Bring me the Head of Saddam Hussein
February 9, 2010 2:19 AM   Subscribe

"Ben Turnbull is fascinated by the global dominance of American culture, and his works unsettling effects result from re-presenting the toys of our innocent youth in symbolic forms that reveal the shocking truths about war, death and guns in the world’s most powerful country."

"Above all they take a satirical look at the lengths that the country’s political elites go to in order to control and manipulate the way we think, from our first days of play to the last time we cast our vote. Turnbull is a passionate critic of the contemporary American political system, and explains why toys are central to his work: 'Force fed on violence, abused by a controlling superpower and blackmailed through patriotism, the public are ultimately as disposable as the toys they once played with'."

via Eleven Fine Art

I'll never look at Captain America quite the same way again.
posted by bwg (55 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
"global dominance of American culture" - that's English you're speaking, right?
posted by Samuel Farrow at 2:31 AM on February 9, 2010


flapjax at midnite is re-presenting the toys of our innocent youth in symbolic forms that reveal the shocking truths about war...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:45 AM on February 9, 2010 [9 favorites]


"that reveal the shocking truths his opinion
about war, death and guns in the world’s most powerful country." "


there, fixed that.... opinion≠truth....... Not that he isn't welcome to it, but this is art, not a scientific study or documentary.
posted by HuronBob at 2:54 AM on February 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


It bothers me slightly that he seems to be holding Saddam up by the beret. He may not have had weapons of mass destruction, but he must have had some damn good elastic.
posted by Phanx at 3:13 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


that's English you're speaking, right?

You realize that if you took a poll of every human being on the planet who doesn't live on the North American continent of the first two US cities they could think of, the overwhelming winners would be New York and Hollywood?
posted by eriko at 3:15 AM on February 9, 2010


that's English you're speaking, right?

You realize that if you took a poll of every human being on the planet who doesn't live on the North American continent of the first two US cities they could think of, the overwhelming winners would be New York and Hollywood?


I don't understand the point being made. What if we asked them for two cities in Mexico?
posted by molecicco at 3:24 AM on February 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Art that is just propaganda for some socio-political viewpoint is almost always just average advertising. It's so often repetitive sophomoric triteness.

Sometimes politics is a little more complicated than a drawing.
posted by sien at 3:30 AM on February 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


This Ben Trumbull is pretty good. Too bad he's a bit all over the place.

For 1993.
posted by vhsiv at 3:32 AM on February 9, 2010


Reminds me a lot of Phillip Toledano's America: the Gift Shop collection.

I do like the "Every Home Should Have One" series - the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency weapons. Do they have one with silver bullets, in case I ever get home-invaded by a werewolf?
posted by The Shiny Thing at 3:36 AM on February 9, 2010


"Art that is just propaganda for some socio-political viewpoint is almost always just average advertising. It's so often repetitive sophomoric triteness. "

I dunno — this one's pretty deep . . .
posted by Bizurke at 3:38 AM on February 9, 2010


Do they have one with silver bullets, in case I ever get home-invaded by a werewolf?

Or zombies. Can't forget about zombies.
posted by bwg at 3:53 AM on February 9, 2010


I dunno — this one's pretty deep . . .

I can't believe he didn't tilt the A in HATE. What was he thinking?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:55 AM on February 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


Sometimes politics is a little more complicated than a drawing.
They do seem a little simplistic having viewed a few.
I'm all for considering ideology in the everyday, but part of its success is that much of it's reproduced unconsciously and is often just a particular twist to values that may be positive or neutral in themselves, or inherent in the commodity form rather than any overt message. Not getting much sense of that understanding from these.
posted by Abiezer at 4:38 AM on February 9, 2010


that reveal the shocking truths about war, death and guns in the world’s most powerful country.

