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"Docking Station: Enrico David – Chicken Man Gong"
2007-05-04 until 2007-06-10
Stedelijk Museum
Amsterdam, , NL

Docking Station is showing Chicken Man Gong (2005) by the London-based artist Enrico David (b. 1966, Ancona, Italy). This two-part work, consisting of a gong and a display case, resoundingly shakes accepted beliefs about masculine identity, public art and the functions of the museum. In Chicken Man Gong, David has created a complex web of narratives and allusions to a variety of cultural sources. The metal sculpture is over two metres in height and has the form of a traditional gong, an Asian musical instrument used mainly during religious ceremonies and festivals.

The gong stands on a leg that is clad in fishnet stockings, taken from the work of the French artist Pierre Molinier, known for his photographic self-portraits in drag. In addition to this, the statue has a multicoloured tail and a boy’s head with a stylish haircut. In short: Chicken Man Gong is an elegant hybrid figure, a ‘chicken-boy’ who, as already implied by the insult ‘chicken’, does not behave in a sufficiently manly way.

For Enrico David, the work is not only about the rules associated with sexual identity, but has just as much to do with conventions used in museums. The second part of the installation consists of a display case containing a scale model of Chicken Man Gong, an open book by James Lee Byars, some daggers designed by David and photos of visitors to the New York club Studio 54 and of immigrants and homeless people in nineteenth-century Germany. The museum display case gives the impression of providing extra information about the statue, but in this case the relationship between the sculpture and the contents of the display case is anything but straightforward. The installation may well imitate the form of an educational museum presentation, but it does not satisfy the expectations that accompany a documentary exhibit of this kind.

David’s Chicken Man Gong plays a theatrical and ritual role in the museum, which is in keeping with the original function of this percussion instrument. From the moment the gong was introduced to orchestras in Western Europe in the eighteenth century, it was used mainly to accentuate strong emotions. But it also has a more commonplace ritual function, for example, to indicate the start or finish of a particular action or a contest.

During the exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum, David’s gong will regularly be heard. The artist will telephone a museum employee with the order to sound the gong. This means that the work fits in with everyday museum practice, but also disturbs these codes to an equal degree.

Enrico David studied at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. During the same period as the exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum, he is showing work at the Cabinet Gallery in London and next autumn sees his first large solo exhibition, at the ICA, also in London. Within his oeuvre, David does not restrict himself to one medium; his work consists of drawings, gouaches, paintings and sculptures, in which he frequently makes use of materials and motifs that evoke associations with traditional crafts and the modernist design of the 1920s and 30s (including art deco) and other art-historical sources.

The exhibition Chicken Man Gong was curated by Leontine Coelewij. The current Stedelijk Museum Bulletin (nr. 2007/02), which is available from the museum shop for € 5, features an article about Enrico David written by Dominic van den Boogerd.

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