Loading mercury with a pitchfork your truck is almost full. The neighbors take a certain pride in you. They stand around watching.
Richard Brautigan (1971)
Richard Brautigan’s ‘Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork’ describes a seemingly futile endeavour. The pitchfork’s wielder is not dissimilar to Sisyphus, of Greek myth, who was forever condemned to push a heavy boulder up a steep hill, only to see it roll back down to the bottom before he could ever reach the top.
However, there is one significant difference. Whilst Sisyphus never reached his goal, it could be imagined that a pitchfork (whilst an inefficient tool for spooning mercury) would be capable of gradually delivering minuscule quantities to their destination. This slow administration of the liquid metal is at first glance futile, but over a period of time (most likely a long one) it would have a cumulative effect.
As the neighbours stand around watching our protagonist, gradually loading the truck with its cargo, it’s important not to forget the other qualities of mercury – there’s a reason why the character in Brautigan’s poem isn’t scooping it up with his or her hands. Mercury, even in small quantities, is poisonous to the human body.
‘Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork’ is an exhibition about small actions – behaviours that articulate alternative ways of being in the world. As the neighbours look on, these artists behave like slow-acting poisons, disrupting the homeostasis of societal systems. In Trojan Horses: Activist Art and Power (1984), Lucy Lippard wrote, “There is a renewed sense of the power of culture to affect how people see the world around them.” The subversive activities of the artists featured in this exhibition demonstrate that her statement remains true today.
Curated by Chris Alton
Vojtěch Fröhlich, Ondřej Mladý, Jan Šimánek & Vladimír Turner