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Although cute, obeasts are wild animals
June 2, 2011 6:27 PM   Subscribe

The Museum for Obeast Conservation Studies was founded in 2010 as an organization for the historical and scientific study of the endangered North American Obeast. Given their reclusive natures and dwindling numbers, little is known about this genus of bipedal mammals, which was hunted to near extinction during the 19th century. An art installation by Rachel Herrick. Reactions tend to be mixed .
posted by reverend cuttle (49 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
People of Walmart goes to art school? Lovely.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:32 PM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Flagged as stupid and offensive, and not in the good way.
posted by Mister_A at 6:33 PM on June 2, 2011


Take a look at the "mixed" link, Mister_A. It cast things in a different light than the initial reaction I had, which was much like yours.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:35 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not a member of the art elite or anything so it's entirely possible that in my lack of education I've simply failed to garner the sensitivity of faculties necessary to grok the essential point of this ignorant crap.
posted by Construction Concern at 6:35 PM on June 2, 2011


Horace: I see your point, but doesn't it rob a joke of its punch if we have to have read the comedian's bio to get it? I'm just a simple country rocket scientist and neurosurgeon, so I just naively thought a similar principle might apply to art.
posted by Construction Concern at 6:38 PM on June 2, 2011


Yeah, until reading the last link, I was pretty horrified, too. Here's more on it from the artist's site.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 6:39 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


The artist being fat does not change my opinion about this particularly.
posted by RustyBrooks at 6:40 PM on June 2, 2011 [7 favorites]


doesn't it rob a joke of its punch if we have to have read the comedian's bio to get it?

Well, that gets at one of the most fundamental questions involved in the criticism of any creative endeavor--does the intention of the artist matter, or should the work be judged purely as a thing in and of itself? I tend to think that intention does matter, and learning more about the artist definitely shaped my impression of the underlying intention.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:44 PM on June 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Self-deprecating artist is self-deprecating. Oh wait, is she really self-deprecating, or is her self-deprecation an ironic comment on the endemic self-deprecation of overweight women everywhere, and, by implication, oppressed peoples of all strata? O-or is it really self-empowerment, the radical act of re-embracing her socially incorrect size in order to...to...uh...

EVERYBODY MAMBO!
posted by tspae at 6:47 PM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Pick your reaction!

1. You are sensitive to evil fat jokes. You see this, react strongly against it, then someone lets you in on the joke (or artistic meaning), and everything's okay again. Sorta. It still makes you uncomfortable, and you feel the need to explain that discomfort.

2. You think fat jokes are hilarious. You see this, laugh, then someone lets you in on the joke, and you laugh some more.

So I really don't get it. I mean, I don't like stuff that preaches to the choir, but why set out to alienate the people who would normally be sympathetic...and pretty much only them?
posted by mittens at 6:48 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's more than just 1 and 2. I'm in

3. I'm not really interested in what artist intends. To me art mainly stands on it's own (or it doesn't). I'm not sure artists even have a complete say in what their art is about.

This person is allowed to make this piece of art. I think it sucks though.
posted by RustyBrooks at 6:56 PM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


I like it. I like art that's thoughtful and yet makes me think a little bit about society and my reactions to alternate interpretations of human morphology. Of course sometimes I like to have my retinas saturated with brilliant hues and vague shapes. But I like this too. It's a bit sassy and a bit daring and a bit too post-ironic but hey, it's an MFA program so post-irony is a cross they'll all have to bear for a couple years until they get out into the real world. (This is perhaps the most irritating thing about MFA programs: that you get people constantly looking at and reacting to your work. The real world isn't like that.)

Anyway, I like it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:58 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


The artist being fat does not change my opinion about this particularly.

It's just that the artist is a fat woman - it's a self-portrait, or rather one of those portraits where the artist looks in a broken mirror.

Feel free to not like her art, but it seems like the installation itself makes a pretty understandable statement.
posted by muddgirl at 7:02 PM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's NOT just that the artist is a fat woman.
posted by muddgirl at 7:02 PM on June 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


The artist being fat does not change my opinion about this particularly.

