Jamie Shovlin: Hiker Meat
18 January – 21 April 2014
Hiker Meat is an exhibition about the making of a 1970s film that was never made. The exhibition instead stages the making process – a process that did occur, albeit partially and thirty years later. For sure, the product – an exploitation movie called Hiker Meat – is missing, but if it had existed it would have been a B Movie, so what difference does it really make? The absent product is parodied through the parodying of its potential production processes by conceptual artist, Jamie Shovlin, in his long-term project, which includes an exhibition and a film – Rough Cut – both of which document the making of Hiker Meat. Yet exploitation films – in this case of the 1970s teen holiday slasher kind – were sometimes prone to self-parody anyway (according to Andy Willis in his related lecture: An Intro to Exploitation Cinema, Cornerhouse, 18.01.14). Shovlin, teaming (or ‘meat’ing?) together with writer Mike Harte (acronym alert) and others, originally made a pastiche 1970s Exploitation film trailer for Hiker Meat, directed by the fictional Jesus Rinzoli and promoted on Youtube in 2013. In relation to the trailer he naturally considered: where next? Why go on to make a whole spoof film? We might ask, alternatively, what is the attraction of spoof? If spoof’s purpose is to acknowledge, to ridicule and to celebrate the limited, formulaic, fantastic or faulty conventions of a particular genre – such as teen slasher exploitation films – then an exhibition that represents and, thus, deconstructs such a film establishes the same goal. A parody within a parody within a parody, the exhibition would have Edgar Allan Poe and Jean Baudrillard together spinning melodramatically in their graves. This is reassuring for exploitation slasher movie fans and experts as it works to reinforce their knowledge of the genre and verify their enjoyment, whilst echoing the reflexive satiricalism at play within the direction of the films themselves. As a visitor with no former knowledge of 1970s exploitation films, the exhibition offers, perhaps, a fascinating space in which to consider the construction of viewing.
Still from Rough Cut (2013). Artist Jamie Shovlin. Courtesy and copyright the artist.
Still from Hiker Meat: 6 (2013). Artist Jamie Shovlin. Courtesy and copyright the artist.
Just before opening the door to enter the exhibition rooms, which occupy Cornerhouse’s three floors of gallery space, the wall text labels the exhibition ‘Hiker Meat,’ providing the subtitle, ‘How do you re-make a film that never existed?’ Unlike in Shovlin’s debut 2004 Saatchi Gallery exhibition about the drawings of a fictional missing schoolgirl, Naomi V Jelish (an anagram of his name) and other projects, here, he lets the viewer in on the secret of the non-existence of the project’s subject, informing us that the film never existed. The curation purposefully props up his creative hoax. The visitor’s experience starts with this conceptual bombshell, leaving its intricate residues for the real pickings. However, once inside the exhibition rooms there lies a parallel universe where everything the viewer sees is presented as the truth. Within these walls, the film did exist; photographs are real stills from the 1970s outdoor sets with real actors (not those staged by contemporary actors/extras or those taken from his 1,500 collaged clips from different 1970s exploitation films) as are the poster designs, the chalked storyboards, the musical score, the dress props displayed on a mannequin, the latex severed head and other maquettes or the outtakes which you can watch on a screen. The visitor has to remind themself that, however detailed the stories of the actors and production crew may appear as presented on the wall text, Hiker Meat is a fiction (of a fiction).
The curator, Sarah Perks (ambassador of our new Art Theory and Practice degrees) presents the exhibition’s content in a way that oscillates between the real and the phoney. The real is in the production of the phoney, as the ‘documented’ film production process is a production of a phoney film. Yet this makes the documentary process phoney too and so only the exhibition is real, perhaps. The viewer’s consciousness is forced to shift between different layers of represented reality – or simulacra. At alternate points we may choose to suspend disbelief and enjoy the gory or humorous tangibility of the documented objects or the intricate ‘histories’ behind the production process; we might question the ontology of the exhibition or of the films (Hiker Meat trailer and Rough Cut) or the conceptual nature of the artwork or curation. The exhibition, therefore, enables the viewer to question not just the authenticity of the exhibitory objects but the authenticity of the exhibition or the documentary, as they are themselves spectatorial constructs. Hiker Meat becomes a Foucauldian style critique on the production of knowledge in the public sphere. Why should we ever trust the things we read on the walls of galleries or the artefacts we see inside the vitrines of museums? With whom do we place our trust? This is the reality of the curator. These are the production processes of the museum. We don’t see the real; it is smothered in labelling. The context is always enforced, deferred, arguably empty. Hiker Meat draws the viewer’s attention to exhibitionary metanarratives in their various forms – gallery rooms, genre films, documentaries and spoofs. It offers, perhaps, a series of what Lyotard (1984) described as petit récits’ – mini, ‘localised’ narratives, that in Shovlin’s case highlight the constructive elements of how the metanarrative becomes what we see.
Detail from An Anatomy of Film (Hiker Meat) 2009-2010. Mixed media on 20 blackboards. Each blackboard 244 x 122 cm, overall 2500 x 244 cm. Courtesy and copyright the artist.
Yet such existential, museological questions need not be prompted when viewing Hiker Meat. Alternatively, the exhibition and the accompanying ‘documentary’ film – Rough Cut (currently also showing at Cornerhouse) – encourage the viewer to think about artistic process or practice. The viewer is able to consider the detail and fun involved in conceiving and producing a film and the roles and collaborative methodologies of the director and the creative team. By showing a creative process without the finished product, the process itself is foregrounded. In this sense, the exhibition and documentary film is a pedagogical exercise based on a hypothetical brief – the kind that may be given to students of film-making courses. Connecting, also, perhaps, to late capitalist notions of brand over product, we are invited to think about what the product signifies rather than what it constitutes materially. Within this context, the production processes of a 1970s B Movie are platformed. Exploitation movies are usually dismissed as being low culture ephemera at worst or watchable kitsch at best, but here, they are represented as worthy of representation. They may be formulaic but their formula can still be interesting. Presented within a contemporary gallery space, the exploitation film is validated. The exhibition both crosses and self-examines the boundaries between high and low culture, perhaps re-questioning Frederic Jameson’s thoughts on the cultural turn paradigm. Do 21st century viewers expect certain things of a contemporary art exhibition such as the presence of a particular, learned aesthetic or conceptual standard, or the representation of a trusted truth? If the answer is no, then Hiker Meat shouldn’t disappoint. If the answer is yes, then the gallery visitor will, for better or worse, question their expectations of the role of the exhibition product.
Baudrillard, J. (1981, first published) Simulacra and Simulation.
Foucault, M., as discussed in Bennett, T., ‘The Exhibitionary Complex,’ New Formations, 4 (Spring) http://www.londonconsortium.com/uploads/The%20Exhibitionary%20Complex.pdf [accessed 02/01/2014]
Jameson, F., (1998) The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998. London & New York: Verso.
Klein, N., (2009) No Logo, London: Picador.
Lyotard, J.-F. (1984) The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota.
Poe, E. A. (1849, first published), ‘A Dream Within A Dream,’ [poem], http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/237388 [accessed 19/01/201]