Smart Fruit: An NYC Artist Heads For Ecuador With 40,000 Bananas

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:54

    Which will be precisely that: a grand heap of about 40,000 bananas, amounting to a mound of about 8 feet high and about 10 feet in diameter. Fishbone is planning to acquire 400 cases of fruit from a fruit distributor in the region, and will stack the bunches up by hand, making sure that the installation's just so when it opens to Ecuadorian art enthusiasts on May 4.

    The phrase "conceptual artist" can make you nervous, but Fishbone's an easygoing and unpretentious person, the sort of guy who listens intently as much as he talks, and whom you could imagine not noticing if his shirt came untucked. He's dark in appearance and evinces a kind, emphatic manner.

    "The main reference is to the heaps of stolen Jewish possessions in the Nazi camps," Fishbone says of the banana piece. "The bananas are golden, and there's a geometry to the way they stack up, so it also calls to mind the heaps of gold bars in Western central banks. They symbolize the developing world's natural wealth. It's a metaphor for how the developing world's financial reserves end up being an externally controlled export commodity."

    In fact, the Guayaquil installation won't represent the first time Fishbone's worked in bananas?nor even the first time he's worked in bananas in Ecuador. Last year he presented a 25,000-banana installation in the plaza outside the Banco Central in Cuenca, a city in south-central Ecuador.

    "Ecuador's your classic impoverished 'banana republic,'" Fishbone explains. "Its economy's based on not much more than natural resources. So the bananas indict the global economy's excesses, and indict its abuses."

    The highlight of the Banco Central installation came when the installation was literally given away to the crowd. Sitting in a downtown bar, Fishbone opens a photo album, revealing the installation's initial glory and subsequent decay. First an imposing mound of ripening and signifying yellow fruit rises, surrounded by curious onlookers. A photo taken later the same day, though, depicts Ecuadorian citizens thronging around the decimated heap of fruit, heading away with bananas stuffed into their mouths or cradled in their arms. The bank complex's modernist facade looms imposingly.

    The installation disappeared within an hour.

    "By inviting people to eat the bananas, I was asking them to think about their own involvement in the system," says the artist.

    "You can think of imported fruit as a 'looted' resource from an abused population," he continues. "And if you consider politics a continuum of institutionalized violence and greed, then you can ask the question: how is the U.S. control of the developing world similar to the Nazi domination of Europe? Once you get past the difference in degree, of course."

    The crowd's appropriation of the bananas also makes an environmentalist statement, alluding to the exploitation of the natural resources. And it amounts to a metaphor for the process of viewing art. The viewer's both a "consumer" of art and Fishbone's fellow artist?because each viewer who makes off with a bunch of bananas is partially responsible for the installation's appearance.

    "The point is to shed some light on consumer capitalism's murky ethics," Fishbone says. "Our society's lapsed into a form of financial cannibalism. The banana's a huge source of revenue both for agribusiness in the States and for the regimes it props up in South America."

    Fishbone's currently looking for a space in which to stage the piece here in New York City?which, as the world's financial capital, would be an appropriate place for it. He insists, though, that the piece isn't merely didactic.

    "It's a beautiful sculpture on its own, thanks to the texture and color of the fruit," he says.

    And besides, he smiles, "40,000 bananas is always good for a laugh."