Business on the Slippery Side
Business on the Slippery Side is a tragicomic visual re-creation of the Enron scandal. Dial created the piece after visiting Houston in 2003 and learning about the effects of Enron’s bankruptcy on the economy there. Using paint and okra (the slipperiest of vegetables and a staple of the southern diet), Dial creates a glutinous, sickly, bright green Garden of Eden in which play an immense necktied elephant, an ambiguous and barely alive bird-donkey, and a man represented in a cartoon profile that reminds us of the cowboys in Mad Cows and Cowboys. The piece’s humor turns on the okra, for the slipperiness of the boardroom’s misrepresentations and misstatements that fueled the scandal is indicated by a down-home food with the slipperiest feel in the mouth. The slippage from one use of the tongue—to produce words—to another—to taste-test and evaluate our food—is both improbably lyrical and riotously funny, especially because okra is anything but a delicacy for the wealthy. Okra is the slipperiness and the symbol of its exposure.
Rather than create caricatured portraits of the particular men who stand accused in the scandal—principally Ken Lay and Andrew Fastow—Dial again generalizes to create a queasy visual parable or fairy tale that forces us to think of scandal and greed as essential and recurring elements of human behavior. Without real knowledge of surrealism or its vast effect on twentieth-century visual culture, Dial uses many of the main techniques of visual elision and ambiguity (and unpredictable humor) to open our minds, allowing them to create stories and to spin associations. He suggests rather than preaches, freeing us to think of sociopolitical scandal as part of immense mythic narratives that will effect us all in different ways.