Exhibition: Engineering Consent 5 – The Soap Carving Contest


Engineering Consent 5: The Soap Carving Contest

1 October – 27 November 2011
Opening: Friday 30 September, 7pm-12am

Brian Moran presented a series of works based upon the soap carving contests initiated by the multinational corporation Proctor & Gamble. The Soap Carving Contest was the latest iteration of Moran’s ongoing project Engineering Consent (2005-present), which is based on his interest in the points of intersection between marketing and psychoanalysis.

Conceived in the 1920s by Edward Bernays, pioneer of the field of public relations, the Proctor & Gamble soap carving contests were originally intended as a means to increase brand recognition for Ivory Soap among children. The contests went on to become hugely successful annual events in their own right, recruiting enthusiastic participants, highly accomplished submissions and embraced by schools and municipal institutions.

For the exhibition at kynastonmcshine, Moran produced his own soap carvings as proxy contest submissions. Moran’s own sculptures included examples of traditional folk carving styles, copycat carvings from the original contests and also pieces derived from more recent mass culture memes. Moran is interested in the possibility of Bernays’ soap carving contests as a ‘scale model’ of an uneasy symbiosis between alienated work, creative work and corporate sponsorship, which began in the 20th century and persists into the first decades of the 21st.

The Soap Carving Contest was and is an opportunity to revisit an early incarnation of ‘user generated content’ and an attempt by private enterprise to ‘crowd source’ the creative energy of amateur artists for marketing purposes. Engineering Consent 5: The Soap Carving Contest has been designed by the artist with the intention of simulating the type of civic public space and display strategies deployed in the original exhibitions of soap sculptures that were staged across America at the height of Proctor & Gamble’s Ivory Soap campaign.

*Image: Lester Gaba, author of ‘Soap Carving, Cinderella of Sculpture’ (1935)

(click on the image to scroll through the slideshow)

Download the review, by Giulia Smith, of Engineering Consent 5 – The Soap Carving Contest, published in Frieze Online 20th November 2011.

Read the review of Engineering Consent 5 – The Soap Carving Contest, by JJ Charlesworth, originally published in ArtReview issue 56, January & February 2012.