+ Cheeseburger + Ice cream / Spaghetti x Chips = Graham Ramsay
200 Gertrude Street Gallery, Melbourne
5 -19 December 1998
Review by Daniel Palmer
been some time now since the West has conferred cultural value on being
portly. Most often it signifies greed, at least moral inferiority. The
overweight male remains all but invisible in the media except as a health
risk. Recent medical findings have only accelerated a trend towards downsizing.
Nevertheless, the spectacular logic of entertainment in millennial capitalism
dictates that anything goes. Thus, "gut barging" is a growing
media sport in pub-crazed Britain, and, in late 1998, fatness and the
male body formed the subject of a Melbourne art experiment by a visiting
YBA, in residence at 200 Gertrude Street as part of the Melbourne Scotland
Graham Ramsays conceptual aim in Beer + Cheeseburger was to increase
his body weight as much as possible within a two month period of forced
high calorie consumption, combined with "a programme of zero physical
exercise." This performance was meticulously documented, and the
results neatly summarised in a side-on before-and-after shot, showing
two pale hairy bellies; the one on the right is ten kilos heavier, bulging
over the belt buckle.
A wall plastered with diet sheets detailed, day by day, the entirety of
his consumption over the period, as well as any incidental notes (the
Melbourne gas crisis in October made things awkward, as did tooth pains
following too much sweet food). On another wall was the obligatory graph.
To implicate the audience, a bowl refilled with hot chips at regular intervals
on opening night was left on a podium.
There was also a short video of the guts growth made with fellow
Scot, Clara Ursitti. In this up-beat documentary, Ramsay scoffs junk food,
orders hot chips, and watches The Simpsons. The De Niro technique is held
up as an inspiration, and Marlon Brando's dinner is perfectly reproduced.
Both exemplars remind us that this is a specifically male inter-text.
The accompanying catalogue, in the form of an interview with the artist,
parodies the language of popular diet programmesof "strict
regimes" and the likewhile also recognising the contradictions
of diet and consumer culture, reconciled only in advertising dollars.
But this knowingness is undercut by Ramsays own acknowledged decadence
as an artist, and his stated, yet impossible, desire "to attain the
higher state of untroubled consumer."
Different audiences would certainly have had different reactions to this
spectacle of the male body. As a comment on our excessive consumption,
hedonism, and the rules that guide it, the show was neither didactic nor
merely ironic. Its appeal was both voyeuristic and vicarious, circus-like
and mundane - like the opening night screening of Ramsay's collaborative
video work with John Beagles Video Hits and Misses, which can be read
as a comic melange of white British masculinity in crisis. As much as
Ramsay's work could be discussed philosophically in terms of unproductive
expenditure, the key to such vernacular expression lies more in its proudly
inane humour. As for too much fat, well, it's still bad for you.