Dysfunctional Toasters

Jno Cook in collaboration with Kirsten Daleske

by G. Jurek Polanski

"Oh! So I'm supposed to drop what I'M doin' -- just to make you some BIG toast! Has it ever occurrrred to you that mebbe I don't LIKE to make toast!? Do you ever say please?! ... Would you please show some RESPECT for me? And why is toast so important anyway? Burnt bread, ferChrissake! ... What so BIG and special about that?"

Virgo, (First Toaster to the right of Flying Toaster Wall Saver, a Flock of Six Flying Toasters)

Dysfunctional Toasters show card
-- 1999 Jno Cook

Hissing and moaning, whining and groaning and just plain bitching! And that's just one toaster! -- Virgo, the one to the right of the six Winged Toasters flying on the wall shelves with no particular, no discernable discipline. They've all abandoned self-retraint. And functionality. The gallery statement, prone to make excuses and rationalizations -- dealers love the art they nursemaid -- defends the obstreperous little objects d'art asserting: "The exhibition includes 12 [talking] toasters which no longer work, perhaps for mechanical reasons, or because the machines have developed personality quirks which cause them to complain bitterly about making toast."

Actually, all twelve are a bit testy... or is it toasty? And a few have a real ATTITUDE! Welcome -- if that is the appropriate word -- to "Dysfunctional Toasters," what the gallery statement confesses to be a "continuing investigation of the Machine Age." An exhibition (?) by Artists, Jno Cook and Kirsten Daleske, which will perform at Beret International Gallery until November 20, 1999. Years back, Adam Langer in The Madness of Art (Chicago Review Press: 1996) wrote: "Founded in 1991, this whimsical, anti-art-establishment gallery run by social worker Ned Schwartz is part of the renegade group of galleries known as Uncomfortable Spaces which embraces progressive, conceptual artists who challenge mainstream notions of art." It's still going strong. And one can check the website: http://spaces.org/

Ned Schwartz suggested 'something with machines' to Jno Cook, and "Dysfunctional Toasters" popped up. Twelve sassy, post-functional toasters with computer chip monologues of twenty seconds, scripted and dubbed by Kirsten Daleske who drew from real-life types. Daleske, with hilarious mimicry, ranges from cartoon voices to the curmudgeon across the corridor. We meet them all day after day. And her chrome-plated comics match Woody Allen's wit in "My War With The Machines." Allen reported: "I got everything I owned. My toaster, my clock, my blender, into the living room. ... I said, 'I known what's going on, and cut it out!'" (The Playboy Book of Humar and Satire: Castle Books: 1976). At Beret International Cook's and Daleske's toasters talk back. Just press the lever, let go and listen. Dysfunctional Toasters offers twelve chatterboxes (each named after a sign of the Zodiac -- for inventory ease), as well as a Mac Toaster and a Flying Toaster Wall Saver (their wings flapping like portly pigeons in armor plate). Marcel Duchamp and the Dada dancers didn't have the crust of these toasters. Artists, Jno Cook had thought of refrigerators --!-- but the logistics were just too, well, ponderous.

The artists statement officially declares: "The scope was limited to toaster because 'toaster' is also a simile among hackers for an appliance with an embedded chip which performs only a single task, and nothing else. Certainly this is our expectation in dealing with most people also." And 'unofficially' confesses to "a metaphor for all the screwed up people we have to deal with in life." A Dadaist 'chip on the shoulder,' but it is fun. And at first it didn't seem like saleable art... but in this day and age of free-floating art, Jno Cook and Kirsten Daleske might end up licensing these; perhaps as an Anti-Art franchise.

Are they "Anti-Art"? Woody Allen, certainly, used the theme as comedy. He, like Charlie Chaplin, saw victims of the Machine Age -- and laughed. And of Marcel Duchamp, art philospher Arthur C.Danto asserted: "Duchamp's gestures of 1913-17 were jokes. They were evidence that Art had developed to a point where Anti-Art was his own doppelganger," adding "As part of Dada, the ready-made was a kind of thumbed nose at the pretentiousness of art in the scheme of exalted values...." Danto, comparing Duchamp's Dada with Pop artist Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes felt "the two moments of Duchamp and Warhol reverse the in any case arbitrary Marxian order--a farce the first time around, something deeper and more tragic the second." Danto holds that "privileging the commonplace depends upon its being ubiquitous..." and that "part of the pleasure of his [Warhol's] art is in having these utterly banal forms elevated to the status of art, a kind of revolutionary reversal." (Encounters & Reflections: Farrar, Straus, Giroux: 1990) Without that, without an everyday presence and reference, it is just more 'Art-Art," that is, an object framed or on a pedestal to be looked at 'differently.' "Dysfunctional Toasters," by these criteria, takes the utterly banal, but ubiquitous bread-burners back toward Dada. But unlike Dada, the toasters crab, and we laugh. We do laugh. And unlike Pop art, we laugh at the wit of words -- slung by toasters, rather than view the electronic comics. (It could have been -- almost was -- refrigerators.) "Dysfunctional Toasters" is perhaps an audioanamatronic theater of wit at best. Or maybe it is Anti-Art, after all.

If you are in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood on an early weekend, "Dysfunctional Toasters" is an unexpected bit of whimsical fun. It keeps 'popping off' until November 20th at Beret International Gallery, Chicago.

-- G. Jurek Polanski

Jurek Polanski has previously written and art edited for Strong Coffee in Chicago. He's also well known and respected among the Chicago museums and galleries. Jurek is currently a Visual Arts Correspondent for ArtScope.net.

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