South London Gallery, London, UK
In August 1999, a group led by sheep farmer and agricultural activist José Bové dismantled a soon-to-be-opened McDonald’s in the southern French town of Millau, depositing the site’s construction materials in front of the town hall. In May 2000, May Day demonstrators in London smashed in the windows of the McDonald’s on the Strand. No single group claimed responsibility for the action. In late 2008, Danish group Superflex created an exact replica of a McDonald’s in a film studio in Bangkok, and flooded it with water.
Superflex have long taken a multifaceted approach to questioning conditions of production and consumption. They’ve created games, books, and products like ‘Free Beer’, a
misleadingly named creation modeled on Creative Commons and open source software with the tagline, ‘free in the sense of freedom, not in the sense of free beer.’ These projects are designed to blur the lines of ownership and agency by prodding at their limitations, as if Greenpeace started staging more Fluxus-style events. More recently, the group have turned to film to create a sort of voyeuristic branch of Fight Club’s ‘Project Mayhem’, enacting poetic scenes of anarchic destruction in a series of slick video works. Burning Car (2008) took on the presentation of car advertisements, with its close-ups and smooth panning shots encircling the machine as it sits in an empty, clean generic space. Only this car is on fire, and for ten minutes we watch the paint bubble, glass melt and tyres burst.
Flooded McDonald’s (2009), Superflex’s new film presented at South London Gallery, makes use of the editing and camerawork of the Hollywood horror genre. Think The Poseidon Adventure (1972) via the suggestive absences of Val Lewton’s The Cat People (1942): we are trapped in the bland space of a fast food restaurant we all recognize, when water begins streaming in at all sides from an unknown source. The viewer is the only witness to the event, among the abandoned burgers and fries still gleaming with fat. A rush of disgust and delight comes with the rate at which the place fills up, cups and trays slipping into the the over-crowded slush of disintgrating wrappers, discarded Happy Meal toys and half-eaten buns. There is some humour in Superflex’s attention to the details of the disaster, but there are no surprises in this film; after 15 minutes, as the title predicts, it really is flooded.
The film almost balances its adolescent wish-fulfillment with the ambiguity of the gesture, weighing its blatant anti-globalization dreams with the ecological portends of unstoppable rising waters. The source of the threat in this horror film is unseen, unknown; and though there is no direct moralizing or finger-pointing here, it doesn’t feel far off. Superflex attempt to show the eerie and threatening waters that surround us in global politics and ecology, but the film has the air of a novelty act arrived too late. Being at once a pseudo-anarchist coup and a blunt environmental warning, the water in Flooded McDonald’s isn’t really all that deep.
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