Monday, September 16, 2013

Society of excess going down the toilet

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder: The pills were originally on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

All that glitters... : The pills were inspired by a collection that was on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2005. Photo: AP

How very Tatler to have an expensive ephemera page compiled by a Freud. And that's where the ultimate waste was recorded in that journal of the socially entitled, in Emma Freud's Gadget Column: sparkly poo pills.

"Imagine a world in which you could swallow a pill and the next day your poo would be covered in shiny gold sparkles," writes Emma. "My friend, you don't have to imagine it – it's already here. I'd like to say something witty now, but I've temporarily forgotten how to speak."

Allegedly it's £280 ($478) for a 20-millilitre pill of gold spicks and specs from an online store. That is a concept that can bring on a little speechlessness.

But we'll push on with the thought that the first pie made of 10,000 lark tongues might well have represented jumping the shark for a dissolute Roman empire, yet at least that was sort-of food. Could sparkly poo pills mark the beginning of the end of what we've come to think of as Western civilisation, by reaching the high-water mark of waste and pointless consumption? The stockmarket is up, we're collectively wonderfully rich, but is it all downhill from here with barbarians approaching the gate?

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Fortunately there is Google. It might be a massively rich supra-national entity that doesn't pay tax and steers people around pay walls to raid publishers' intellectual property – other matters that threaten a civilised society – but perhaps Freud should have consulted the service. Turns out the sparkly poo pills are old news and have a partial excuse: art.

As the Huffington Post reported a year ago, the supposed pills from www.citizen-citizen.com are a copy of part of a 2005 collection commissioned by the New York Museum of Modern Art. The collection was called INDULGENCE and was by Tobias Wong and "Ju$t Another Rich Kid", aka Ken Courtney. The idea reportedly was to create desirable goods for the wealthy kid who already possessed it all.

The pills were "currently unavailable" in the online store in the Huffington story and remain so. If the site is genuinely about art, the idea could be enough without producing the goods.

And art has long had an interest in the scatological statement. The opening collection of Hobart's excellent Museum of Old and New Art included a poo machine. The Huffington story chronicles variations on the theme, including someone called Terence Koh selling a gold-plated sample of his own excrement for $500,000. That wasn't exactly original as Italian artist Piero Manzoni was selling cans of "Merda d'artista" way back in 1961. The Tate was among the buyers.

Part of art's job is to provoke thought. There's a difference though between a MOMA artistic statement (however whacky) about excess, and life subsequently parodying art by flogging examples of excess to those originally pilloried.

It all seems extreme and absurd, the sort of thing that gives the acquisition of wealth a bad name. But then a dim memory was stirred about some forgettable liqueur that contained gold flecks. I think I drank some once. And I'm told at certain ends of the over-the-top local catering trade, wrapping the odd dish in gold leaf instead of Alfoil has been fashionable.

It's still ridiculous, offensive in some way, in the realm of larks' tongues without harming small birds, but novelty booze and gold-wrapped meatloaf were at least about conspicuous consumption, not its end result, so to speak.

Michael Pascoe is a BusinessDay contributing editor.


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