There’s something distinctly purgatorial about the initial space one encounters in Cameron Platter’s ‘Solid Waste’ at WHATIFTHEWORLD. You can almost hear the waiting room muzak as the sculptural assemblages seemingly encourage one to take a seat and await their name being called-out. Off-beat, charming, and quite funny – there are a set of His and Hers ultraviolet tanning chairs – the arrangement of works once again highlights how adept this WHATIFTHEWORLD space is at facilitating immersive installations.
By the same token, there is also a darker edge to this environment, an uncanny sense of unease that emerges from the peculiarities of these kinds of liminal spaces. There’s even a water feature of sorts in the concisely titled Love Beauty Desire Sex Fertility Prosperity Victory Death. The witty image/text incongruities in the pencil works hanging on the wall recall the scene in The Truman Show where the titular character enters a fake travel agency and is confronted with posters of airplane crashes and bold font warnings that ‘It could happen to you!’ OPTIMISM coexists with CHAOS • PANIC • FEAR. Apocalypse contrasted with colourful cartoon rainbows. And indeed the reticent calm of the initial space itself contrasts markedly with the contents of the room next door: a large-scale video projection of Solid Waste, Platter’s ongoing website and video collaboration with Ben Johnson.
In many ways, Solid Waste is the quintessential Cameron Platter work, an Alice in Wonderland-like leap into a schizoid world of excess where chicken drumsticks, crushed Monster cans, and spinning pills pull one further down the rabbit hole. Seeing it presented as a video piece rather than a navigable website takes away slightly from the overwhelming disorientation of trying to navigate that space yourself, but there’s something about taking a seat on a giant cartoon leather penis and passively observing a wall-sized projection which feels appropriate for an age where folks spend over 50 billion hours annually watching other people play videogames on Youtube.
Platter’s earlier animated video works abounded with the kind of ridiculously obscene characters that Slavoj Žižek describes in The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime as ‘figures of an excessive, exuberant assertion and enjoyment of life; somehow evil “beyond good and evil”’. Solid Waste taps into similar energies, but rather than channelling them through vessels like Cat Blofelt, Harry the Crocodile, and Yakuza Penguins, it instead focuses on the spoor – animal tracks, scents, faeces and remnants of foliage – of the kind of excesses produced by neoliberal capitalism; the epitome of the Ridiculous Sublime.
Platter’s work revels in the peculiarity of the incongruous portrait that our base cultural leavings present, precisely because these work in tandem as a collective hallucination of XXX+++ desire to sustain the fantasy which capitalism wishes to present as natural and real. Much has been made of the idea that we’re in the Anthropocene epoch in which human activity is seen as the sole driving force of changes in the planet’s climate and environment. Theorists such Donna J. Haraway have rejected this term on the grounds that it encourages an idea of human exceptionalism, perpetuating the fallacy that humanity is somehow separate from the complex, interconnected systems which make up life on Earth and therefore admonishing responsibility for our environmental destruction. Platter alludes to this interconnection in his poignant artist statement:
My cancer has metastasised. This got me to thinking about sea urchins and polystyrene. A sea urchin can live for 200 years. Polystyrene up to a million years. And how they and we are locked, for better or worse, into this primitive erotic dance of life… I’d rather be a sea urchin, but there’s a little polystyrene in us all.
Instead of the Anthropocene, Haraway joins writers such as Andreas Malm and Jason Moore in suggesting that Capitalocene might be a better description of our present predicament given neoliberal capitalism’s pathological drive to other the natural world and repurpose it into a profit-making machine at all costs. The vast majority of human labour is included in this exploitable reservoir of nature’s relentless bounty. For Haraway, Capitalocene is a preferable term because it separates the Ridiculous Sublime self-destruction of neoliberalism from the intrinsic nature of humanity, and the planet and as a whole. It is something that can be transcended, more so than the seeming finality of the Anthropocene.
As an exhibition then, ‘Solid Waste’ is both a celebration of life and an acknowledgement of untenability and collapse. The video room revels in the perverse peculiarities of elbow-licking, hyperbolic Mass-Builder supplements, Jacuzzis, didoes, and cheese curls, all pointing to the existence of living, breathing, fucking beings trying to survive in the Capitalocene. By contrast, the immersive sculptural space feels like a shrine to The End, to that same system’s propensity to hubristically eat itself.
This is especially true in the afore-mentioned series of acerbic pencil drawings, teasing out possible scenarios for The End in suitably over the top and idiosyncratic ways. In True Love, a multi-headed kaiju beast – the quintessential manifestation of both Nature’s vengeance and ‘Hyperbolic Mass’ – wreaks destruction, either retching or expelling fire/energy. Alongside it, a red lobster cheerily announces ‘You’re next!’ teasing the imminent world-ending arrival of the monstrous tentacled crustacean (and Lovecraftian cosmic entity) Cthulhu. And there’s certainly more than a little R’lyeh in the hallucinogenic landscape depicted in War Zone Tours.
If ‘Solid Waste’ is a purgatorial waiting room for The End, then the faux-brick headstones of ‘7-Eleven’ – Platter’s concurrent showing at OPEN 24 HRS – serves as a mausoleum: a solemn but colourful epitaph to the Capitalocene, awaiting the restorative growth of the regenerative epoch which succeeds it. Haraway optimistically proposes an era called the Chthulucene (no relation to the afore-mentioned Lovecraftian entity), one suspects echinoderms may be front and centre of Platter’s new world order.