What muddgirl said; the artist is actually the obeast in the videos, which is probably the only way this could work. And yeah, I do think it works - as a funny, weirdly provocative, interesting take on science, fat jokes, body image, artists' self-portraits, and probably more.

By dehumanizing obesity and re-casting it as the obeast, the MOCS project exaggerates the everyday mistreatment of fat people to the extent that it becomes funny rather than merely requiring the viewer’s pity. The surrealism and absurdity of the world of the obeast engages the viewer to spend time with the work, disarming and de-personalizing this controversial topic in ways that facilitate quicker recognition of societal defects

Not bad, as overly explained artist statements go. I like it.
posted by mediareport at 7:09 PM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


I understand that the artist is the subject.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:27 PM on June 2, 2011


This makes me, a fatty, pretty mad.

(Drinks milkshake)

Ok, I see the humour in this.

Say it loud, I'm fat and I'm proud!
posted by hal_c_on at 7:28 PM on June 2, 2011


I thought this was going to be about preserving Conor Oberst.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:28 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


the MOCS project exaggerates the everyday mistreatment of fat people to the extent that it becomes funny rather than merely requiring the viewer’s pity.

- I don't think the exaggerated mistreatment is funny.

facilitate quicker recognition of societal defects

- If I did think it was funny, I am then supposed to go "oh, but it's about more than just funny", and then either tut-tut about society or feel bad about myself.

It feels incredibly manipulative.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:38 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I see your point, but doesn't it rob a joke of its punch if we have to have read the comedian's bio to get it?

Had eddie murphy done his spiel over the internet today rather than on snl in the 80's, we wouldda thought he was some redneck racist.

The art comes from the artist. If we want to understand the art, we have to understand who the artist is.

Basically...comedy doesnt translate that well over the internet. Better on stage. But this shit is still funny to a fatty like me.

Im gonna go eat some fatty fatty ramen right now. And you cant make me feel bad about it, because people with abs are douchebags on jersey shore. Ramen keeps me away from doucheness...but a little closer to congestive heart failure.

Nomnomnom.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:40 PM on June 2, 2011


It's somewhat ironic that, to possibly over-generalize, a fat artist makes a piece of artwork in opposition to the way society treats fat people and a bunch of fat people talk about how it offends them.
posted by andoatnp at 7:53 PM on June 2, 2011


It's somewhat ironic that, to possibly over-generalize, a fat artist makes a piece of artwork in opposition to the way society treats fat people and a bunch of fat people talk about how it offends them.

The artist pretty much failed in her approach and result, then. I suppose failure is ironic.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:03 PM on June 2, 2011


It's possible to make artwork that succeeds with some folks and fails with others. No irony necessary.
posted by mediareport at 8:13 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's also possible that this whole "obeast" thing just comes off really lazy to many people, myself included. That's what gets me - it's just lazy, obvious Living Color-level satire without the occasionally hilarious or insightful bits. I wasn't kidding when I said it was stupid and offensive, but not in "the good way." There are good ways to take on material like this, but hitting people over the head like this just isn't really opening my eyes to any new vistas, man.
posted by Mister_A at 8:18 PM on June 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


But, for all that, I can't blame her for trying. If we never fail, we can never succeed.
posted by Mister_A at 8:20 PM on June 2, 2011


Don't worry kids- when the World Socialist Government finally takes over after the inevitable revolution, any artwork that isn't serious and uplifting will be banned, and the artists sent to work on collective farms.
posted by happyroach at 8:34 PM on June 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm more concerned about the term Obeast. It reminds me of the term hambeast. As such it is guaranteed to be co-opted by ignorant shits and become a new way to denigrate overweight people. Fuck that. The alleged artist may very well be making a serious point, but I think she's doing herself and others a serious disservice. My opinion may be in the minority, but I am allowed to have it just as she is allowed to create what she wishes.
posted by Splunge at 8:53 PM on June 2, 2011


I was watching Conan (O'Brian, not the barbarian) last night and he made some very obvious jokes about Kirstie Allen's weight and I thought 'shame on you, Conan! you're better than this' and I realized that Metafilter has ruined my ability to enjoy humor like that.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:01 PM on June 2, 2011


1. You are sensitive to evil fat jokes. You see this, react strongly against it, then someone lets you in on the joke (or artistic meaning), and everything's okay again. Sorta. It still makes you uncomfortable, and you feel the need to explain that discomfort.

