Enter the Grouch: a world inspired by Sesame Street
Oscar the Grouch was devised as a means of teaching a young audience about otherness. Artist Sam Keogh takes that concept and runs with it
MOP by Sam Keogh
In Sam Keogh’s MOP, the floor you are standing on is imprinted with drawings of Oscar
MOP by Sam Keogh
Most artists, you would think, would take it pretty badly if you told them their work was rubbish. Sam Keogh, though, might take it as a compliment, at least if you were talking about MOP, his current show at the Kerlin Gallery, which really is rubbish.
He has transformed the gallery’s normally cool, clean, minimal white space into a labyrinthine rubbish tip. The floor is a kaleidoscopic, unstable mass of ragged pattern, dotted with all manner of images and objects, many of them messy, some tiny, some bigger, some distinctly fragile looking. You have to tread carefully, and even then it’s tricky.
MOP is an environment, and its guiding spirit is a fictional character, namely Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street. Aficionados of the programme may recall Oscar as the churlish, misanthropic character who lives in a rubbish bin, hoards trash and doesn’t have a good word to say about anyone or anything. In the programme’s feel-good aspirational world, he stands resolutely apart. As Keogh notes, his bristling negativity doesn’t stem from any particular dissatisfaction. It’s just his natural state.
Oscar was devised as a means of teaching a preschool audience that they were going to have to cope with otherness in many forms. This means, for example, dealing with people whose values are definitively, irreconcilably different to their own.
Keogh has taken this idea and run with it. At the heart of his labyrinth is a video performance in which he enunciates everything characteristic of Oscar. Appropriately, he does it as a rant, haltingly, angrily and almost incoherently.
Doodles of Oscar
The floor you are standing on as you look at the video is covered with a vast sheet of vinyl, imprinted with greatly enlarged, fuzzy, doodle-like drawings of Oscar in coloured marker.
Keogh set about gathering and making a collection of images and objects that evoke Oscar and Oscarness. It gets appropriately messy. Banana skins and other rotten fruit, in sculptural form, litter the vinyl, together will all manner of broken and ruined things. The gallery is transformed into a seething mass of stuff. It’s not pretty, yet it retains a curious appeal.
You come upon many images amid the debris. A character who lives in a dustbin clearly invites an association with Samuel Beckett, for example, and Endgame is there. The Greek philosopher Diogenes the Cynic, who lived in a ceramic jar and was famously tetchy, is a clear precursor of Oscar. The detailed exploration of human folly in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch makes them a good point of reference. Elvis Presley in his latter, sad, bloated years makes an appearance, as do some punk musicians, including Johnny Rotten.