This performance-based film utilizes the dark humor of the artist to capture the apocalyptic and broken life cycle of the protagonist–Charlie, the fish. The upbeat music juxtaposed with the provocative, grotesque process of buying and “returning” the fish gives the piece a unique voice.
I am a supermarket fish.
Cold and floppy.
Prodded and poked, fondled and stroked
Analyzed, scrutinized, measured and weighed.
Tossed aside and slapped around, dumped in bins and ignored for bigger, better fish.
A mediocre existence, a disappointing taste of the afterlife,
I lie there, mouth agape, eyes wide shut. Dead.
I would love some fresh air, a cool swim, perhaps…
An amble down the street- oh! To feel New York City rumble again.
This film is my take on dark humor. Since a young age, I’ve always taken particular interest in the supermarket fishmonger. In 2019, at my local Fairway, I’ve begun to wonder what it would be like to free my fishy friends from the greasy, wretched claws of consumerism.
The piece is performance-based, shot before the pandemic, but never shown. Using a voyeuristic perspective, I have filmed a manifestation of my strange intrigue surrounding freeing frozen produce and releasing them back into the wild…a DIY home-movie making light of an apocalyptic and broken circle of life. The fish, Charlie, is the protagonist. My role as a grocery-goer in just a floor-length fur coat and slippers, is to simply facilitate his escape to freedom. All that was needed was a hook and a leash.
I began the film In the corridor of my apartment building, using the dingy, sterile lighting and dull grey-green walls as a sinister introduction to the work. My choice of coat was intentionally loud and absurd, as was the decision to bare my legs underneath. Natural lighting was used throughout the film, from the strobe supermarket glow to the ominous buzzing streetlight and the twinkling city skyline over the Hudson River. I manipulated the speed of the clips to add a sense of pace to the narrative, overlaid with Phil Collins singing ‘Sussudio’, one of my favorite feel-good songs. The alteration between this creepy, sinister march I embarked on with Charlie and the discotheque looseness of the music became another indication of dark humor used in the piece. At Fairway, I zoomed in on an advertisement about meat, and panned out to a shot of me wandering to the fish aisle. The fishmonger’s concerningly grotesque manipulation of Charlie was captured initially as a wide angle shot, but upon editing the clip I decided to zoom straight into the fish and cut out any indication of a human, to almost bring the fish to life. Considering the tonality of the film is predominantly cool and blue, I placed emphasis on the scene where Charlie is hooked, using the neon strobe of the Laundromat shop window near my apartment. The camera’s perspective was intentionally random, and the shakiness of the film implies a casual ‘vlog’ style, as well as continuing the narrative of spying on something abnormal. To push the dichotomy between capitalism and freedom, I interjected short snippets of a fish recipe video I found on YouTube- naïve, bright flashes adding respite to a gloomy, unsettling setting. The necessity of the leash and the motion of dragging were captured using a continuous shot, that I manipulated using an alternation of speed and frame rate. The most grotesque scene, where Charlie is being orally impaled, was disrupted by a transition I created on Adobe Premiere Pro, where I created a pathway for the frame to move across the screen, and included references to Spike Lee’s fisheye, sharp transition experimentation. Overall for the film, I drew reference to Sam Taylor Wood’s gruesome and humorous still life videos and Anslem Kieffer’s grotesque but majestic paintings.
When I filmed this video back in 2019, our lives were very different to what they are like today. Alongside the obvious carnage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the environmental temperaments of our society have drastically changed. With the influx of rising advocacy towards marginalized sections of society, there has been an increase in the destruction of certain legacies, albeit necessary and justified, and also: “cancel culture”. According to Google, “cancel culture is a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – whether it be online, on social media, or in person. Those who are subject to this ostracism are said to have been “cancelled”. In other words, if you choose to divert from what is societally accepted, you’re faced with some issues.
Now, dragging a dead fish along the ground and depositing it back to sea is a weird enough concept as it is, but add the corporate consumerist corruption narrative and also the topics of veganism and violence, and you’re teetering on the edge of triggering impassioned anti-environmentalists, those who don’t believe in climate change, those who are pro-hunting, those who are anti public performance art, those who disagree with veganism, and those who are afraid of gore/death/blood- to name a few. When I filmed this project back in 2019, I was met with a few rolled eyes and a couple of gawks from passers by, as well as a gentleman under the influence of a mysterious substance, who handed my partner, who was filming, “an orange for the little guy”. “The little guy”, to be clear, was Charlie, the dead fish.
Back then, I never showed this piece anywhere, in fear of it being “too weird”. To be honest, the many sensitive issues I was attempting to address in the work were not what concerned me. I guess I was just unsure how it would be received as a piece of art, to a new cohort of students I didn’t know yet, after transferring from my last university. All in all though, I was sure that these were my opinions and if people disagreed, that was entirely their choice. To each their own.
Today, after having lived through a year of political upheaval, and seeing that society seems to confuse holding one accountable, with the immediate destruction of one’s life and relationships, with no room for explanation, apology (if necessary) or defense, I have decided to show this film. Yes, I may be addressing issues of consumerism, destructive environmental habits and the wretched sadness of animal hunting, and my opinion on them is the opinion that is deemed “socially acceptable”, but to be frank, even the idea of showing such a video, is a little scary to me. I feel as if there has been a slight counterproductive effect of certain methods of advocating for “what’s right” (whatever that means!). In a bid to encourage tolerance, we have also normalized a biased conversation, and even a “majority rules” opinion based form of debate. While I believe in equality through and through, I miss the days where someone or the other would stand up and offer the most extremely opposite view to myself or someone else in a space, and then we would engage in a discussion to try and understand their opinion. “Charlie” is a video about struggle and entrapment, subservience and cyclicality, control and helplessness. In a world so rife with “wrongs”, I hope this piece serves as a reminder of the necessity for context, reevaluation and sadly, the cyclical nature of life.