The International God Look-Alike Contest (1996)
30 framed mixed media images
Mixed dimensions of images, all within a 36.5 x 48.5 cm frame
The following list indicates the dimensions of the individual images, as well as their hanging order, from left to right:
In response to advertisements in international classified advertisement papers placed by the artist which stated “..artist seeks people who think that they look like God…” images were submitted by members of the public, from locations across the world, during the course of a year, after discussion with Chodzko.
(An earlier version of the work is the (national) The God Look-Alike Contest begun in 1991).
Below each individual framed image in the The International God Look-Alike Contest is the drawn signature of the person who submitted the image and the name of the town and country from which they sent it. Each image is a copy of the original sent to the artist; using the same material as its source, at the same size as its original, with a replication of any of the sources’ folds, marks, dents, scratches, stains etc. Therefore the work appears to be a collection of 29 ‘found images’ but in reality the entire work is a construction made by Adam Chodzko identical to the authentic source material he received in response to his advertisement. This questioning of notions of author/creator (and its parallel allusions to the activities of a god) are explored within this making/copying process.
Chodzko made the International God Look Alike Contest partly as a result of the advent of the internet and its growing use for all forms of social networks from the mid ‘90’s (eg: eBay began in 1994). The system, of classified advertisements papers, that Chodzko’s artwork uses for the dissemination of his request were chosen exactly because they seemed to be a part of a dying form of social media. The vulnerability of Chodzko’s request for people who thought they looked like god stems from the peculiarity of the question, its placement amongst thousands of advertisements for more ordinary exchanges, its precarious system of dissemination (reliant upon a postal system and liaison between different countries classified advertisement papers) and the possibility of the mistranslation of its terms. And yet, supposedly, according the Christian theology at least, we are all made in god’s image. So, no-one is exempt from responding to the question. However, it took approximately 12 months to have accumulated the 28 responses (the 29th is a ‘portrait’ of Chodzko’s advertisement itself/himself), with the ‘rule’ that everything submitted to Chodzko had to be included in the final work. The responses indicate the degree to which the request was both adhered to, completely overlooked and dismantled by different respondents.
Ultimately, we often have no idea who sent these images, and why, whether it is an image of the sender, when it was taken etc…
So, as viewers of the International God Look Alike Contest we are presented with, on the one hand, a glimpse, a true collective image of god, and on the other, one which yields nothing more than a series of ‘false’ fragments. If we are willing as viewers we must assume a lot and take a lot ‘on faith.’ It is a work about images and image making. About looking into an image and at an image, at its prior use, its folds, tears, marks, and accumulated dust.
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 inadvertent 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 International 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.
From: Being There, Jennifer Higgie (catalogue essay for Adam Chodzko, Essays by Michael Bracewell and Jennifer Higgie). Published in 1999, by August:
“…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…”
From: The Sacred and the Traversal of Social Space, Andrew Wilson (catalogue essay for Proxigean Tide, Adam Chodzko’s solo exhibition at Tate St Ives, 2008):
“…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)…”
From: an interview with John Slyce, (‘Looking in the Wrong Place,’ Dazed & Confused, August, 1999 no.57, pp.100–106):
“…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….”
From: Mark Dickenson, from Neue Alte Brucke , unpublished essay for Basel Art Fair. (2015):
“…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.
The International God Look-Alike Contest. [version II] was exhibited in the following exhibitions:
• 1994: High Fidelity, Kohji Ogura Gallery, Nagoya
• 1994: High Fidelity, Röntgen Kunst Institut, Tokyo
• 2002: Tabu, Kunsthaus Baselland, Switzerland
• 2005: Seeing God. Museum of Fine Arts of Thurgau, Kartause Ittingen, Warth, Switzerland
• 2010: Kraftwerk Religion. Deutsches Hygiene-Museum, Dresden.
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