Sunday, May 9, 2010

Superflex "Flooded McDonalds" at Peter Blum

     Early this spring there was an exhibition of films by the Danish group Superflex at the Peter Blum Gallery in Chelsea.  One of the films exhibited was ‘Flooded McDonald's” (2009), which is an statement on the effects of consumerism on our lives and our collective conscience. Like the forces of nature, which are inherently inescapable worldwide, so has the impact of consumer culture become ubiquitous globally. The scene takes place in an ordinary McDonald's after work hours. It is in immaculate condition and no one is there, it’s empty. This is not a real place, it’s fake, an impeccably realistic replica of a McDonalds restaurant, well-crafted right down to the employee of the month plaque on a wall. In the flooding scenes the place is inundated with water and we witness the clash of the two forces at work, natural and manmade. Where one storms it's way around the world and becomes increasingly accessible to us through it's capitalistic need to constantly expand, it in turn is increasingly exposed to the potential of disaster. Here McDonalds, like people, is vulnerable to life's other more domineering and powerful force, nature, which has never met its match.  Both bring sustenance and both can be devastating. This is a very effective film and one done with very high quality production values. It is a hyper-realistic narrative film in its aesthetic construction, but one in which the stage is created to express a strong opinion although the group, Superflex, says it is doing so only indirectly. In this near documentary the staged enactment of the possible portrays both man-made and natural disaster.

      The set in “ Flooded McDonald’s” is in perfect condition and otherwise calm in the typical interior of this ever-present fast food chain. At the beginning of the film we are guided casually around the premises in a lead up to the pending doom. Then water starts filling the room, seeping in under the bottom of a door at first, audible as it is flowing in. The viewer is lead through this realistic diorama while the camera remains stationed at about waist height throughout most of the film. Once the water starts rising things are lifted and dropped as the water takes its course around the room. Ominously, trash starts to float around and a statue of Ronald McDonald is lifted up and starts drifting with his rigid smile and then is finally toppled, ala Saddam Hussein in the Iraq War footage. This segment is only a momentary satisfaction in the demise of McDonald's monotonous decor as glee is replaced with anguish. Watching the drama unfold, the room becomes inundated and more haunting as the water reaches the cameras lenses where our vision and the camera is finally taken over by water. The viewer is submerged and carried into a new depth, where sympathies begin to take over, experiencing underwater scenes while witnessing the catastrophe from inside flooded turbulence, triggering an emotional experience. The sensation of drowning is palpable the deeper the water gets; senses become suspended like the objects in the film. The earlier calmness has drifted surreally into suffocation. That is why this film is so effective, and seen on a large screen in a small room adds to this factor. 

     Out of this experience the viewer acknowledge every thing's impermanence. From this point on the film slows down to an eerie crawl. Slow motion takes over and we now witness the beauty that destruction can create. Trash bins empty and restaurant supplies like full coffee urns and hamburger wrappers, cups and straws color the screen. The water gets murkier and darkness encroaches as the electricity fails creating Turneresque ocean scenes. Black and grey in swirling washes dominate in the day’s refuse as it passes across the screen, creating a montage of ruin. The climatic point is achieved when the restaurant is completely filled with water and absolute order is disrupted. There’s this resultant sense of powerless that uncomfortably ensues: everyone and everything is vulnerable. At the same time there is relief in the knowledge that we are not alone in the realization that everything is susceptible to nature’s inescapable forces: including McDonalds

      This film seems to be about any number of things; a comment on how commodification floods our society, on Katrina and its social and political ramification, or the the potential for disaster to strike at any moment. This film seems to point out how the media and advertising shapes our understanding of the world and how it impacts our lives and influences our decisions in life and thus our destiny. Superflex seems to want to provide an alternative more than is supplied by capitalisms seeming omnipotence through mass marketing. "Flooded McDonalds" insinuates we have control if we decide to take it and counter commercialism as best we can to offer a different destiny. In the end this is protest film about social empowerment, the moral being disaster can appear anywhere at any time or place and wherever that may be there will most likely be a McDonalds there too unless we put something else in its place.