Entering from the south side of the Feigenbaum Center for Visual Arts, your palms are met with a fistful of fuzzy microfiber shag, barely discernibly orange in the dim hallway. Mongolian throat-singing chirps and bellows over your confusion at where your fingers should have cleanly gripped familiar brushed aluminum handles.
Maybe the lurid pinks and greens lighting up all four atrium walls, shifting to the rhythm of oscillating computer-generated intonations, give you pause on your way to class. Or worse, you’re doomed to wait for the elevator while wondering what the devil is going on with the silicone tentacle-wrapped steel spirals protruding from the walls and ceiling.
An aluminum chair tightly bound to the room’s central stone pillar by red satin cord flashes vivacious reflections back at you. Perhaps you notice the 65” flatscreen on the floor, snuggly clasped by rubbery orange arms rising from a bed of more orange shag carpet. A warty silicone vegetable perches limply from its mustard-yellow knit koozie, nestled around a fire-engine red snow shovel. Stay a while, and you’ll notice more of its kind living in the dark spaces of an upended Little Tikes shopping cart or above the gummy, pink silicone personification of bubble wrap. If you turn to leave, you have to touch more of that disconcerting plush fabric, which you dismayingly discover encases all door handles in the vicinity.
Figures 13a-f. Deimatic displays:
(A) Mountain katydid (Acripeza reticulata, Australia), image: Kate D.L. Umbers. (B) European swallowtail (Papilio machaon, Europe), image: Christer Wiklund. (C) Dead leaf mantis (Deroplatys longata, Asia), image: James C. O’Hanlon. (D) Four-eyed frog (Pleurodema branchyops, South America), image: Daniel Hoops. (E) Rough-skinned newt (Taricha granulosa, North America), image: Edmund D. Brodie III. (F) Common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis, Europe), images via Langridge et al., 2015.
Maybe I’ve induced discomfort or perturbation, or I’ve even succeeded in convincing you of the immediate need to leave. Plucky pitch shifts and otherworldly vocalizations incite the sinister and primal out of lurid visuals designed to disorient.
Harrowing cinematography in the dark basement lockerroom bathroom benefitted from full variable control, as I staged colored lamps and projected my handmade graphics against polished tile and naked forms. My material inspiration is easily evident from the videos, but the objects lose familiarity when re-contexted to the human body and relit in the dark: strewn long beans ensnare elongated eggplants and gangly arms; stretchy, sopping tripe (sheep’s stomach) is repurposed as a wearable; slippery chicken feet slither up a human torso; an overripe jackfruit glistens, cross-sectioned and aglow in red neon against bumpy knees, moments before ill-fated destruction on film.
It is my sincere hope that viewers oblivious to phagomimicry by sea hares (aquatic gastropods Aplysia californica emit an ink when threatened, which their lobster predators mistake for squid juice and attack as food instead)—or to the deimatic adaptations common in insects, amphibians, and cephalopods to ward off predation (i.e. sudden, startling reveal of eyespots on flattened bodies of cuttlefish & octopi and on expanded wings of Lepidoptera and Mantidae; rearing threat display performance in arachnids; the frilled lizard Chlamydosaurus kingii’s unfurling of its neck)—are indeed visually put off by the bacon eye mask, inflatables adrift in color-slurry suds, food-dyed shampoos squirted over sugary sprinkles, whirring egg beater, and mayonnaise squeegeed across a bare back.
Figures 14a-c. Surprise deimatic behavioral displays signal that this female body is not for your consumption, in ‘The Pleasures Gain Intensity When Fewer and Far Between’.
(A) A jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) is slammed against a belly, otherwise camouflaged in gnarled long beans (Vigna unguiculata sp. sesquipedalis)and slimy chicken feet. B) Fingers suddenly clench and dig into the jackfruit as the woman spits out its flesh. C)The woman unexpectedly flings the jackfruit on the floor and violently squishes it between her toes.
Figures 15a-b. Perhaps try the vegetables she leaves behind on the floor or the chicken feet she flings to the ground for lunch instead? Phagomimetic film stills from ‘The Pleasures Gain Intensity When Fewer and Far Between.’
Figures 16a-b. Aposematism refers to coloration vividly warning of unpalatable taste, while deimatism is a behavioral adaptation that may or may not incorporate aposematic coloring and crucially does not require a learned response to startle a predator.
For example, the top depiction requires the viewers’ recognition that sticky, shiny shampoo and fluorescent pink rubber taste unpleasant, while the sudden swipe of an arm in the second still would be enough to startle, whether or not they found sprinkles suspended in green shampoo appealing.