Kakudji works out of this space. Best described as “anti-art”, his specialty is a carefully constructed multimedia hybrid practice that disturbs, fucks up and then splinters in the mind. His technique involves appropriation, and he pilfers freely from the vast image bank of popular culture to create works that critique a quintessentially late capitalist sensibility.
His collaged images – of violence, humiliation, cruelty and political indifference – are delivered with a raw, uncouth aesthetic, using cheap, lo-tech materials that suggests a suspicion of overproduction and unsettles assumptions about art, originality and value, class and sexual difference and creativity.
Images and subjects considered the provenance of porn and advertising – hard-ons and vulvas, brand names and cultural cliches, fucking and shopping, sluices of pussy and money – proliferate. They are ruthless and incredibly funny. They are also, at times racist, sexist, degrading and cold-hearted, not to mention achingly tender and inclusive portraits of human souls in the throes of suffering and joy at a moment when the very idea of souls is ridiculous.
Kakudji is part pornographer, part moralist, part punk, part joker, part romantic, part philosopher. He’s kind of a genius and kind of a hack. The more persistent themes of the work are the objectification and sexual violation of women, racial prejudice, economic repression and the slippery way that things that aren’t exactly objects – such as images and sex – get valued.
Not new themes in art, for sure, but unlike the similarly violated imagery of other “bad boy” contemporary artists such as Kendell Geers or Richard Prince – Kakudji’s work doesn’t evoke a romance with sadism. Instead of deploying porn images for “titillation” or “shock,” using imagery to reify or reiterate rather than to question dominant sexual and relational practices, he thwarts such unthinking, often by unearthing what escaped or was lost, deemed beneath consideration. Focusing his eyes on the intersection of money and sex, labour and love, Kakudji offers a startling reconfiguration between politics and the body in a dire, image-clotted culture.
His use of the ostensibly-pornographic uncovers the brutality implicit in sexual violence and racial prejudice. A brutality which art, like society, all too often prefers to suppress or eroticise while we maintain our delusions with hypocritical tact and lip service to notions of equality we have no intention of enacting.
Although also decidedly funny, his iconography doesn’t occupy a place of distant parody. When his work includes humour, it is a function of an anxious necessity, not the product of a cynical “postmodern” cool posture. He might employ many of the new aesthetic strategies of the postmodern world – appropriation, remixing, reproduction, synaesthetic convergence, and so on – but behind it all a sense of outrage simmers, ready to boil over. Its fury without a target. Or rather, with millions of targets.
His self-portraits are steeped in psychic and emotional pollution, frequently revolving around mental glitches – desires, fears, obsessions, neuroses, convoluted and exasperating cycles of depression and hyperactivity. The style is a mish-mash of discordant media – photography, drawing, painting, collage – that trace endless networks of misconnection.
Some images are like sick, stand-up routines. Some are like a horror movie. Some are hopelessly Hallmarkian dreams of ideal love. Some are angry political tracts that lash out at the paralysis, the inertia, which forces us to devour ourselves and the world with us. Others are just beautiful, poetic revelations about creativity, pride and humanity.
The work often extends to a deeply personal dimension, as self-disgust and neural knots are transfigured by the inflections of the titles. Much of his imagery is coaxed from memory, either of his own life or of those he has witnessed, been told or read about. The rememberings are recast into curiously damaged, hyper-real surfaces, as media culture is absorbed and regurgitated. Sometimes the works are overpopulated with clusters of fragmented events. Images are often floating unanchored on the picture plane like fragile exiled memories.
Herein, perhaps lies the ultimate power of Kakudji’s work. It seems to suggest no one is innocent – not art, not the viewer, not even the artist himself. These works do not convey a universal message so much as they do one mans ongoing struggle to reconcile himself with his own history of exile, alienation, loneliness and degradation; with all the fucked up contradictions of the global economy in a late-capitalist world.
Kakudji’s art is bad – in all senses of the word. It’s shocking, wicked, unruly, sad and difficult. It’s art that despite – or rather because of – its seemingly slapdash construction, depraved subject matter and furiously haphazard personal expression opens up spaces of resistance, refusal, possibility, opposition, alternative, openness and maybe even freedom.
As Laferriere says, “What were we supposed to have understood? You made us mad with desire. Today, we stand before you, a long chain of men (in our country, adventure is the realm of men), penises erect, appetites insatiable, ready for the battle of the sexes and the races. We’ll fight to the finish, America.”
Translated by Sally Laruelle