In his past work, William Pope.L has regularly used food as a medium. In both performance and installation work, processed foods have become symbolic of poverty, the scarcity of life below the welfare line, and of life in households where food is not consistently available. Hot dogs, mayonnaise, pop tarts, and milk are consumables that, when left in the open air, ultimately will lose their nutritive qualities. In the piece Map of the World (2002), for example, Pope.L constructed a map of the United states entirely out of hot dogs. Over time, the piece changed, transforming from a sterile work with self-contained meat sausages into a moldy, smelly, decomposing map of our country. This is not necessarily a blunt comment on the corruption of American society—Pope.L’s art is more oblique than that—but rather it invites the viewer to consider the relation between food and culture. It invites you to fully experience, through sight and smell, the relation between our usual composed existence and the inevitable decomposition that we pretend does not exist.
In considering Pope.L’s method, his artistic style, I’ve been musing on how his use of food relates to his other work. With food, there is a literal decomposition of the image. Over time someone who sees the exhibit can experience several stages of the same piece, receiving a different experience with each visit. I believe his other work also relates to decomposition. When he crawls across Manhattan or when he eats the Wall Street Journal, he is calling upon stock images from daily culture. Anyone who has lived in a city has encountered homeless men and women who lie prone on the ground. The Wall Street Journal, as an elite newspaper, carries another kind of symbolic power. Through Pope.L’s interaction with these symbols, he transforms our perception of them. He crawls down the street in business suits and superman suits, rather than rags. By chewing on the Wall Street Journal, Pope.L literally deconstructs the integrity of the newspaper. In each case, he twists or transforms an image to reveal something of the essential truth behind it. Like the food, as these images transform, many elements are literally the same. The newspaper is still ink and pulp, and a man on the ground is still a man on the ground, yet the bystanders relationship with those images has changed completely.
All of this makes me wonder: what will Pope.L change or transform in his visit to Haverford?