01 January 2009

Foreign Investment

Written by Published in Issue 13 - Pure Read 3133 times

What happens when artists get together to challenge the contemporary art system and re-enact the Iguanodon dinner held in the wake of the Great Exhibition of 1853? An extraordinary installation that serves as a pretext to explore attitudes to human reproduction in the 21st century. Sublime introduces British-based art collective Foreign Investment...

Mixing the playful with seriousness, British-based art collective. Foreign Investment have developed their own intriguing way of tackling large-scale issues. They appropriate the corporate images, language and rituals that threaten to overwhelm us in our complex world, in their own words ‘making visible the inherent value of things’. They resist using the dealers and galleries that more commercially minded artists might use, and it is their desire for freedom that most defines them.

Foreign Investment’s installation in London’s Old Street recreates the infamous Iguanodon dinner of 1853. (An exhibition of dinosaur models held in the Crystal Palace had become a major attraction in Britain’s Great Exhibition of 1851.) Their designer, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, celebrated their success with a special dinner party. All the guests, comprising 22 scientists and intellectuals of the day, huddled together in the hollow, life-sized body of a giant iguanodon.

Today’s information-rich world inures us to scientific ‘progress’. This was far from the case in the God-fearing world of 1853, when a few life-sized dinosaur models became so popular that ‘The Dinner’ was regarded almost as a scientific miracle in its own right. In Foreign Investment’s version of the dinner, instead of crouching inside a sculpted belly, the 22 diners sit around a beautifully arranged oval shaped table covered with a white linen tablecloth. Each guest sits in front of his or her own name card, and helps themselves from a selection of enticing food including eggs, fruit, fish, caviar, red wine and pure water. They are cordoned off from the gallery visitors by a curtain of plastic strips that hangs from ceiling to floor. As the evening gets going there is a growing sense of ‘them’ and ‘us’, as the diners – a motley crew consisting of a philosopher, a priest, a gene scientist, a utopianist, a GP, a mathematician, a physicist, and a banker – become oblivious of the visitors encircling the protective zone of the curtain.

What might easily have turned into a frenzy of posing and amateur dramatics soon becomes an earnest and orderly event. By the second course, keen discussion leads to passionate exchanges, attended by bursts of note-taking, sketching and scribbling directly onto the table’s spotless white surface. As the evening warms up, discussion weaves in and around the theme of the immaculate conception – not immaculate in the religious sense, but rather pristine in the consumer sense. Conversation continues to weave around many themes – designer babies, the big bang, gene technology, eugenics, hospital hygiene, even Oocyte Cryopreservation – the technology of freezing and storing human eggs until the parents are ready to become pregnant. The agenda is serious, but they seldom resist a gag. ‘Was Jesus the first designer baby?’ ‘Was Mary the first surrogate mother?’ ‘Was Eve cloned from Adam?’

In their definitively playful, anti-art way, Foreign Investment tackle controversial issues but prefer to keep themselves out of the spotlight. ‘None of us wants to draw attention to our individual iidentities,’ they say. ‘Making art by yourself is seldom easy, and learning how to submerge your own creative ego is definitely no easier, but we think this is a positive thing.’


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