2. You think fat jokes are hilarious. You see this, laugh, then someone lets you in on the joke, and you laugh some more.

There's more than just 1 and 2. I'm in

3. I'm not really interested in what artist intends. To me art mainly stands on it's own (or it doesn't). I'm not sure artists even have a complete say in what their art is about.


Or:

4. You thought this was funny at first. After reading more about the artist's intentions you feel bad. In the future you (may, possibly) react differently to similar sentiments from friends, family, and colleagues.
posted by pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated at 9:16 PM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I found the linked video crass, pointless and amateurish, but the complete project is, after all, an installation. Maybe it works better if you experience the whole thing, as the reviewer did, rather than just parts of it out of context. Things designed to be encountered live are best encountered live.
posted by carping demon at 9:20 PM on June 2, 2011


I’ve only glanced at it, but I would spend more time thinking about it if it seemed at all interesting, but it doesn’t. That’s the failure of the art.

I never care about the artists intention. The key there is "intended", not "accomplished".
"I intended to write a great song"
"It sucks though"
"Yeah, but I intended it to be good"

Kind of like the rib/put down/joke where you tell the musician/artist "I like what you were trying to do there". Funny if you’re friends.

I generally don’t care what artists think about the value of their own work, or what they were trying to do, except as a curiosity. It succeeds or it fails.
posted by bongo_x at 10:17 PM on June 2, 2011


I found the linked video crass, pointless and amateurish

Isn't art grand? I found the linked "dwindling numbers" photo hilarious, sharply pointed and exceptionally well-crafted.

Seriously, I can't click on that link without laughing out loud. I've tried half dozen times. Just the thought of what she was thinking as she shot and manipulated that artwork makes me smile so hard. It's really funny, capturing an entire history of colonial slaughter while smearing it with an overlay of politicized debate over fatness. It's a pretty damn good and relatively simple piece of art, y'all, and I'm genuinely surprised at how many folks don't seem to see that.
posted by mediareport at 10:20 PM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Reminds me of the the audition scene in Spike Lee's Bamboozled:

Through the eye if the camera we watch the faces of several Black television execs, who in turn are watching Black actors performing a minstrel show on a stage. At first, we in the audience feel comfortable laughing along with the execs, since it seems like all the performers are in on the joke (and hey, some of the skits are funny!), but gradually that comforting veil of ironic detachment evaporates and we realize to our horror we are in fact enjoying a repellent, racist pantomime without any irony or critical perspective whatsoever. It's an entrapment strategy that, at least for a second or two, invites us to confront our own racism; smart!

I see a similar strategy at work here. I agree, though, with the person upthread who suggested this might have worked better as an In living Color sketch; presented as pop entertainment, this project has a little more punch. Presented as gallery art, it's kind of didactic.
posted by ducky l'orange at 10:22 PM on June 2, 2011


Controversial art creates debate. The system works!
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:35 PM on June 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


she communicated her feelings and experience eloquently. I might not agree with her takeaways, but I feel that artists partly capture themselves at particular points in their internal development and artistic value is determined by how well this perspective translates. I believe she did a remarkable job of turning her point of view into art.

Thank you for the thoughtfully crafted post, reverend cuttle.
posted by batmonkey at 11:03 PM on June 2, 2011


Metafilter: It's NOT just that the artist is a fat woman.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:24 PM on June 2, 2011


This was mentioned on Big Fat Blog.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:53 PM on June 2, 2011


I don't see this as useful commentary on people who are larger. This is much more interesting as a commentary on art/performance art/media/attention getting/etc. And I bet its more interesting locally than as a national comment on those things.
posted by vitabellosi at 4:14 AM on June 3, 2011


I'd respect her art more if she had done it in the nude. Since when do animals wear clothing?
posted by Renoroc at 4:22 AM on June 3, 2011


Am I alone in finding it really irritating when people get the capitalisation wrong in Latin binomials?





