Pineapple - fruit or art?

Students Lloyd Jack and Ruairi Gray placed a pineapple on a table at an arts festival in Scotland and someone covered it with a glass display case.
Students Lloyd Jack and Ruairi Gray placed a pineapple on a table at an arts festival in Scotland and someone covered it with a glass display case.PHOTO: LLOYD JACK/ TWITTER

LONDON • How did a pineapple become a post-modern masterpiece?

The aesthetic merits of tropical fruit inadvertently entered Britain's national cultural conversation after two students jokingly placed a store-bought pineapple on an empty table at an art exhibition this month at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, a port city in north-eastern Scotland.

When they returned a few days later to the exhibition - part of the Look Again festival, which aims to highlight Aberdeen's cultural heritage - they were shocked to discover their pineapple protected by a glass display case, instantly and mysteriously transformed into a work of art.

After one of the students, Mr Lloyd Jack, 22, who studies business, put a photograph of the pineapple on Twitter, along with the words, "I made art," the image was shared widely on social media, turning the fruit, fairly or not, into a cultural sensation.

To some, though, the stunt was a self-promoting social media prank befitting the digital age.

Mr Jack's post received nearly 5,000 likes on Twitter.

Before long, the work, which the two students titled Pineapple, had been deconstructed on art blogs and social media worldwide.

Some on Twitter lauded its "genius", while others ridiculed it as the latest example of conceptual art's plodding banality.

Jack said he and the other student, Mr Ruairi Gray, also 22, had been stunned by the attention afforded to the pineapple, which he said the two had put on the table in a moment of whimsy.

He said the "work" was on display for nearly a week before it was removed.

"We weren't sure how the glass case got there and initially assumed it was bungling curators," he said.

"We couldn't believe our eyes."

The fruit cost £1, or about S$1.80.

Nevertheless, he said, the pineapple, alone in its display case and destined to rot, was a poignant symbol of Britain in the era of Brexit, the nation's decision to leave the European Union. (Unlike England, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain.)

"The pineapple symbolises the United Kingdom leaving the EU, standing alone, attempting to survive, cut off from the outside world," he said.

Others saw hidden meaning in the pineapple, Mr Gray said, including an art professor at the university who, he said, had enthusiastically lauded the "purposeful way" in which the display case had pressed down on the fruit's leaves.

Others were not altogether amused, including the organisers of the Look Again festival, who found their exhibition hijacked by a fruit.

After investigating, they discovered that the glass case had been placed at the exhibition by a janitor - though it was unclear whether the act had been motivated by humour, artistic sensibility, or both.

"This pineapple was a prank," said Ms Hilary Nicoll, an associate director of the festival.

The artistic aggrandisement of the pineapple has echoes in art history, including the tradition of found objects becoming art.

Some cultural observers said the pineapple recalled Marcel Duchamp, a French artist and pioneer of the dada movement who famously turned a urinal upside down, signed it with the fake name "R. Mutt" and proclaimed it art.

Peter York, an author and cultural commentator, noted that the pineapple display, consciously or not, wittily reflected Duchamp's notion that if you declare something art, it becomes art.

"I rank pineapples quite highly as they are quite decorative objects," he said. "But you wouldn't really want a pineapple exhibited in your home."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2017, with the headline 'Pineapple - fruit or art?'. Subscribe