I'm actually a big fan of conceptual art. It's something I really believe in and like. Give me Dan Graham, or Robin Peck, or Aaron Brewer, or On Kawara. There's plenty that art can say, subtly and frankly, about the major issues of our day. But this guy's stuff is pretty banal, and worse, pretty lazy. What grown-up has not looked at toys and seen them as absurd? The copy for this makes claims that the art can't even begin to approach. What "shocking truths" are revealed here, about toys, let alone "war, death and guns?"

At least something like "Prelude to a Kiss" by flapjax at midnite has a fucking sense of humor.
posted by OmieWise at 5:03 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I will collect these and set them up around my TV as I watch Dogma. That ought to just about cover it, right? Or am I forgetting something else that clever teenagers think they are the first to identify as hypocritical bullshit?
posted by Naberius at 5:03 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


The site is slower than molasses at the moment, but from what I saw, I wasn't terribly impressed. I was expecting a lot more toys, first, and showing Captain America hefting the severed head of Saddam isn't quite that shocking. Just change the head to Hitler and you're pretty close to hitting the origin of the hero. I felt like his description of his work didn't really hold up to what his work showed, granted I only got to see some wood carving before the site froze on me (so I was left to look at the thumbnails).

Incidentally, children and war is nothing new or recent. I have a grammar book from 1915 Kansas where some bored kid drew in pictures of soldiers killing Huns with machine guns. Incidentally, I picked up a school book from about the same time period just the other day and found doodles of the same.
posted by Atreides at 5:08 AM on February 9, 2010


I don't really understand what Boba Fett is doing here.
posted by unregistered_animagus at 5:10 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Count me among those who found this dude's work kind of banal and lazy, revealing not much more than a spray-painted sidewalk. I get where he wants to go with this stuff, and the Boba Fett trading card was slightly a tiny bit kind of neat as a contextless work of aesthetic art, but yeah, I'm not seeing the message guy intends to convey.

I'm trying to get out of the "eh, this sucks" habit, because there's marginal value even in crap, but as far as I can tell this is still crap.
posted by majick at 5:13 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I guess this is cool and cutting edge if you're one of those rabidly anti-American dipshit British hipsters. Otherwise it looks like production stills from Robot Chicken episodes that were too lame to air. A show, btw, which does a lot more to deflate socio-military-cultural hogwashery than this self-important milquetoasty English 'commentary.'

A plus: Dipshit British Hipster is fun to say!
posted by umberto at 5:14 AM on February 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


Oh, now we see the violence inherent in the system. Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help, help, I'm being repressed!
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:17 AM on February 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


Caveat: I didn't post this because I agreed with the copy (it is overblown), I posted it because if nothing else the desk carvings are kind of neat.
posted by bwg at 5:20 AM on February 9, 2010


I guess this is cool and cutting edge if you're one of those rabidly anti-American dipshit British hipsters.

I'm not far from Shoreditch and I'm pretty sure that even amongst the rabidly anti-American dispshit British hipster community this might be considered a bit "first term Bush".
posted by rhymer at 5:23 AM on February 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ham-handed symbolism aside, the carved wooden desktops are pretty cool looking.
posted by AzraelBrown at 5:24 AM on February 9, 2010


Captain America hefting the severed head of Saddam isn't quite that shocking. Just change the head to Hitler and you're pretty close to hitting the origin of the hero.

Yeah, that's incredibly weird. Does he think Cap was created to be some cosmopolitan peacenik or something?
posted by Greg Nog at 5:34 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dipshit British Hipster

Sockpuppet.
posted by Phanx at 5:35 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


The carvings into what looks like old school desks are moderately clever, but Captain America shocking? More like shockingly lame. America I am messing with your sacred cows are you listening America hey wait is this thing on
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:36 AM on February 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


ok, the rhythm of "dipshit british hipster" was nagging at some long-buried meter-memory in the crawlspace of my cultural consciousness, and I am dismayed to discover that it's "go, go, pow-er ran-gers." ...dip, shit, brit-ish hip-ster.