Yes? OK then
posted by cromagnon at 4:54 AM on June 3, 2011


I don't think Rembrandt has too much to be worried about.
posted by joannemullen at 5:10 AM on June 3, 2011


but doesn't it rob a joke of its punch if we have to have read the comedian's bio to get it?
Really? It seemed pretty obviously satirical to me, whether you found it interesting or no.

I don't think Rembrandt has too much to be worried about.
Well, no, because Rembrandt was a Dutch master and therefore probably not really into postmodernist art.
posted by mippy at 6:44 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a student art project so I don't judge it too harshly. It certainly seems better conceived and executed by the woman who peed into a tin can in front of an audience that got so much hate here. It's also an installation, which often don't translate well to online formats.

That said, the concept of suggesting that overweight Americans are facing extinction is enough at odds with reality that it makes the art a whole lot less effective to me. Conflating obesity (which is largely an outcome from colonial policies) with the killing of indigenous American animals when those colonial policies resulted in the slaughter of native Americans seems clumsy at best. The first reaction I had to the dwindling numbers photo was to remember things like these combined with things like bounties for Indian scalps.

I'd probably give it a B - well executed but not clearly thought out.
posted by Candleman at 10:25 AM on June 3, 2011


... Suggesting that overweight Americans are facing extinction is enough at odds with reality that it makes the art a whole lot less effective to me.

But isn't there a movement in our culture to make larger people "extinct," or at least invisible? It seems like that is the attitude that's being satirized - the shaming, gawking, moralizing attitude, the attitude that regards large people as curiosities.
posted by ducky l'orange at 10:57 AM on June 3, 2011


That said, the concept of suggesting that overweight Americans are facing extinction is enough at odds with reality that it makes the art a whole lot less effective to me.

That was my first thought, but on reflection I don't think that's the statement. Remember, this is a self-portrait of a sort. When the artist is talking about reclusive Obeasts, she's talking about herself. When she's talking about Obeasts going extinct, she's talking about herself.
posted by muddgirl at 11:32 AM on June 3, 2011


I - a fatty - am contemplating an alternate universe in which the artist was black, and set up a similar art installation around that fact. Perhaps she would be eating fried chicken, and sporting a bone in her hair. In another universe she is Hispanic. In yet another she is a single unmarried working-class teen mother.

Would these be more or less acceptable than the art installation we have here, in our own universe?

I don't know, but it's an interesting thought experiment.

On that basis alone I have to tip my hat to the artist. If you grade art on the merit of how much it makes you think, then this installation certainly succeeds.
posted by ErikaB at 3:02 PM on June 3, 2011


If you grade art on the merit of how much it makes you think, then this installation certainly succeeds

Well, she wins at art, then. I thought about this thing last night after commenting, woke up thinking about it, have been visiting the site on and off. It does grow on you. Not all of it--the text of the webpages misses the tone. There's such an opportunity there to get the tone right--the nature show, the natural historian, the warm but slightly snobbish voice--and she misses it. Which is surprising, given how great that display looked.

And the more I think about it the more I like the endangered thing, because that gets closer to the core sadness, "Please stop killing me." Mediareport's comment kept me going back to that photo, and it is funny, and it is sad, and so I guess I take back what I said before. No, wait, I don't take it back at all, because now I kind of like how complicated my reaction to it is. Doesn't make it great art, but it's like somebody did paintings of obeasts in the prehistoric caves of my brain.
posted by mittens at 5:32 PM on June 3, 2011


Does this work remind anyone else of Cindy Sherman?

Considering it's a student installation, and allowing for a certain lack of depth (unlike Cindy's work, in contrast, which doesn't need any "handicapping" to make par), I think it's clearly a fairly provocative piece, with a meaningful social message. So, yes, I'd say it "works".
posted by IAmBroom at 8:02 PM on June 8, 2011


That said, the concept of suggesting that overweight Americans are facing extinction is enough at odds with reality that it makes the art a whole lot less effective to me.

There is also that overweight people are noticeably absent from most film and television, and, when they are present, they are generally there to make a point (or joke) about weight. In mass media, the overweight person, especially an overweight female, certainly is something of a rare species.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 2:00 PM on June 9, 2011


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