A couple of weeks ago I noticed that my local garden centre was already stocking up for Christmas. Watching Santa’s grotto ready to be assembled in mid-September shouldn’t surprise me as it happens every year at this time, but somehow it did. Retailers term the run-up to Christmas and other holidays as The Golden Quarter. Sculptor Corey Whyte has appropriated the title for his first solo exhibition which looks at the way society operates within a culture of commodification and how society itself has become commodified.
What we call Christmas was originally the pagan ritual of Yule that celebrated the winter solstice before it was appropriated by the Christian religion. Through the passage of time, the community-based celebrations wedded to the seasons have been replaced, or twisted in Whyte’s view, into a consumer-fest that has perverted its original intentions. We must indulge and celebrate or we’re missing out.
To emphasise the point, he has constructed Re-Snowman in a way that twists, distorts and disturbs. All the features are there, the carrot nose, coal eyes and so on but bastardised in the same way that our communal traditions have been. The whole thing looks purposely bizarre. “It’s such a ridiculous thing to be making because I find the whole commodification process ridiculous,” Whyte admits.
His sculptures for this show revolve around the use of fabric inflatables which he wraps round an armature and then pours on resin. Once the resin starts to cure, it turns rubbery which gives him time to sculpt it in whichever way he wants before it hardens. He then applies enamel paint and lashes of lacquer.
Whyte was the recipient of The Ingram Collection’s Young Contemporary Talent Purchase Prize in November 2016, having gained a BA in Fine Art from Staffordshire University. Last year he got his MA from Chelsea College of Art. But he has family connections in California where his father practises as a sculptor. So he knows how much the American tradition for celebrating Halloween has developed, another festival that has come under his sculptural spotlight.
Upon the Witching Hour and a Trade is Made, above, refers to a practice in which you give your child a bag of sweets, then you leave the bag on the doorstep when the sweets are eaten and the witches come and place a toy inside. “It’s bizarre because you’re going out to consume and then you consume again to consume again.”
Whyte’s gone to town on this one, creating spikes with the resin and embellishing it with all the garish colours one associates with Halloween. The wide nozzle on the spray can creates further mess which mimics the uber-hysteria of the consumer season.
These reindeer heads add further to his iconoclasm. Poor old Rudolph and co have been mutilated and hung up as trophies. This is a direct attack on the limited edition culture that has grown up around such popular brands as Supreme, Nike and the rest. “There are people who have bought every limited edition of whatever brand for years, have rooms in their houses full of all that brand displayed in cases like trophies…like you’re displaying your winnings, your hunt.”
Despite his bewilderment at the consumer aspects of our social culture, Whyte doesn’t see his work as being particularly judgmental, rather he describes himself as an artistic anthropologist. “I always say I’m an observer, contributor and I take an iconoclastic approach because everyone does it now (consuming) especially at Christmas. I contribute, I attack and I’m part of every aspect that I’m commenting on.”
Where Whyte does take a stand though is over the way in which art itself has been commodified. He refuses to do editions, for example, and laments how the over-marketing of art can lead to the same distorted version of the original intention, as with the rituals he observes in this exhibition. His works here are reflective of a consumer culture in which corporate retailers are finding ever ingenious ways to market their goods to a savvy yet cynical generation. One method is by infiltrating their own online culture. As social critic Andrew Nunes writes in the show’s catalogue, it’s “Goodbye Santa and hello @BelievableCorporateFriend.”
Enter the Golden Quarter is showing at 139 Whitfield Street, Fitzrovia, London W1T 5EN until 9 October 2019
All images are courtesy of the artist.