By Annette Hinkle
Satire has long been a tool for poking fun at authority. In times of oppression, a cleverly written script could call attention to issues without fear of retribution from the powers that be. And in freer societies, political cartoons have historically used the juxtaposition of words and drawings to bring context to controversy.
This weekend, the Silas Marder Gallery in Bridgehampton offers a distinctly 21st century vision of satire alongside some historic views of the same in “Bad Jokes,” a multi-media group art exhibit that explores the boundaries of satire in ways that go far beyond the simple one liner.
The show is curated by Tucker Marder, brother of Silas and a recent graduate of Pratt Institute. An artist in his own right, Marder has assembled prints of centuries old satirical works by European masters Honore Daumier, Francisco Goya and Pieter Bruegel as well as contemporary pieces by artists like David Shrigley, Carsten Holler, Daniel Heidkamp and Mike Kelly.
“The idea is bad jokes — playing on the word ‘bad,” explains Marder. “They are humorous works — but it’s humor with an agenda. It covers the whole spectrum — bad jokes meaning a piece that is a bad joke, to really subversive political satire.”
Local artists taking part in “Bad Jokes” include Jesse Pasca who offers a knitted sweater that would fit a heart, literally, and Bridgehampton’s Yung Jake, creator of the Internet videos “Embedded” and “Datamosh” who will have a video installation on view. Marder notes that Jake was recently selected by Sundance Institute to participate in the new frontier story lab.
Among the messages the show conveys is the idea that while artistic styles and expression may change, the satirist’s use of humor in conveying deeper convictions and emotions stays consistent. As an example, Marder points to a print by Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel.
“It depicts the battle of the money pots and the strong boxes,” explains Marder. “People are in a chest of money with human legs and arms and a man is in a pot filled with money and they’re having a crazy battle. It’s a cartoon caricature of the bankers of the 16th century.”
“They you have the Mike Kelly piece — it’s a toy, a doll, that looks normal, but on the packaging it says ‘I watch you all the time,’” says Marder. “You can play with this piece of art. When you shake the doll, it says things like ‘You can hurt me, I don’t mind.’”
“These pieces are 400 years apart in historical terms, but their content are both critiques of capitalism,” he says.
Marder notes one of the more political offerings in the show is “Whiteys” an installation by his friend Nick Fusara, also a recent Pratt graduate, who has customized $500 worth of quarters with different phrases imprinted over Washington’s head. Think candy hearts with a political edge. Visitors to the exhibit will be welcome to take one of the quarters home with them as a souvenir.
“It plays both sides of the coin,” says Marder. “It’ll be this honest, light hearted attempt to show you something really nice — it’s funny, but has this darker intense side to it in the same piece. But it always has humor as its main goal.”
While Marder doesn’t have any of his own work in this show, his experience and vision as an artist does inform the work he sought out as a curator.
“I think curating gives you one of the best point of views. Everybody else does the hard work and you just contextualize,” says Marder. “That’s the thing that’s most fun about looking at art. Being a curator you have to think about every single piece and how they play off each other. What is important about a piece?”
“I had an idea of who makes the kind of work that fits the theme. Who’s doing this right now, Who is making funny work that also has a lot of intensity. It’s not just a one off,” he ads. “The work in the show is all work I wish I had made.”
Then there’s also the venue to consider. At Silas Marder Gallery, the large barn space and ample grounds mean that artists really have to call attention to their work.
“The three emerging artists in the show are doing installations,” says Marder. “When I was talking about working on a piece for the show, I let them know this space does not handle subtly well.”
In addition to Fusaro, those emerging artists include Britt Moseley, who has a video installation in the show, but during Saturday’s reception will offer an outdoor puppet show with an edge.
“It’s a kind of a children’s theater behind the wall,” says Marder referring to Marder’s outdoor haywall movie screen. “He shares aspects of satire, but does things like relates to monster truck shows and announcers while also drawing on history.”
The third emerging artist in the show, Cody Hughes, has created something Marder calls a “pathetic machine.”
“It’s not the title, it’s a description,” he says. “It’s installed on the second floor and it’s a gantry that reaches over the balcony to the first floor. When the viewer rotates a crank on the bottom of the crane, it will just bump into the wall.”
Among the bigger names in the show is Carsten Holler, an established artist who has shown at both The Tate Modern and the New Museum.
“He has a PhD in agricultural science and he has nine photographs in the show that document his experimentation in breeding canaries,” says Marder. “He’ll have these little birds, they’re cute, but when you look a little closer, you’ll see the feathers are ruffled in the wrong way. They’re new species or hybrids.”
Also making a darker statement is “Suicide Stack,” a video installation by Claire Fontaine, a pair of artists from Paris who will project the transcript of Joseph Stack onto the outdoor haywall at Marder’s. Stack, who was being audited by the IRS, wrote the treatise before flying his small plane into an IRS building in Texas in 2010, killing himself and an IRS employee.
“It’s an immensely intense piece,” says Marder. “What’s interesting about showing it out here, given the context and content of the piece, is this is a haven for wealth.”
But satire is not just about calling attention to the inequities of assets in society — it’s also a popular tool for ribbing politicians. So perhaps it’s appropriate that “Bad Jokes” opens just weeks before the presidential election.
“It can play into the political season,” says Marder. “I think satire has been one of the most crucial tools in terms of questioning authority. It’s like when you see a nature film and they tell you the ice caps are melting and people don’t pay attention because it’s so damned depressing. But when you laugh, you’re less depressed.”
“One of the fun things about this show is putting old masters’ work next to an emerging artist, next to a mid-career artist, next to a puppet show, next to film,” says Marder.
He also makes a special effort to note that free Dippin’ Dots ice cream will be served at Saturday’s reception — a satirical statement in itself.
“It’s the ice cream of the future,” says Marder, adding a disclaimer that Dippin’ Dots’ odd texture is due not to the use of chemicals, but the manner in which it’s frozen.
“It’s not fatal — it’s just funny,” he says.
“Bad Jokes” opens at Silas Marder Gallery (120 Snake Hollow Road, Bridgehampton) with a reception this Saturday, October 13 from 4 to 8 p.m. and runs through Sunday, November 18. The Claire Fontaine video will screen outdoors on Marder’s Haywall every Friday from October 19 to December 14 projected on a 23 minute loop from 4 to 6 p.m. (darkness permitting). For more information, call 702-2306.