Talk about the unsettling effects of the toys of our whatever re-presenting the shocking whatever.
posted by unregistered_animagus at 5:39 AM on February 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


I do find this one to be pretty clever, but then, I'm a right sucker for puns.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:44 AM on February 9, 2010


^Otherwise it looks like production stills from Robot Chicken episodes that were too lame to air. A show, btw, which does a lot more to deflate socio-military-cultural hogwashery than this self-important milquetoasty English 'commentary.'

Some of the best conceptual artists gave up on the studio business and became filmmakers, instead. Kathryn Bigelow is one.
posted by vhsiv at 5:55 AM on February 9, 2010


Needs more Stretch Armstrong.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:06 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


""go, go, pow-er ran-gers." ...dip, shit, brit-ish hip-ster."

Brilliant.
posted by oddman at 6:21 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's pretty cool and all but....Gaaddammit, can we please stop building gallery web pages where thumbnail images cause the entire page to reload? Sorry, drives me nuts.
posted by silkyd at 6:29 AM on February 9, 2010


Politics: A

Execution: C-
posted by Joe Beese at 6:57 AM on February 9, 2010


was expecting a lot more toys, first, and showing Captain America hefting the severed head of Saddam isn't quite that shocking. Just change the head to Hitler and you're pretty close to hitting the origin of the hero.

Wow, we have really, really lost our cultural narrative.

Captain America holding a severed head should horrify you a little bit; the fact that it doesn't worries me very much indeed.

The fact that you could even look at that image and think that it represents what we used to stand for shows just how much has been lost.
posted by Malor at 6:59 AM on February 9, 2010


looks like a straight-to-the-museum-shop limited edition of something poppy that will also fit nicely in those giftwrappers that are only $5.95
posted by ouke at 7:00 AM on February 9, 2010


Well, that was turgid, ham-fisted, and the very picture of dreadfully earnest.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:02 AM on February 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Malor: "The fact that you could even look at that image and think that it represents what we used to stand for shows just how much has been lost."

Suggested reading.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:04 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


re-presenting the toys of our innocent youth in symbolic forms that reveal the shocking truths about war, death and guns in the world’s most powerful country."

He could have just gone to EBay and picked upsome GI Joe vechicles and doodz.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:09 AM on February 9, 2010


What's funny is that in households where toy guns and war cartoons are not allowed, little boys will still make guns out of sticks, cookies, paper, etc. And, I'm basically a peacenik but grew up playing with a massive array of GI Joe, Transformer, ultra-realistic toy guns (ah, the 1980s!), etc. This little display of political art is less than trite.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:54 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


The desks look pretty cool, though.
posted by dng at 8:31 AM on February 9, 2010


As a toy collector, I was expecting more breadth and depth to his work. He might as well have thrown in a couple of machine gun toting Barbies. Robot Chicken gets far more conceptual and violent with toys than this guy does :-)
posted by Calzephyr at 8:33 AM on February 9, 2010


Robot Chicken gets far more conceptual and violent with toys than this guy does

And they actually manage a far higher level of critique about the violent culture while still being quite amusing.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:40 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


The desks are visually pretty nice, but nthing the lazy and banal sentiment. And I have no idea what the star wars stuff is doing there. (though I also like the break glass use force one, because I am also a pun enthusiast. It was probably the least political, and the one that I liked the most).
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 9:12 AM on February 9, 2010


Joe Beese: Oh, I'm very aware of that, and in fact I had a big paragraph in the middle of that post talking about that subject, but ended up deleting it as largely irrelevant. Most of those things weren't widely known in this country, and the CIA atrocities in the 50s and later were mostly Top Secret. The US Government committed terrible crimes, but the people were almost entirely unaware of them -- and when they BECAME aware of them, in the 1970s, the culture changed a lot. We were really a pretty nice country in the 1970s, full of self-doubt and awareness that we didn't have all the answers, and we outlawed most of the things in question.

Nowadays, we all know we're committing terrible crimes, and we don't care.... to the point that we're even defining them as not being crimes anymore.

