PHOTOS: Courtesy, Susanna Crum
︎ Sheherazade, Louisville
Bubbleguts Enterprizes: The Medicine Cabinet
On a typical walk down Magnolia Street, there are many sights to admire: the beautiful Victorian mansions, the picturesque landscaping lining sidewalks and front lawns, even the grungy-yet-charming exterior of Magnolia Bar and Grill (Mag Bar to the locals). Beginning in April, however, some mysterious signs popped up around Old Louisville. At first glance, they could have been mistaken for posters advertising a lost pet, a child’s lemonade stand, or a yard sale. Using cut out and handwritten letters, these neon, vibrantly colored signs invite onlookers to view the world-renowned touring medical office and laboratory of Dr. Harold D. Buttzner's “Bubbleguts Enterprizes,” managed by Roldofo Salgado Jr. since 2012. The signs eventually lead to Sheherazade, an artist-run experimental project space dedicated to promoting creative freedom, which allows artists to work in a non-commercial and unrestrained environment.
Salgado has transformed Sheherazade into an overwhelming Wunderkammer, or cabinet of curiosities, packed full of found and handmade objects. Covering every surface of the gallery is disgustingly beautiful paraphernalia from the collection of Dr. Buttzner, a fictional persona, consisting mostly of devices that are designed to modify the human body. In the evening hours, there is a strong glow from the pink lights illuminating the installation that floods onto the sidewalk and draws in passersby as they enter into the wild world of Bubbleguts Enterprizes. Salgado divides the space with shelving units and faux walls made from pink foam insulation, even carving out space within the insulation to house each object. The walls are clad floor-to-ceiling with items that Salgado has been collecting over the past few years. Some walls display used dentures, catheter bags, and other medical equipment. Other items are more mysterious and unidentifiable like vials and bottles filled with colorful liquids and plush stuffed forms that resembled feces. Due to its fullness, even the thought of entering the space causes anxiety. Bumping into a group of medicine bottles, for instance, could result in a biohazardous disaster. The amount of content comprising Bubbleguts Enterprizes is massive, but the intricacy in which they are organized and labeled gives the Wunderkammer a sense of reverence that redefines the revolting discarded material as precious relics.
Some of the items on display in The Medicine Cabinet are objects Salgado found and excavated from the backyard of his studio. This process of excavation, collection, and curation is very similar to the work of artist Mark Dion. For his installation piece titled The Tate Thames Dig, 1999, Dion and volunteers combed the beaches of the Thames River for debris they found interesting. The findings were then organized and curated in the Tate Gallery of Modern Art, displayed in a large mahogany cabinet along with photos and videos showing the process of the installation and collection. The collection included “objects ranging from clay pipes, oyster shells and cattle teeth to plastic toys and shoes... more unusual finds included a bottle containing a letter in Arabic script, pieces of Bellarmine pottery and a fragment of human shinbone.” Dion explored the concepts of collection, curation, and how history is portrayed through these processes, specifically through museum institutions. Dion designed the installation based on Wunderkammers (wonder rooms), or cabinet of curiosities popularized during the Renaissance as a way to tell stories from collections of natural, scientific, and historical oddities. By displaying artifacts which had been discarded from multiple decades and demographics, Dion presented a unique take on the history of the local area. Salgado uses a similar process of collecting items that have not been discarded, yet hold a history within their material. Most of the objects in The Medicine Cabinet are old medical equipment or instruments used to alter the physical state of the body. While Dion was looking at the cultural history of the items collected to tell a story, Salgado explores historical and contemporary remedies used to maintain a balanced body. In the Salgado’s collection, the artist pays particular attention to the lengths people will go to in order to keep up with their expectations of how their bodies should look and feel.
From ancient medicine to modern day surgery and prosthetics, people have always looked for ways to heal and prevent ailments. Salgado has created a character that is modeled after infomercial hosts and late night ads to sell his remedies to his audience. The campy style and over-the-top antics of Bubbleguts Enterprizes are mirrored in the installation of The Medicine Cabinet and give the whole project a do-it-yourself atmosphere, much like mixing at home remedies for minor illnesses. Salgado pokes fun at the search for anything that keeps people feeling young and fresh, which stems from societal pressure that encourages individuals to repress anything that comes from the body, or as Salgado describes in his artist statement, “bodily failures”. The artist uses found objects, an idea that originates from the French term objet trouvé, or art created from undisguised, but often modified objects or products that are not normally considered materials from which art is made, often because they already have a non-art function. If art is a reflection and origin of culture, then Salgado has presented a mirror for the narcissistic capitalistic society which dictates the expectations we hold about our bodies. The Medicine Cabinet confronts the viewer with the desire to obtain the perfect body by means of pills, surgery, and binding modifications. The installation also reflects how corporations feed on people’s insecurities about their bodies often due to lack of knowledge or understanding about why and how certain bodily functions occur. These corporations offer unrealistic, one-time “easy fixes” to ailments and functions that can be humiliating if discussed in public. Salgado opens a dialogue between that which society deems appropriate for public and private discussion by presenting internal systems, devices, and imagery, challenging the viewers to confront the uncomfortable.
Using bodily instruments, body parts, totems used to help heal the body, even his own body, Salgado’s The Medicine Cabinet questions the commodification of art objects and the artist themselves. Similar to Piero Manzoni’s 1961 series of Artist's Shit, Salgado is not only using his name as a marketing endeavour for the work, he is using his own body and bodily processes. Manzoni’s Artist’s Shit was a series of ninety tin cans labeled in Italian, English, French and German identifying the contents as “Artist’s Shit.” Manzoni rebelled against the process of consumption and commodification; this work was created in response to Duchampian readymade art and how galleries and museums use the artist as an economic tool within capitalism. Manzoni once described this idea in a letter to the artist Ben Vautieif; “if collectors want something intimate, really personal to the artist, there's the artist's own shit, that is really his.” (Letter reprinted in Battino and Palazzoli p.144.) Manzoni transformed his own excrement into a commodified art object, questioning how an artist and object gain economic power and value. The Medicine Cabinet uses the body in a similar way as it is filled with waste from the body yet holds the critical and ideological power of art institutions.
Bubbleguts Enterprizes: The Medicine Cabinet is a brilliant interdisciplinary installation that questions why and how people form expectations about their bodies and how they function. It also questions the validity of the science behind many of the treatments and medicines we use to make our bodies behave a certain way. Salgado invites the viewer to confront and embrace that which is repressed and often treated as humiliating or disgusting. Drawing on influences from Mark Dion and Piero Manzoni, Salgado has positioned himself critically through the use of readymade art and the commodification of the art object, using his own playful and humorous style to transform repulsive trash into an eye-opening and delightful experience.
Bubbleguts Enterprizes: The Medicine Cabinet is on display through June 14.
Sheherazade is viewable 24/7, from the sidewalks of West Magnolia Avenue, in the garage behind 1401 South 3rd Street, Louisville KY, 40208
Jake Ford, Guest Contributor to Ruckus