Important Art by Jake and Dinos Chapman
The brothers' first joint work is also their first tribute to Francisco Goya, an artist that they have continued to reference throughout their careers. This piece is a three-dimensional representation of Goya's etchings of the same name made in miniature using toy soldiers. Goya's etchings depicted the atrocities of war experienced during the Napoleonic invasions of his native Spain in 1808 including gruesome scenes of bayonetting, beheading, torture, and death. Goya's work provided such a powerful polemic, that it could not be exhibited in his lifetime
The presentation of the Chapmans' piece both enhances and depletes the original subject matter; reframing the scenes for a modern context and enabling the viewer to look again at a subject that is both shocking and unsettling. The fact that each scene has been recreated in miniature, takes away from the subject's impact, and in doing so references modern day warfare, and the human detachment caused by rolling news footage that can normalize war and human suffering. Aligning the subject with children's toy soldiers also potentially devalues the subject's power, but also reminds the viewer that violence is an understood and ubiquitous part of society.
The Chapman bothers, however, note that they are not making a point about human savagery, rather about art, and its eventual impotency. Picasso turned to Goya for inspiration when he produced Guernica (1937), a powerful piece which responded to the bombing of a Basque country village in northern Spain by German and Italian warplanes. The work is revered now, but had no impact on the course of the Second World War and its resulting 60 million deaths. Art cannot stop violence, the Chapman brothers assert, just as Picasso's Guernica was unable to prevent the horrors of the Second World War.
The 1990s saw the Chapman brothers produce a whole series of disturbing human-hybrid monsters by melding naked child mannequins together. In this work their noses and mouths have been replaced with genitalia and they are wearing nothing but Nike trainers; a representation of child consumerism. Zygotic Acceleration seems to be a critique of the inappropriate sexualization of children in the media, as well as alluding to contemporary anxiety with regards to cloning and genetic manipulation. It was also supposed to be funny. Dinos said in 1994: "A child mannequin with a cock on its nose. To take that seriously, you've got to seriously limit your mental faculties. Essentially, the thing that binds everything together is humor - the darkest kind of humor possible. Because that's the way that you defend yourself from the horror". In a similar vein, Jake noted that: "Our work is so gratuitously overburdened that it cancels itself out. There is nothing in it that can be taken seriously in the way that one would take shock seriously. There is nothing that would traumatize in our work. It really only provides the possibility for laughter, if anything".
The work looks back to the Surrealists' fascination with female body parts and mannequins, as well as the use of the readymade seen in Dadaism. Mannequins have traditionally been used by artists as tools from which to observe, but they can also be used to manipulate the emotions or reactions of the viewer. This is evident here as the work places the audience in an uncomfortable position and in doing so challenges the boundaries of taste. Members of the public certainly found the piece shocking and when this work, along with other similar pieces, was first exhibited in London's Victoria Miro gallery, the police were called. The public outcry was exacerbated by the names of other pieces in the series including Fuck Face and Two Faced Cunt. This response only served to highlight the same contradictions that the piece sought to challenge - the mannequins were simply an amalgamation of imagery that was already widely accessible and available to most viewers.
Consisting of glass cabinets, arranged in the shape of a swastika, Hell featured nine gory and intricate tableaus made from 60,000 toy soldiers. It is what the brothers call "hyper vertiginous violence", an imaginary genocide in which Nazi soldiers are tortured and killed in a huge variety of horrible and disturbing ways in a process orchestrated by skeletons and mutant forms. Whilst the Chapmans's skill as artists is shown in the craftsmanship and labor evident in the piece, the brothers also used this provocative work to make a wider point about the widespread nature of violence. As Jake noted: "We need to have images of ultra-violence in order for us to have a slight clue as to what it is to not be around it... We have to have high feelings of stimulation from the idea of atrocity, death and murder in order to make what we have feel of value. These things are implicit in a society that simultaneously presents that these things aren't implicit. Take Christianity - a religion based on the murder of a deity...This work asks people to look closely at what is taboo".
Norman Rosenthal, art historian and exhibitions secretary of the Royal Academy where the work was displayed, said at the time: "You had to admire how exceptionally well-made it was. This is the central paradox of their work - it focuses on very brutal things but is so beautifully made. Their work is anti-art while playing on its own aesthetics. It's evidence of a very learned, very intelligent strategy... I fell backwards when I saw it - it's spellbinding". The piece was lost in a storage factory fire at the Momart warehouse in London in 2004, along with works by Gillian Ayres, Patrick Caulfield, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Chris Ofili. "When it caught fire, we just laughed. Two years to make, two minutes to burn... It was fantastic - like a work of art still in the process of being made, even as it burnt", Jake said. The brothers remade the work as Fucking Hell in 2008.