewhere between militant camouflage and Ming Dynasty vase, its collage is a constellation of symbols: cartoon hands wobble and grasp for balance, a tongue catches a hit of happy face acid, a mushroom chastises another, tongues and snakes intertwine. Yet it seems to propel onwards, almost like a surrealistic, unstoppable machine. On a suspended ribbon reads a different word: NOW. It is both as a fragmented poem and an imperative, an instruction flashing across a screen, but here suspended and still on a factory-produced carpet.
Standing upon the carpet, five pairs of resin hands, The Silent Kingmakers, gesture upwards. With undertones of perversion (how could one sit on such a chair?), The Silent Kingmakers are comically nonsensical; yet they also carry a political temper. Their exploitative gesture and apparent hunger, contextualized by the underlying NOW, SPEED or MEGA evoke the mania of Wall Street,  with little care for the future. Their position is uncertain, but whether offering or begging, they seem to call out MORE. Pierced on top of painted steel structures, these anthropomorphic sculptures lean and seem to foreshadow their impending fall. Are they grabbing with desperation or greed? Referencing slot machine chairs and bar stools, they are voyeurs of the hanging artworks, but also the walls – gazing off into emptiness.
Six plant-like sculptures creep along the walls, strategically positioned as if concealing something behind them. Detached from natural elements of stem, root, and soil, these marbled resin works recall Monstera Deliciosa, the exotic yet reliant indestructible houseplant. These ubiquitous creatures, found everywhere from clinic waiting rooms to Matisse prints, evoke both high and low culture, profound nature and yet the total impoverishment and abstraction of it. They are a contradiction, nature nearing plasticity, and trivial elements of décor. The works seem to ask what more is decoration than the adornment of our spaces as an extension of our own egos, as a tactic for rendering a space more appealing to others, more encouraging to idle in, and so, spend.
American author David Foster Wallace, in his essay on Las Vegas, ‘Big Red Son’, aptly described the essence of the glimmering Sin City: “A new kind of Rome: conqueror of its own people. An empire of the Self. It’s breathtaking […] A city that pretends to be nothing but what it is, an enormous machine of exchange…” Vegas is a hallmark of spiraling capitalism, as Czebatul’s work captures its qualities from widely different avenues of our culture. We begin to realize that it is one and the same. Here lies the definitive urgency of A Fruit Mechanical Treat. Through the pervasive anxiety and tension, its overt offering as open hands and thirsty tongues, it encompasses a crazed state, a bread and circuses on the verge of exhaustion that whispers and shouts simultaneously: where is this thing headed? 
Text: Kate Brown