by Linda W. Curtis
It wasn’t meant to get “out of hand,” but it did. The last shock art contest ended in a fistfight, a knock-down-call-the-cops fight.
The goal was to increase foot traffic in the downtown area using a display of shock art in the store windows. Each contestant was given a strict set of rules: no sex, no criminal activities. In other words, it was “safe shock art”.
Jeremy Hansen, a recent art major graduate of a Midwest college entitled his “The attack of the corn,” in a painting in which a poor fellow is caught and strangled by several vicious stalks. Eyes rolled on that one and he did not win a prize. The next years the rules would read, “and no violence”.
The local café put up new menus in the window based on its shock art specials.The graphics showed chicken fingers as chickens with fingers, and catfish as fish with cat faces. The roaming judges, mostly members of the chamber of commerce, noted the “ew” factor as one of the many criteria.
Not to be outdone, the café on the opposite side of the main street had its own version of food shock art, a sculpture of a dog made of hot dogs held together mostly with toothpicks. The nose and eyes were olives and it was a likely candidate for honorable mention as the judges were smiling favorably.
The clothing store clothed two manikins in upside down clothing, so the jeans had a split in the crotch for the head while the pant legs covered the arms. Using shirts as pants was a bit trickier, but the store owners managed by using an extra large shirt. It was more strange than shocking. The judges had wry smiles, and that was not a winner.
Still, the husband and wife owners shared a good laugh assembling the attire. In those moments of shared humor, they decided to eat out at the local café and gave the waitress a generous tip. She then spent it on some shock jewelry displayed at the Svelt Jewelry Shop, just off Main Street. She said later she couldn’t wear it in public.
Wealth circulated that day from store to store. People called relatives from out of town to come see the displays and have lunch in town. The cafes especially prospered.
A display of hair-covered fruit in a bowl resulted in another “ew”. The judges stood for a long time, pencils poised over their notepads, and discussed the merits of each window display. Binoculars were spotted in the stores across from each judging, and work passed quickly.
The schools participated by using a theme of “antenna art” where the children designed and painted antennae on their 8×10 school photo. Some attached wire antennae that projected up and out. Each child knew which store would display their image, so parents were likely to go see their precious one, and spend money that would spur the local economy. It was, after all, the plan.
The veterinarian had a photo display of different animals with switched tails. Children giggled over the pig’s curly tail on lion.
The motorcycle shop had a former scarecrow dummy dressed as an old lady in a bonnet and wearing motorcycle boots. As you stepped onto a mat with an electrical switch, the sound effects of a roaring motor filled the air, making everyone step back with a gasp, but then laughing heartily.
In the hair stylist’s window was a magnificent wig display. Birds in nests, bees and bugs all had a home in the hair. It was a stopper and many thought it would win first prize.
The local quilters displayed a quilt with a cut out center of a human form. In other words, it was a quilt that would warm no one.
The music shop had a sound display of music played backwards from an amplifier placed in front of the shop. It was not considered art, but the owner, a retired schoolteacher, did it anyway with a sly smile. Some folks said, “We don’t recognize the tune, but it sure is beautiful.”
As for the fist fight, …that began after the judging when some disparaging remarks were made about one of the winners by a sore loser. There’s nothing like a little competition to make old grudges surface.
And that was the first year of the contest with no one happy the dog made of weiners had won. The following year the owners of stores and service shops decided to step up their game. Oh, yeah.
Note from Linda, if you have an idea for a shock art, please leave a comment.