Wednesday, December 14, 2011


It's Day 2 of the 12 Reviews of Xmas here at Exploitation Retrospect and while we usually focus our critical eye on the cinematic world, occasionally some courageous publisher drops a book on our doorstep. These days, I'm all about written manly action (even though summer's long over) and behind-the-scenes scoops, so I sent today's artistically-oriented tome off to filmmaker/actor/review Matthew Saliba. Here's his take...

In my quest to receive free swag, I can sometimes be a little overzealous when I agree to take on a given project to review. However, even the oddest piece of cultural memorabilia prompts an inspired and evocative review that has me scratching my head in endless wonder over how the hell I managed to write so many words on something that left me speechless when I first saw it.

Such is the case with this book, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING? THE ESSENTIAL DAVID SHRIGLEY. Only in this case, I really have no idea what to say about it. Glasgow surrealist David Shrigley is a man of many trades having created endless drawings, sculptures, photographs and animated films all of which can be viewed on his website.  This book collects his very best (or worst, depending on your tolerance for modern art) drawings all of which are deeply rooted in the timeless art of deadpan absurdity. Some of these are actually quite funny, particularly God cutting the world in half because "it's too big," a woman shooting a row of eggs with a machine gun but refusing to say why because it's "classified information" to a woman milking a cow and telling it to shut up when it asks her what she's doing. Then there are others that seem to refine "deadpan" as being entirely without humor. Truth be told, what this collection of sketches really reminded me of was David Lynch's DUMBLAND. The drawing style is very similar and if these drawings were brought to life via animation, I have a feeling we'd essentially be watching an episode of Lynch's webseries.

Art is a very subjective thing and as difficult as it can be to review a film or a book and recommend it one way or another, it's almost impossible to dictate what is and isn't good Art, when we're talking about paintings or drawings. I'm of the opinion that the purpose of Art is to evoke a wide array of emotions in the spectator; perhaps even enlighten them. With that in mind, it's no surprise why I gravitate towards Film and Literature as these are the two prime practitioners of "Art as emotional roller-coaster." When it comes to something like David Shrigley's work, I'm admittedly at a loss on how to properly critique it. But if I'm going to use my emotional barometer as a means to judge this collection than I'm afraid that what comes up is mostly indifference. Granted some of his work is amusing but I found it mostly self-indulgent – aimed at those who get a kick out of the "illustrated laughing squares" in THE NEW YORKER.

Between the zero emotional connection I had with the material and the text's hefty price tag, I really can't recommend shelling out over $30 for something that will ultimately serve as a paperweight to protect your Scrabble scores from running off in the mouth of your incredibly curious cat Munchkin... like it currently does for yours truly.

What the Hell Are You Doing? is available from Amazon.

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