Untitled: Chemical Compounds Used in The Production of Counterfeit Poultry Eggs (Installation View)
Various chemicals on acrylic sheeting
The proceeding statement is modeled after a recent talk given at Flux Factory, (Queens,
NY) in connection with Counterfeiting for Cash
, curated by Douglas Paulson. Press Release
Increasingly, I’ve been thinking of artwork in relation to how information is processed. Whether in connection with our brains, quantum mechanic shenanigans, or the algorithms developed to trade stocks at speeds and sizes that no one on Earth seems to understand, what I find so interesting is that this processing is largely invisible. We can predict and feel its effects, but for the most part we really can’t see these sets of actions that underlie every thing we do, and are, as a species. So I’ve been exploring ways to enable and provide context for these invisible trespasses. One way to do this might be through, what I think of as, a simulated
or ulterior focus
: to present an object or collection of objects that, by the very nature of its false, fraudulent beginnings, must by necessity act more as a conduit for the formation of mental objects; connections between neurons, and where the real target is thus a space after
A perhaps unexpected role model for this idea can be found the Counterfeiting Industry. I can think of few other industries where objects are presented with motives so precisely ulterior, but where there’s also such wonderfully perverse ingenuity and innovation accompanying the trade. In making “Untitled: Chemical Compounds Used in The Production of Counterfeit Poultry Eggs,” I thought, why not copy the counterfeiters? Why not hunt and gather the information used by the dissimulators, and present that information in the form of ingredients. Maybe connotations of falsity and hoax that surround the industry can be reverse engineered by partaking in a kind of bankrupt mimesis that I think all too easily finds a friend in an increasingly profit-driven art market.
Detail_FD&C Yellow No. 5, Sodium Carboxymethyl Cellulose
Detail_Gypsum, Calcium Chloride
China’s the big player here. They’ve been faking eggs as far back as 2003. Derived entirely from chemicals, you can get started for as little as 200 USD. If we’re talking investment opportunities, you should know that the production of a single ersatz egg amounts to about $.06, which is approximately half the cost of its “natural” counterpart. But I think there’s something more going on here. While 93% of counterfeit goods confiscated by US Customs in 2014 were Chinese in origin, I would argue that the aesthetics of a successful fake shell and fake yolk, of which apparently the latter can be bounced like a ping pong ball, betray an admirable hubris on the part of the forgers to engineer an object into existence that is not only completely novel, but also one that, agriculturally speaking, passes as the “real” and edible article.
In fact, according to the “Father of the Eggshell” or “Fake eggs King,” who was arrested after residents and media outlets alike uncovered his operation, he’d seen entire factories where they could get everything right except the eggshell and doing away with the chemical smell, so he got into the business simply to improve upon the technology. As it turns out, folks like him have started entire schools dedicated to the craft of counterfeiting chicken eggs. And there’s real money to be made from an administrative standpoint. Taking a class will cost you 170 USD, but for convenience you can take that information home on CD, for $80. Regardless of the route you take, you’ll receive a recipe, and the chemicals needed to start your own production line.
The chemical compounds here range from fairly innocuous to completely abhorrent. This might be in you right now. Sodium Alginate is derived from seaweed and as it’s a thickener, it’s used in smoothies, and it’s also used in time-release pills; dental impressions; papermaking; in water treatment and in fertilizers. This is soaked in water and is the first step in making the fake egg yolk and egg white.
This is derived from cellulose, which sounds innocent enough, but it’s really only in name. Like so many compounds in our cognitive-cultural economy, its chemical formula is patented. The natural reactants that can be combined with cellulose are substituted along the way in a process sometimes referred to as “stepwise addition.” This allows the patent-holding company to alter, and repeatedly alter parts of the structure, and bundle it up under some fancy name, so that intellectual property rights and profits maintained.
Under its many names, then, Sodium Carboxymethyl Cellulose is used in aerial drop insecticides; wallpaper paste; cigarette adhesives; and jellied meat products. Prolonged, direct exposure can cause eye and skin irritation, inhalation problems, and vomiting. May cause chronic digestion problems. This is used to solidify the egg white.
Alum’s fun. It’s a certified hazardous substance, and there’s substantial evidence that long term exposure causes Alzheimer’s. It’s a firming agent used in explosives, marble cement, copper plating and leather tanning. Use to make the fake egg white look like a real egg white.
Benzoic Acid: the renaissance chemical. At food grade, it can be used as a preservative, in toothpaste and in soft drinks, and as an antifungal agent – like in treating ringworm. But it’s also used in bomb calorimetry, which means it’s used to measure the heat of combustion i. e. what the explosion’s gonna be like.
This is a health and environmentally hazardous substance, and when heated, the vapor is explosive in air. It’s toxic to lungs, membranes, and the nervous system. Repeated exposure can cause permanent organ damage. This too, is used to shape the egg white’s appearance.
Calcium Chloride, a personal favorite. It’s used to de-ice roads; as a brine in refrigeration and inflatable tires; in electrolytic design (like in Gatorade); dehydrating natural gas, and in fracking fluid.
Causes skin and respiratory irritation. Causes disorientation in birds. Use this to stabilize the egg yolk and outer membrane.
Gypsum is used to make drywall, plasters and polishing powders; to contain environmental waste; and it’s also used in toothpaste. It can offer severe skin, eye and respiratory irritation, and may contain traces of crystalline silica, which is a carcinogen. Use this in combination with beeswax or similar to make the eggshell.
Still_Benzoic Acid 01
Still_Benzoic Acid 02