“If the Smoke Don’t Get You, the Meatloaf Will”
San Francisco Art Institute (Chestnut St.)
Notes and Photos by Edward Paik
With American Independence Day around the corner, Tom Borden, Eric Gibbons and Khyssup Muistardeaux (a.k.a. the Muistardeaux Collective) decided to do the most patriotic thing possible: Create an enormous mound of meatloaf and call it art. Think 45 pounds of ground beef, breadcrumbs and oatmeal sitting pretty in a ventilated glass chamber. Salivate or hurl, either way it’s a celebration.
“If the Smoke Don’t Get You, the Meatloaf Will” is an exhibition of all things American. Organized by the San Francisco Art Institute's Master of Fine Arts program, in collaboration with Meatloaf Enclosures LLP, it’s a gallery full of love and hate -- things we Americans might wrinkle our noses at but can’t live without.
“What is America at the end of the day? It’s meatloaf,” says a female actor walking around the gallery impersonating Muistardeaux - who incidentally is a person made up by the other two artists in the Collective. Borden and Gibbons have hired actors to walk around impersonating them as well.
Outside the Diego River Gallery the real Borden and Gibbons sit in a van - inside, the crowd can watch their movements from a high-def TV hung on a wall near the back. From the van, the two watch people entering the gallery through a camera of their own.
Surveillance? Reality TV? “Tech support,” says an impersonator.
A man dressed in a Chinese cobalt garment and khaki pants with clunky hiking boots tries to get the crowd to believe that the actors really are the artists. He even hands business cards out to those gathered, and some laugh at the three impersonators, convinced. Each actor plays a role created 45 minutes prior to explain the artwork without aid from Borden or Gibbons. They’re part of the exhibit, part of the melting pot American culture that is in itself not too different from meatloaf.
“To say everyone’s the same or that everyone is different is very un-American,” the real Borden says, sitting beside Gibbons in their yellow 1972 Chevy cargo.
Everything in the van is America, says Gibbons, from the Express Hot Dog maker beside their surveillance computer screen to the smoke of Parliament cigarettes. “Two sweaty guys living in a van,” said Gibbons, which he and Borden will do for the duration of the exhibition -- the American dream. And the same oxygen Gibbons and Borden breathe is shared with the meatloaf within the gallery via a series of air ducts and pipes from the van.
On the other walls of the gallery sit the following: A wooden panel of seven shades with an image of Tom Selleck in a cowboy’s outfit. (You've got to have some American celebrity at this sort of thing.) An iPod Nano on continuous loop, featuring a clip of men running with cows. A pinch of consumerism. A haiku struck with an arrow.
The poem reads: “We are Native American.”
Personal Bias: I don’t like meatloaf.
Random Detail: The real artists sat in the van smoking while the actors webcammed the crowd. They left after a while, never once revealing themselves as the true artists.
By the Way: The celebration will last till July 5th.