Walter Benjamin pointed out the paradox that poses for the humanist spirit the rejection of violence under any of its forms and at the same time its justification as a means to fight against an oppressive situation. The “divine violence” is that which is wielded promising a new liberating order, a tomorrow that will only be conquered by establishing repression, which engenders another cycle of terror for the sake of liberation, and thus the loop is eternal until the end of time .
Violence is a cyclical landslide to which more and more causes adheres, devouring everything in its path. This cannibal avalanche has no brake, so it’s better to accelerate it until it explodes, and that’s what Jake and Dinos Chapman are doing. They are merciless displaying bloody orgies with toy soldiers or to demonstrate a nor less macabre delight undertaking feverish “corrections” on original engravings of Goya’s The Disasters of War.
The seemingly vandalistic gesture of adding clown faces to the tortured bodies and torturers of the Spanish War of Independence manages to disturb us doubly, first by desecrating (destroying, as their most bitter detractors say) a masterpiece, then by trivializing the war horror with cartoon characters.
Chapman Brothers expect both reactions: to fuel the misunderstanding enters into their plans precisely because they renounce the communicative model applied to art.
Stamping their grotesque flourish on the quintessential historic testimony of human suffering and sadism not only ravages against the aesthetic pleasure aroused by the exhibition of atrocities but also undermines the possibility of flattery to the moral courage of the artist. They prefer to be branded as scoundrels than to be included in the epic tradition of the humanist artist who want to appease consciences.
For this reason and for the sincere admiration that they profess to Goya, they decided to “correct” his legacy. The Aragonese painter was the first artist to strip away the heroic tone in war conflicts, and his lucid nihilism allowed him to scrutinize barbarism without patriotic or political excuses of any kind. The peasants are blinded by the same murderous rage as their executioners, defiling the bodies of the Napoleonic soldiers, cutting off arms and legs, advancing with sinister dramatizations to the spectacularization of violence that will burst in the cybernetic era.
Between the Hispanic obscurantism and the Napoleonic despotism, at the time of the French invasion Goya was disillusioned with intellectual enlightenment once he believed. His pessimism allowed him to see the anguished cycle of mythical violence as a gear of the world. The Chapmans admire his lucidity, but consider that in our time art can not rely on the moral force that still weighs on Goya, nor tolerate the anatomical beauty of these mutilated torsos.
Especially obsessed with the engrave 39 of the Disasters (Grande hazaña! Con muertos!), Chapman Brothers have made sculptural and graphic versions of those chopped-up bodies hanging from a tree, depriving them of the humanity that they still had for Goya despite being humiliated. In three-dimensional versions, plastic dummies replaced the anatomical tension of Goya’s drawing, transforming the pathos into fair attraction. In a second revision, the mannequins would be just skeleton defying gravity. As for their direct intervention on the picture, the English duo added the bloody head of a clown with protruding ears and a swastika through the composition.
The fine line drawing a swastika seems to predetermine the characters arrangement in the expiatory tree as corresponding to a diabolical proportion (as an inverted mirror of the golden ratio or divine proportion that underlie medieval and Renaissance paintings). The vexed clown is a recurring icon in the Chapman universe, freezing the mask of happiness in a pathetic rictus, either through the crucified figure of Ronald McDonald or in the guillotined victims in their graphic work.
The fact is that Jake and Dinos Chapman turn everything upside down. Like the Spanish saying goes, “no dejan títere con cabeza”, that literally translates as “they do not leave any puppet with its head”, neither in Disasters of War IV nor in the rest of their genealogy of evil, reviewing past and present genocides, shaking them in a Machiavellian shaker that regurgitates them out of order . Because, is there any order in hell?
Exhibition “Desastres de la guerra. Jake & Dinos Chapman en torno a Goya”.
in Museo Goya. Colección Ibercaja, Zaragoza
until 11th February 2018