The Oligarch’s Nightmare by David Mach
Galway International Arts Festival, July 17th to July 30th
Reviewed by Conor Burke
The Oligarch’s Nightmare by Scottish artist David Mach addresses perceptions of class using symbols of affluence (in this case a Range Rover) to highlight the divisions that exist between different social strata.
In a recent interview, Mach talked about how people’s perception of each other are influenced by the material objects or consumer goods that we possess. He spoke about pulling into petrol stations in the Range Rover on his journey from Scotland to Galway, and how people’s attitudes were affected, or perhaps how his own interpretation of people’s attitudes was impacted by the fact that he was driving what society deems to be a luxury vehicle. He deals with hHow people relate certain commodities with social standing, and while the artwork depicts the Range Rover exploding in a dramatic fashion, it isn’t so much the destruction of the object itself that poses a threat to the oligarch – as most oligarch’s would go through cars like ordinary people go through toilet paper – it’s more the idea of the destruction of status that oligarchs’ would fear. After all, what use is having such ridiculous sums of wealth if the power that that represents can’t be expressed.
There is a reason why oligarchs spend hundreds of millions even billions on yachts or private jets or space missions etc, and just like the aristocracy of the 18th and 19th centuries who commissioned the world’s top artists to paint their portraits, surrounded by luxury goods or vast landed estates in the hope of cementing their place in history, so too do today’s oligarchs seek to egotistically “leave their mark” on the world.
While Mach’s artwork here does a credible job in addressing the disparity that exists between a small proportion of super-wealthy individuals and that if the vast majority of people who struggle day to day to make ends meet, the work also highlights the element of power that the majority hold over the few, as it is upon our collective consciousness in society that these individuals seek to leave their mark. The oligarch’s ‘nightmare’ is in reality the idea that their position and status in society would be threatened by the one force in society that has the capacity to challenge and transform the current social order, the working class.
The idea of a society where the vast wealth and resources that these oligarchs possess could instead be used for the collective benefit of society, and where symbols of status would have no place because everyone has their basic needs met, would truly be a nightmare scenario to the capitalist class – as their power and prestige is built on the exploitation and oppression of working people. A united working-class movement that realizes its own collective strength would indeed be a nightmare for the oligarchs and the capitalist class alike.
Mach’s work at the Galway International Arts Festival (GIAF) at least poses this question on some level, which is good. But looking at the work from a purely aesthetic perspective, while it is impressive in its scale and technical artistic detail, in the honest opinion of this reviewer it fails to live up to the heights of Mach’s previous showing at the GIAF in 2018 (Rock ‘n’ Roll), which comprised of a jeep and a yacht being carried along on a tsunami of tens of thousands of newspapers that we’re bursting through the concrete floor. The Oligarchs Nightmare, while it sets out to be an explosive and dynamic work that can capture the imagination of viewers and teleport them into a dramatic moment in time, doesn’t fully succeed.
In the humble opinion of this observer the piece seems somewhat static, the Range Rover which has been mangled and misshapen to interact with the explosion appears positioned like a prop which may very well have been the intention. However, before viewing it I had images of engine components and car parts flying through space. This unfortunately wasn’t to be, however, and the result is that the piece loses a certain level of movement and dynamism that would have given it a much more dramatic impact.
Of course there are many factors that have to be taken into account with an art work like this, not least the amount of time that an artist has when working to a deadline so in that context it is easy to be critical. All in all, The Oligarchs Nightmare is a visually impressive and thought provoking piece. It’s strongest aspect is in the conceptual and politically engaged content that it addresses which make it well worth viewing.