MAN GANG SHOWROOM (2001)
Academy Gallery / Helsinki
JUST ADD BRAINS AND CHEST HAIR
The pink-clad consultant, Helena Vilenius, welcomes us to the Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki. She is totally unaware of any exhibition, the space has served as the offices of London’s Man Gang Showroom for a couple of weeks now. Vilenius, who has an unbelievably high chignon, encourages us to acquaint ourselves with ‘the selection’.
The selection? The walls are filled with men, actually male types, from the intellectual to the body builder, from the man in overalls to the suit and the cool hiphopper. “At last, Man Gang Showroom finally offers Finnish man-hungry consumers a new range of urban men,” the firm’s brochure promises. If nobody seems suitable as they are, you can go and investigate the accessory shelf. Extra chest hair is apparently popular, since there are even implements available for tending it, but you can also get added brainpower. There is no mention of price until the customer wants to negotiate in earnest. And what if you fall in love with your paid escort? There are provisions for that: pills make the forgetting easy.
According to Vilenius, the firm also needs Finnish men on its payroll, since there is a lot of demand for them globally. You can do a screen test in the office. The private performance that is Man Gang Showroom goes beyond an ordinary exhibition visit. The whole set-up is thoroughly coherent, almost to the point of plausibility, and the fabulous consultant easily gets visitors to join in the game as customers. Beneath the humour is a serious issue, as in Tero Puha’s previous exhibition, which dealt with the role of the celebrity via imaginary female stars. On this occasion, the selection is made up of men, but, beyond the gender issue, what seems to emerge is the general commodification of the human individual. And due attention is paid to the overemphasis on appearance in singles culture.
There are actually various escort services in existence, but Man Gang Showroom overshoots to the extent that it serves as both a joke and a warning at the same time. Or, how far away from this world are we actually, when silicon spare parts are already in use, and when human cloning is already being planned? Man Gang Showroom advocates not turning people into brandable selections of characteristics. Arja Maunuksela / Helsingin Sanomat 5.2.2001