Spunkflakes

In 1986, the French magazine Traverses published an issue called 'Disgust'. Jean Baudrillard's contribution, 'The Power of Disgust', argued that because old fashioned attraction has declined, we no longer know our own minds, and that as a result taste, desire and free will have also perished. On the other hand, bad faith, repulsion and disgust have increased in strength. 'From here, it seems, a new energy comes, an inverse energy, a power of repulsion which replaces desire, a vital reaction against that which for us represents society, the body, sex, an energetic disinheritance which is no longer the result of willingness to change all that, but of rejection pure and simple. Today only disgust is certain; taste no longer exists.' That is putting it mildly, and metaphorically. Now that the 80s are over and a period of conspicuous consumption has come to an end, ritual purgation is crucial. Whether that involves rejecting sex and the body is another matter.

If Baudrillard lived in London and frequented the Vauxhall Tavern, for instance, he could not have escaped Miss Titti la Camp. Dressed as one great female star after another, she rams food down her throat until she gags and spits all over the stage - over the audience too, if they are foolish enough to stand within range - and then slides about in it on her bottom. This is depressing stuff, but every low at the Tavern has its high. Take Spunkflakes.

The night the three Spunkflakes were banned, they had arrived late. By the time they appeared it was so late that most of the customers had lapsed into a semi-comatose condition. Suddenly, to the blare of apocalyptic music, the curtains opened to reveal a set decorated in colours so bright they made your eyes throb. Three creatures, wearing costumes that extended their limbs, filled the confined space: a frighteningly tall mother, a beer-bellied father and a revolting child, mouthing inanities and moving grotesquely. The father's paunch had a life of its own, the mother's breasts hung around her waist and their child repeated the phrase 'I've got beautiful lips...' in a soppy voice that can only be produced by flaring the nostrils as wide as possible and speaking in a bad Mancunian accent. To which, time and again, the mother would reply, 'You've got beautiful lips.' Yelling for food, his massive paunch swinging from side to side, the father crammed so much breakfast into his mouth that before long he was eating, belching and spewing at the same time. Suddenly all hell broke loose. He tried to rape the child, the mother turned religious, a mobile cross was dragged in, and to the deafening sound of heavenly music, the daughter was exorcised and simultaneously crucified onstage. (I seem to remember a baby getting stabbed at one point, but one or two atrocities may have slipped my mind.) An orgy of violence ensued. Chainsaws appeared, the effigies tried to murder each other and brightly coloured goo spurted everywhere. It even shot over the heads of the audience, whose attitude had slowly altered from indifference to hysteria. They cheered wildly as the cast took a bow.

To my surprise, their next performance was at the Royal College of Art. This time, the stage resembled a showroom at the Ideal Home exhibition - if your ideal home happens to contain a sofa covered in straw - with a computer that simulated other parts of the house, each room fitted out with its own particular obscenity. Though the context was different, the ritual element persisted. The Greeks had a word for it: 'catharsis' or ritual purgation. 'An energetic disinheritance', Baudrillard called it. 'Our actions, our enterprises, our illnesses, have less and less cause of "objective" motivation; more often they result from a violent distaste for our selves... which leads us to release our energy in what is a form of exorcism.' But Spunkflakes knew that all along, as did Jarry, Rabelais and Bernard Manning. They are all what clowns should be: not loveable, namby-pamby jokesters or bulimic Ronald McDonald milksops who distribute balloons to the kiddies, but an updated equivalent of Shakespearean jesters: bikers in black leather with scars and massive codpieces, ramming spunkburgers down our throats till we vomit.

Issue 19

First published in Issue 19

Nov - Dec 1994

Most Read

Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018