I should have been mowing the lawn, but instead I created my entry for the 2017 Turnip Prize. Actually, given that one of the criteria for the Prize is that “Entries should take the least amount of effort possible to create”, it proved perfectly possible to google for a picture of a swede, add some text, print it off and address an envelope, and still have time to mow the lawn.
The Turnip Prize is “a spoof art award of the lesser known Turner Prize.” Its tagline is “We know it’s crap, but is it art?” Usually the shortlisted entries are really bad puns. Last year’s winner was “Pole Dark”, a black stick. Other finalists included “Bricks IT” and “Single European Meerkat”.
Of course, in referencing* Magritte’s “The Treachery of Images”, I was foregrounding the way in which the English and Scottish attribute different meanings to the ‘neep’, as well as the complicated interplay between cultures and cuisines. My image also challenges the theory of the Google search result, the idea that what is returned by a search engine is unambiguously what was sought, and that what was sought necessarily represents (or re-presents) the true object of the searcher.
The image of the ‘neep’ problematizes the significance we attach to stable semantic correspondences between vegetable and food stuff, taxonomy and label, reality and language. The ‘neep’ and the sentence share a dialectical relationship; each comments on the other. The image of the swede alone isn’t especially interesting, and beyond the Magritte reference and rhyme of ‘neep’ with ‘pipe’ there doesn’t seem to be anything unusual about the caption. The viewer might initially think, “What is that vegetable?” and lament their inability to identify it. Then they read the sentence that tells them it is not a ‘neep’. What is it then? Does it matter what the meaning of ‘neep’ is, or the meaning of ‘is’, or ‘is not’? Is their cultural background consonant with mine as the artist’s; can they trust that their understanding of ‘neep’ is the same as that of the artist in presenting it?
The work highlights for consideration the idea that an image of a swede, as returned by a Google search, is not analogous with the image of a swede, or necessarily the cultural understanding of a ‘neep’. The representation of the swede is once removed from its referent search term, as is the label ‘neep’ from the objective food stuff to which it may or may not refer. It forces the viewer to consider their own reaction to the work, or the photograph of the work, and their cultural predisposition to a compulsion to argumentation about whether the vegetable is in fact a swede, or a turnip or mangelwurzel. The ‘neep’ has become a signifier in a process of entrenchment, the tendency towards disambiguitisation and naïve realism.
…all of which was immediately grasped by my friends on Facebook and prompted a vibrant cultural debate…
Friend: Och en swede är inte svensk. [tr: And a swede is not Swedish.]
CB: Did the Swedish Chef cook swedes?
Friend: No, according to my friend who lives in Sweden they cook Norwegians instead.
CB: Thems, and Flappen Jacken Hooten.