In her show at the Zabludowicz Collection in London, Jemma Egan examines food as commodity: its production, packaging, presentation and promotion. The exhibition is titled “It Means More to Me than Most People” — a quote pulled from a documentary on the Domino’s Pizza restaurant chain, in which an employee expresses his profound attachment to the product he sells.
Egan too seems to express a reluctance to poke fun at her subject matter investigating instead the depths of our complicity with consumer capitalism. The dominant work in Egan’s three-piece exhibition is Porkies (2016), a series of clusters of soothing pink silicone rubber tubes arranged evenly around the room, resting on benches along the wall or dangling, like jungle vegetation, from exposed beams in the ceiling. However, the name of the sculpture-installation betrays a subtle antagonism: the pastel pink (closely resembling Pamela Rozenkrantz’s sea of standardized Northern European skin tone at last year’s Venice Biennial) insists on a simultaneous signification of pigskin and, thus, the horrors of the mechanized meat industry. This clash of positive and negative signifiers in the highly designed commodity marks the archetypal ambivalence in the consumer. Egan notes Barthes’ essay “Ornamental Cookery” as having particularly influenced her research.
A mural that takes up one whole wall of the room is revealed, on closer inspection (also of the press release), to be made with baby oil on untreated MDF. It depicts fragmented mouths of smiley faces half agape, reproduced serially à la Warhol’s silkscreen process, leaving or even accentuating the faults of the printing method — suggesting a pop sensibility that aligns Egan with a historical tradition of engaging the consumer product in the artwork. With her uniquely visceral sculptural vocabulary, this recently graduated artist has much to say about the intersecting aesthetic and ethical implications of contemporary consumerism.