Follow the Dum Dums; eat one if you dare. Last Thursday night, a line of the whimsical lollipops snaked its way up the stairs and into the second floor gallery of Artspace. The candy served as an introduction to Gluttony, Michael Quattlebaum's first installation piece. An immensely talented and committed artist associated with Paint In Consciousness Experimental Theater (P.I.C.E.T.), Quattlebaum is also a 16-year-old junior at Enloe High School with a passion for pushing the limits. He admits his first love is theater (his writing and directing abilities were evident in last fall's Paperdoll Psychology and he is currently acting in a postmodern production of Twelfth Night) and talks excitedly about his idea of integrating creativity into everyday life, by taking a troupe of artists to the streets of North Raleigh in a performance he hopes will startle morning commuters.
Rejecting the notion of art with a capital "A," his interests are nurtured by the conceptual art of the 1960s (Yoko Ono is a role model), and he envisions performances and installations that change people's perceptions of the world around them. Enter, Gluttony, a multimedia installation with a one night shelf life (pun intended). Transcending the familiar rhythms of performance, Quattlebaum orchestrated a montage of images and objects that literally reeked of excess, consumption and apocalyptic violence. Gluttony consisted of heaps of familiar objects scattered about Artspace's second floor gallery--the Dum Dums leading from one station to the next--each highlighting an atrocity associated with excess and putrefaction.
The first was a small pile of stuffed animals, with red stringy material spilling from their bellies. In this context, even the childish rounded eyes on the big brown bears, looked anguished--particularly when a dust mask covered nose and mouth. The next stop consisted of a large heap of fast food garbage: buns, cups, and a faint whiff of refuse. Further along, broken eggshells and meat-covered bones led to a pile of white "fur" contained within a black tape crime scene outline of an indeterminate shape. Next to the pile lay animals emptied of their stuffing; it was hard not to equate the sadly deflated figures with skinned carcasses. At the corner of he room sat a pile of about 30 creatures awaiting dismemberment, including two Elmos and one giant, grimacing Garfield, their cheerful grins knowingly grotesque. An enormous ape hung from the rafters, banana in hand, mouth covered with duct tape, while an abandoned Cabbage Patch kid, Hostess chocolate cupcakes and an inflatable penguin occupied other posts throughout the gallery. From the rafters, pink fabric strands swaddled food and animals.
In contrast to the freakish stillness of the grinning and desecrated toys, Quattlebaum projected a videotape of rescue efforts onto a back wall, where snatches of narration could be heard commenting on a hiker who toppled into a ravine with her horse, a house fire where rescuers administered oxygen to a man and his dog, and the unsettling images of Ground Zero. The juxtaposition of video and tableaux addressed the uses and abuses of animals and the vastly different contexts in which we love and destroy them. Combining apocalyptic images of Sept. 11 with the shredded synthetic bodies of childhood toys, suggested the depths of our cultural loss of innocence. With this moving and utterly original piece, Michael Quattlebaum defines excess as that which turns us (or our plush surrogates) inside out and is ultimately, an inevitable part of life.