So I stick entirely by the original premise; we have lost our shared cultural narrative almost completely. Expediency über alles.

Captain America carrying a severed head is one of the most perfect symbols of modern America I've ever seen.
posted by Malor at 9:15 AM on February 9, 2010


Looks like some crap I might've made. It's not art until it sells.
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 9:15 AM on February 9, 2010


Captain America holding a severed head should horrify you a little bit; the fact that it doesn't worries me very much indeed.

Seeing how Captain America debuted in comics by punching Hitler in the face, we're not talking about the transformation of a Quaker to a blood lusting warrior. Like I said, switch out Hitler's head for Saddam's and you're not very far from the original Captain America. He was a soldier who went and fought American enemies. The artist would have been more successful if he had elected to have Superman holding the head of Saddam. (Granted, Supes fought Nazis and the Japanese, too, but he didn't specifically originate as a soldier to go off to war...and what do soldiers do? They kill!).

So what does Captain America clutching Saddam Hussein's head suppose to symbolize? That we're just a bit more violent in our depictions of war and intended goals (if you take the character's history into account)? I get what Turnbull wanted to depict, but here he failed and perhaps as a lack of not understanding the subject of his art or maybe relying on others not knowing enough about it.

Besides, I'd be more shocked if the actual comic book character had a book dedicated to him flying into Baghdad to kill Saddam and deliver the head to George Bush. Last I checked, I don't believe Marvel published that one. That has a lot more relevancy toward our culture than what a British Artist claims, at least with regard to our super heroes.
posted by Atreides at 9:20 AM on February 9, 2010


Is this one or the others like it really satire or revealing a shocking truth about the US? Quite frankly there's a non-trivial number of people in the US that would be happy for something like that to be a common fixture in houses, offices, and schools.

I mean, we're talking about the country that invented this thing.
posted by jedicus at 10:10 AM on February 9, 2010


"Captain America holding a severed head should horrify you a little bit"

I couldn't be horrified any more -- but it surprises me with its honesty, its frankness about what -part- of the US has been about almost the way back to its roots. Seen Jarmusch's 'Dead Man' yet?

And now we're paying for video spaces where our teens can go play video games picked by our military to get recruited to kill people with drones from 7,500 miles away.
posted by Twang at 11:15 AM on February 9, 2010


And now we're paying for video spaces where our teens can go play video games picked by our military to get recruited to kill people with drones from 7,500 miles away.

Not entirely sure why we don't just cut out the middleman there and wire the video games up directly to the drones. Seems way more cost-effective to me.
posted by webmutant at 11:23 AM on February 9, 2010


Not entirely sure why we don't just cut out the middleman there and wire the video games up directly to the drones. Seems way more cost-effective to me.

Consumer internet pipes aren't fast enough to guarantee a good kill ratio just yet. Patience.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:26 AM on February 9, 2010


Captain America punching Saddam Hussein in order to handcuff him and take him to trial, a public trial, where Saddam is of course found guilty, is more like the Captain America I used to know.

Captain America holding the severed head of a political scapegoat is more like the Capitalist America I used to know.
posted by dirty lies at 11:33 AM on February 9, 2010


Not entirely sure why we don't just cut out the middleman there and wire the video games up directly to the drones. Seems way more cost-effective to me.

Seems like that basic idea was explored nearly 20 years ago in another artistic work.
posted by hippybear at 12:30 PM on February 9, 2010


Captain America used his shield to decapitate a vampire decades ago. You just don't know your comics very well, kids.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:42 PM on February 9, 2010


> The carvings into what looks like old school desks are moderately clever

but wow did he have to stay after school with sandpaper.
posted by jfuller at 2:02 PM on February 9, 2010


Seems like that basic idea was explored nearly 20 years ago in another artistic work.

Well, or Ender's Game. Although like in EG, the right approach will be to wire up the drones without telling anyone. Maybe they already have!
posted by wildcrdj at 6:23 PM on February 9, 2010


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