Benjamin Aitken’s new work Crusty Demon has been curated into the group show 1991 at Neon Parc, Tinning Street.
Unleash the Beast
There has often been a slight sense of bitterness, perhaps outright anger, coursing through the corrupted veins of Ben Aitken’s oeuvre. It has also been difficult to locate the source of this pent-up rage. But, looking closely, it is there for all to see; that old chestnut: Religion.
Indeed, Aitken’s latest work is a steel-mesh altar. Its sacramental offerings are essentially caffeine and sugar as opposed to the more traditional cocktail of blood and wine (the Holy Water has evaporated it seems). To make matters that much worse, this rather lethal liquid is being fed to a wee child by his mother. There is an element of (hopefully) fictionalised self-portraiture in this image, for Aitkens, you see, grew up under the umbrella of Pentecostalism, thus Baptism was an inherent part of his childhood. But one can’t necessarily scoff at this fiction – in travels through America I have witnessed obese mothers hand their infants energy drinks with nary a thought of the consequences. MONSTER becomes a suddenly apt name for a soft drink, thus Baptism by monsters.
But Aitkens doesn’t finish there. He becomes a Barthesian Semiologist, even analysing the graphics on the can. “According to some extremist Christian groups, the drink is ‘evil’ and of the devil,” he notes. “As you ‘unleash the beast’ when you open the drink (the companies branding headliner) – the O in monster on their can logo is emblazoned with a cross. When you drink the can, the cross is inverted.” In other words, drinking MONSTER is essentially an act of blasphemy at best, Satanism at worst, as one extremist Christian suggests in a viral YouTube video. The infamous English Occultist Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) would be delighted – he regularly invoked unleashing The Great Beast 666, Perabduro, Ankh-f-n-khonsu, “the wickedest man in the world,” or encouraging the Beast with Two Backs – fornication.
But esoterica aside, According to the Journal of the American Heart Association, for an average young adult “consuming 32 ounces of energy drinks (two cans of Monster Energy Drink), in under an hour spiked the risk of electrical disturbances in the heart for as long as four hours after the drinks were consumed.” God knows what it would do to Aitken’s hapless young victims.
But MONSTER marketing, Aleister Crowley and the Journal of the American Heart Association aside, there is also Aitken’s savvy art referencing for, of course, we can see in Aitken’s usage of the shelf echoes of numerous other conceptual artists, from Howard Arkley to Haim Steinbach. A recent description of Steinbach’s art from London’s White Cube Gallery suggests that the artist’s works are “a staging of objects in formats that underscore their presence both anthropologically as well as aesthetically. These objects come from a spectrum of social and cultural contexts and are put together in a way that is analogous to the arrangement of words in a poem, or to the musical notes in a score.” One may say something similar about Ben Aitken’s latest works, but the musical notes in a score would be those of the Rolling Stone’s Sympathy for The Devil.
But the last words should really go to Aitken himself: “It’s basically a work playing with internet meme culture, and really, essentially renouncing any faith I had as a child and making fun of the Pentecostal Christian belief system.”
– Dr. Ashley Crawford
Documentation: Simon Strong