Friday, March 21, 2014

Alison Kuo

Knock knock. Who's there? Banana. Knock knock. Who's there? Banana. Knock knock. Who's there? Orange you glad I didn't say banana?!
Each time I enter the elaborately convoluted labyrinth that is Alison's universe, I feel as if I'm not entirely sure which way is up or down anymore. The cacophony of symbols and their extensive possible meanings inundates the senses, in a way that mimics the overwhelming complexity of the world itself. Is it a peach or a uterus? The easily recognizable, BPA-laced goo that we recognize immediately as canned fruit seems even more revolting in this recontextualized version, and instead looks like vomit or the mutilated pulp of internal organs. I am reminded of DFW's short story, Little Expressionless Animals, in which the three year Jeopardy champion, Julie, finds comfort and respite from the burden of her encyclopedic knowledge in univocal words, which are words with only one possible meaning. Alison's maximalist project seems to be the antithesis of univocality.

By mashing together seemingly unrelated and perplexing symbols, Alison inculcates her viewers with her love of the bizarre and unexpected. Her intoxicating sense of pleasure and play belies a dark and insidious undercurrent. Framed in a new context, the insulting way in which early humans are typically depicted in natural history museums seems some how more apparent. Lifeless and lacking in any characteristic idiosyncrasies, the wax figures have been stripped of their humanity and individuality within how they've been represented. The Othering that Alison brings our attention to is not altogether different from Gauguin's imperialistic portrayals of Polynesia, although Gauguin invested more attention and care in romanticizing and eroticizing his primarily female subjects. Gauguin's paintings are so beautiful, that people often fail to recognize the inherent exploitation in finding paradise in another culture, and the blatant misogyny that they represent. He was very strategic and knew how to manipulate his audience with his apocryphal depictions of utopia. Instead of painting the missionaries or the venereal diseases that they brought with them to paradise, Gauguin painted what people wanted to see rather than how things actually were.

The way in which information is disseminated is a dominant subject in Alison's work.  Alison presents us with ideas and never preaches or moralizes, always maintaining a sense of ambiguity and complexity. Her anachronistic mix of both old and new pop cultural imagery is as intriguing as it is puzzling. By distorting linearity and time, Alison calls attention to how spurious conceptions of sequential time are.

Food, for Alison represents sustenance and growth, the body in its fallibility and vulnerability, the tactile, and sensory parts of everyday experience, the wonderfully slimy and gooey aspects of sex, the beauty, the cruelty, the pain, as well as the transitory, and absurd nature of life itself.
The indispensable significance of the role of food in rituals and celebrations is also a central theme in many of Alison's performances. Concocting strange and slimy potions and treats that ooze, explode in your mouth, and tickle your throat, Alison toys with impressions by transforming an otherwise banal encounter,  and infusing it with humor and mystery.

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