Summary

Bring Me the Head of is a pornographic film starring two actresses and a sculptural object comprising a realistic model of a severed male head with a penis nose. The Chapman brothers had replaced the man’s nose with the cast of an erect penis, titling the object Bring Me the Head of Franco Toselli! (1995, produced in an edition of twenty-five) in reference to a Milan gallerist. In 1994 Franco Toselli was scheduled to show the Chapmans’ sculptural work Mummy and Daddy Chapman, 1993 – two shop dummies altered with genitalia sprouting all over their naked bodies – but on receiving it, refused to exhibit it. In revenge, the brothers remodelled the head of ‘Daddy Chapman’, substituting a dildo for his nose, and recast it in fibreglass. The sculptural multiple was exhibited at the opening of Ridinghouse Editions in London, where the video film was also subsequently exhibited. In the film the head, manipulated by one or other of the actresses, substitutes for the usual male subject. The women pleasure it and each other repeatedly, playing out male sexual fantasies of insatiable female desire.

Referring to the film, Jake Chapman has commented:

I like the way pornography is like an industrial process of the thing which is the most unmechanical and unindustrial: the sexual act or the acts around the sexual act. Constantly in our work there is an attempt to make an object and run around the other side to watch it, in the same way as anyone else would watch it. That is the most infantile aspect of our work. It is a reflective narcissism. We like to be spectators of our own work. The video is the same thing. We wanted to submit this head to the people who made the video and say ‘We want you to neutralize this object’.
(Quoted in Maloney, pp.64 and 66.)

The video’s title is derived from the words attributed to Salome in the Biblical story recounted in Mark 6:21-9. Salome danced for her stepfather, King Herod, and so pleased him that he promised her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother Herodias, she asked for the head of John the Baptist, who was duly decapitated. A popular subject for painters since the Renaissance, the story of Salome and John the Baptist has also been used as the basis for operas, films and plays. In the version Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) used for his play written in French, Salomé (1896), Salome’s motive for causing John the Baptist to be executed is frustrated love; in the finale she takes up the severed head and kisses it. In the first presentation of Wilde’s play, the actress playing Salome notoriously masturbated with the head. The Chapmans’ version of the story playfully enacts a form of revenge on the gallerist they had fallen out with. The pair of actresses, named Sapphire and Vida in the opening credits, satirise the mother-child duo of Salome and Herodias. Using the severed head as a sexual object, they reverse the traditional associations of pornography with the objectification of woman and a celebration of uniquely male desire. A ridiculous long, curled wig, clawlike nail extensions and white satin sandals worn by one of the actresses and the low budget setting (a red cloth thrown over a bed in a small room) further subvert the pornographic genre. Bring Me the Head of also recalls the 1974 spaghetti western, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, directed by Sam Peckinpah and notable for its extreme violence.

Decapitation and castration are frequent images in the Chapmans’ sculptural and graphic work which, inspired by Sigmund Freud’s 1920 essay, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, link sex and death. Little Death Machine (Castrated) 1993 (see Tate T07272) features two latex brains and a rubber dildo, showing the processes of the brain as central to male desire. The Disasters of War 1993 (Tate T07454) and Great Deeds Against the Dead, 1994 both show scenes of horror derived from Goya (Fransisco de Goya y Lucientes, 1746-1819). The use of toy figures in the former and fibreglass mannequins in the latter effectively neutralizes the emotional impact of the vicious and gory narratives of the Napoleonic War. In a similar manner, the potential horror of the subject’s decapitated head, and its bloody neck stump, as well as the tragic Biblical story evoked by the title, are all subsumed and made banal by the fake eroticism of the pornographic genre.

Bring Me the Head of is a Karsten Schubert – Charly Champagne production, directed by Janet Hollywood, edited by The Foul Mesdames and produced by Daina Disney in an edition of 200. Tate’s copy is number 163 in the edition.

Further reading:
James Roberts, ‘Jake and Dinos Chapman: Ridinghouse Editions, London’, Frieze, issue 24, October 1995, pp.68-9, reproduced p.69 in colour.
Martin Maloney, ‘The Chapman Bros.: When Will I be Famous’, Flash Art, issue 186, Jan./Feb.1996, pp.64-7, reproduced p.66 in colour.
Unholy Libel: Six Feet Under, exhibition catalogue, Gagosian Gallery, New York 1997, reproduced figs xxviii and xxix [pp.118-9] in colour.

Elizabeth Manchester
October 2006