The God Look-Alike Contest (1991-1992)
External dimensions of each: 22.1/2 x 17.1/2in. (57 x 44.5cm.).
In response to advertisements placed by Adam Chodzko in Loot, a classified advertisements newspaper, which requested “..artist seeks people who think that they look like God…” over the course of a year (between early 1991 and 1992) images were offered to Chodzko by members of the public, who, after discussion with the participants, accepted everything submitted and terminated the project once twelve images had been received. The thirteenth ‘portrait’ (a self-portrait) is the advertisement itself.
The God Look-Alike Contest can be seen as an early analogue precursor to the digital social media that proliferated at the start of the 21st C. Chodzko repeatedly circulated his request via a classified advertisements paper, Loot, at a time when this form of print communication was slowly disappearing whilst the ownership of home computers and access to the internet was beginning to become more widespread. Loot had become popular during a time of economic recession and high unemployment as a method of ‘making ends meet’: finding work, somewhere to live, someone to love or buying cheap second-hand goods direct from the previous owner. It was this process of exchange that also was Loot’s hidden and inadvertant attraction; it evolved a social network, catalysing dialogue and agreements between apparently random others; travelling to a home in another part of a city to collect a kettle bought from a stranger who you’d had a quick chat on the ‘phone to beforehand. It felt illicit, cutting out the big retail companies, recycling commodities, getting a bargain even if it was being discarded by someone else.
Chodzko’s The God Look-Alike Contest is trying, from this apparently banal and ‘poor’ context, to make something highly special emerge into visibility, a spiritual subject that has no image (although a stereotypical image of God exists: white, male, old, bearded etc, despite how this contradicts the notion of god being an entity beyond tangibility and visual perception). Making this artwork was cheap; the advertisements were free and other than the cost of a few telephone calls it appears to be a simple, highly economic method of producing something fantastic; the ultimate image. It also meant that at least part of the artwork was already circulating accessibly within the public sphere as people perhaps stumbled across Chodzko’s advert whilst looking for a cheap fridge. Gallery viewers could only ever access the terminal report of the process, missing its immediacy, yet imagining its affect as accidental encounter by Loot users.
Its status is perhaps as an artwork ‘made by others’ but it can also be read as a sociological experiment. What appears as image(s), in response to Chodzko’s particular request, also seems to bypass, mistranslate, or frustrate the question. Perhaps then the response fails to satisfy the question? It’s not surprising when, surely, the request has been placed in such an insalubrious place? None of the images received seem to correspond to the hackneyed models of how god is ‘meant’ to look. These portraits are simultaneously both too ‘ordinary’ and too ‘unique’. Their mix of gender and ethnicity is striking as is the other kinds of ‘look-alike’ that decided that, despite the specificity of the question, would submit their portraits; ‘Diana Ross’, ‘John Travolta’ etc.
Overall it is meant to look as though there was only minimal intervention by Chodzko. However, all the resulting images presented were twice duplicated, exactly, by the artist using the original submissions as source material, meticulously copying their individual sizes, their particular mediums, the dog-eared corners, stains and creases. The (hidden) creative act of authorship in The God Look-Alike Contest was this form of cell-division to produce two ‘identical’ clones (with the original material remaining hidden); Playing god.
But despite the straightforwardness of his approach, Chodzko’s intimation of abstraction and spirituality in the midst of a rampantly materialistic newspaper is a compelling metaphysical project. Perhaps it’s the blurring of self-advertisement with self-expression that charges these images with such a strange, inconclusive atmosphere; or perhaps it’s just the sheer oddness of such an obscure cross-cultural connection.
The notice for the look-alike contest did however result in an exchange and a coming together…The wording of Chodzko’s notice is as matter-of-fact as the responses. He is not documenting delusion but belief, self-will and the understanding that a cohesive society relies on manifestations of the sacred – whether religious or not (and in this respect the god, as the project underlines, can be any sort of god).
J.S: Embracing failure to that degree seems a risky move given the high stakes of the art game in the last ten years?
AC: … in the end I really don’t see it as failure – I see it as a retrieval of what someone else might deem to be failure and about finding a pleasure and pattern in things going out of control. I really like stuff that other people reject or overlook for how that behaviour (a loss of desire) then inhabits the spurned object. I know I’m not going to coincide with my object of desire. It can’t happen. But searching, playing the pseudo-sociologist or anthropologist creates a by-product. So, inadvertently, you’ve found the answer to the question: The God Look-Alike Contest doesn’t find a single satisfactory image of god. But perhaps overall you do glimpse something; within the space of the searching and the totality of this particular collection of images.
In the early part of Adam Chodzko’s career, many of his works involved the British publication ‘Loot’, a classified advert newspaper, which at the time functioned as a pre-internet precursor to ‘ebay’ where anyone could place ads to sell unwanted items or to search for objects, services and likeminded people. ‘Transmitters’ (1991-96) saw Chodzko publish his own advertisements for fictitious or impossible items that dealt with collapse, failure and vision such as ‘Millenarian heterogenous apparition, 3 metres, unstructured model, reasonable condition, £75 ono.’ Whilst ‘Transmitters’ was directed towards an unsuspecting audience who probably would not have recognised his interventions as art, by 1992 Chodzko had completed a parallel year long project searching in Loot for people who looked like God; ‘Look alike contest, artist seeks people who think they look like God, for interesting project,’ a work created entirely from responses from his audience. In placing such adverts within the public realm, for the first time in a generation of British artists, Chodzko pioneered a practice of soliciting communities from outside the art-world which drew upon legacies set in place by first generation American conceptualists. Most notably, this can be seen in Chodzko’s relationship to the work ‘Detumescence’ (1966) by Dan Graham, which involved adverts placed in various publications asking for descriptions of ‘the typical emotional and physiological aspects of post-climax in the sexual experience of the human male.’ Just as Chodzko established his own historical lineage, the pioneering influence of his activities of this period can later be traced through the practices of many British artists, including Gillian Wearing, Jeremy Deller and Phil Collins. However, unlike many of his contemporaries who adopted a more literal relational approach Chodzko from the beginning mixed sociological processes pragmatically with a surreal or romantic vision.
The God Look-Alike Contest (version I) was exhibited in the following exhibitions:
• 1993: Wonderful Life, Lisson Gallery, London.
• 1996: Brilliant, Walker Art Center Minneapolis, USA between 22 October, 1995 and 7 January, 1996.
• 1997: Sensation, Royal Academy, touring to Berlin Hamburger Bahnhof 1998/99 and then to Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, 2 October 1999 to 9 January 2000.
• 2003: General Ideas, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco.
• 2006: Belief and Doubt, The Aspen Art Museum, Colorado.
It was also featured in:
Rob Legge, ‘The Faces of God’, The Independent on Sunday, London, 19 September, 1993 pp.40-41,
and was discussed and reproduced in many cultural magazines; Dazed and Confused, Arena, ID, The Face, etc etc