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Let Me Feel Your Finger First:

Ontologically Anxious Organism

Each bemused visitor entering the gallery foyer at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts was asked to put on a plastic mask of a bespectacled, bearded, pock-marked man and join a throng of identically transformed people inside. Losing their visibility and individuality, subsumed into an anonymous hive-mind, all of them were soon following absurd instructions from an animated version of that same unsettling man, a floating head projected on a screen. Spoken in German, subtitled in English, the orders include, “Fall on the floor and play dead”. How far will you go to obey? Will you rebel? The queasy atmosphere of this communal programming was compounded by interruptions of an unseen comic strip, narrated panel by panel in a mock-academic Germanic accent, about our Big Brother-style master’s peccadillos. We gradually learn that he likes nothing better on a hot summer afternoon than tying up his nephews, Cute Punk and his twin, lanky acidhead Clem.

Welcome to the Uncle Hans-Peter Party (above), which debuted at Comica Festival in 2009 and forms part of the ongoing, multi-faceted comic art project by http://www.letmefeelyourfingerfirst.com/Let Me Feel Your Finger First (LMFYFF). Initiated in 1998 by visual artist Richard Squires and straddling live events, print, animation, and gallery and online exhibits, LMFYFF has been adopted by Squires as “...a pseudonym, a sham production company and as some ambiguous comic identity.” With an ever-expanding, interrelated cast, like some twisted but unified universe, fresh members of LMFYFF’s dysfunctional, discomforting ‘Familienalbum’ have arrived with each new project, with Uncle Hans-Peter as its patriarch, “all bristles and pre-shave lotion”.

Early comics introduced Cute Punk in Yep! Yep! Yep! and Homo Zombies (above) in Greenhorn, the pair fatally crossing paths in 2000 in the splattery Homo Zombies animation. In 2007, nine-year-old Francis came to life in another film for Channel 4 (below) as a “defective” character, cross-eyed and awkward, whose clapping, squeals, slurping, Woody Woodpecker laughter, lengthening Pinocchio nose and other outbursts are clinically critiqued by a child psychologist. Mischievous Francis finally refuses to be contained and spins out of control and out of the frame.

 

Tensions between submission and rebellion seethe throughout LMFYFF’s storyworlds, most recently in Post-Colonial Cannibal, a cooking pot which spawns problematical black natives drawn from early American animation’s racist imagery, and the art-world manoeuverers Kunst the giraffe and Snide the ostrich. According to Squires, “All these characters frequently appear to be active or passive, hunters or quarry. They are manipulative and manipulated, prey to overwhelming appetites, compulsions or drives in narratives where control is often the underlying agenda.”

Uncle Hans-Peter and Francis reappear in ‘The Characterological Problem’, a new Strip below for ArtReview magazine, strolling in lederhosen through the sunny quasi-Bavarian foothills. As Hans-Peter lectures Francis on the nature of character and its relationship to environment, both are oblivious to the interior anguish of Ontologically Anxious Organism, a small boulder which can shift location unnoticed with a “PUF!” to keep up with the one-sided discussion.

Squires was inspired to develop this oddball creation “...partly because of seeing these beautifully drawn comic rocks in European graphics novels like The Smurfs and Asterix.” Another source was R.D. Laing’s writings on ‘Ontological Insecurity’ in The Divided Self (1960), which propose “the possibility of turning, or being turned, from a live person into a dead thing, into a stone, a robot, an automaton, without personal autonomy of action, an it without subjectivity.” In the case of Ontologically Anxious Organism, it is so anxious about the notion of “character” that it has camouflaged itself as a background element of the comic strip. Nevertheless, LMFYFF’s existentially challenged rock has somehow managed to take the leading role in three short animated films (see the example above), recently released on the Filmarmalade DVD label.


‘The Characterological Problem’
Click images to enlarge.

Posted: March 3, 2013

This article was originally published in ArtReview magazine.

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