As leitmotivs of all things global, greedy and greasy, the infamous golden arches of the fast food chain are stock-in-trade for any artist wishing to comment on the excesses of modern consumption. If you are that way inclined, you will no doubt skip along to Superflex’s film installation, ‘Flooded McDonald’s’ at the South London Gallery in the hope of savouring every last cinematographic second of the watery engulfment of a McDonald’s interior. However, like any self-righteous spectator, you quickly realise that watching a witch burn is never a straightforward viewing experience and like any self-respecting disaster movie ‘Flooded McDonald’s’ is laced with delicious tension, pathos and comic relief.
Projected onto a cinema-sized screen Superflex’s film certainly has the appeal of an epic, yet its accompanying surround-sound is the low buzz of functioning electrical equipment—coffee machines, deep fat fryers, McFlurry makers—evoking the disquiet of a surveillant documentary. Water begins to trickle in under the door quickly growing into a torrent; the camera pans around the restaurant, apparently deserted in a hurry and littered with packets of ketchup-dipped chips and half-munched sesame buns. An immaculate Big Mac meal sits next to the cash register, neither purveyor nor purchaser anywhere in sight. The banal achievement of ‘Employee of the Week’ is repeatedly highlighted until its tragic protagonist, a human face for the faceless corporation, is submerged beneath the rising tide whilst the once homey cheer of the ‘I’m lovin’ it!’ slogan reads with a hint of hysterical abandon as the packaging on which it is printed bobs helplessly around the surface.
The sight of a large plastic Ronald McDonald being lifted from the ground and toppled in the manner of a felled dictatorial icon, is irresistibly amusing, as is his subsequently ungracious horizontal position as he floats in front of the counter of his doomed empire. As the flood rises above the empty tables, carries trays off counters, liberates trash cans and eventually starts to shortcircuit lighting and equipment, the cameraman allows us to share in the suffocating sense of drowning, dipping below the surface to expose the muffled soupiness of the underwater world. Coexistent order and chaos is witnessed in the juxtaposition of rhythmically bobbing seat backs and bin lids and the efficient sequentiality of the flood with comic subaqueous shots showing chips and nuggets swimming like super-sized plankton.
Certainly waste-generating, waist-expanding global corporations such as McDonald’s share in the blame for climate chaos but Superflex’s film is no place for smug moralising. The line between beautiful and grotesque, funny and frightening, hero and villain, is perilously porous and yet complacency is not an option. In their first solo show in London, the internationally renowned Danish collective serve us an ominous ocular feast.
Kate Cowcher is a writer based in London