"Bubbles Is Still Alive": David Shrigley Makes a Shrine to Michael Jackson's Pet

"Bubbles Is Still Alive": David Shrigley Makes a Shrine to Michael Jackson's Pet
David Shrigley in front of his work "Bubblesplatz" at the Promenadeplatz
(Photo Leonie Felle)

MUNICH — As part of Elmgreen & Dragset’s public art project “A Space Called Public / Hoffentlich Öffentlich,” Glasgow-based artist David Shrigley has created a monument to Michael Jackson’s former pet-chimp Bubbles. Most widely known for his naïve, cartoon-like drawings, Shringley has taken over Promenadeplatz’s statue of Max II Emanual, plastering its base with photos and drawings of Bubbles as well as writings and fan art made for the chimp who now lives at the Center for Great Apes in Florida. Having grown aggressive as he matured, Bubbles (or what might be one of perhaps many Bubbleses, as we learn from Shrigley) was shipped off to a retreat for Hollywood primates in the Valley and all but forgotten about by his owner.

The location of Shrigley’s shrine is no coincidence. Just adjacent to it, Michael Jackson fans previously co-opted a statue, decking it out in memorabilia, flowers, and various other forms of homage. Nor is it the first time Bubbles has been brought into contemporary art, most famously appearing in Jeff Koons’s “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” (1988). Shrigley spoke with ARTINFO Germany about the development of “Bubblesplatz” and its heartfelt contrast to his otherwise more sarcastic proclivities.

What sparked your interest in Bubbles?

Well, Ingar and Michael asked me to make a piece. I wanted to make something that was quite site-specific and a bit different than what I’ve done before. I found out about this shrine for Michael Jackson, which is something you might not expect to find in a place like Munich and is also quite a loaded thing. The shrine appropriates a statue of a 16th-century Franco-Flemish composer, Orlando di Lasso, outside the Bayerische Hof hotel, where Michael Jackson stayed at some point. I guess it was the only real touchstone his fans had with which to make a shrine. There’s all this kitschy fan art and flowers and candles on the statue. It was quite lavish upon his death but it’s still there, and there’s someone who still takes care of it. When I was looking at the shrine, I started thinking about bubbles and wondering what happened to him.  I did a bit of research and found out that Bubbles is still alive. He lives in Florida in a sanctuary called the Center for Great Apes.

Was he sent there after Jackson’s death or was this long before?

Chimpanzees tend to get quite aggressive when they reach adulthood, so Michael Jackson sent him up to somewhere in the San Fernando Valley. He wasn’t very well cared for. It’s just some guy that looks after all these apes that are discarded by Hollywood. Apparently, Michael Jackson never made any provision for Bubbles in his will, which I thought was quite a shame, really. This place is essentially a charity that was set up for all of these chimps that have been discarded, mostly by the entertainment industry. It costs about a million dollars annually to keep it running with the 30-40 apes that they’re taking care of at any one time, around $20,000 a year for each ape. Basically, that’s the piece: I want to create some kind of remembrance place for Bubbles.

What will it look like when installed?

It will essentially mimic the Michael Jackson shrine with fan art I’ve found on the Internet or bought through eBay and garage sales. And there is some information about the sanctuary. The idea is that perhaps people will feel obliged to help. We’ve been thinking of making a t-shirt or I might make an artwork to auction off with the proceeds going towards his care. Ultimately, I think it would be great to encourage the Michael Jackson fans to honor his memory by correcting this grave oversight that he made.

On the one hand, it’s quite a bit more serious than a lot of what you’re doing but has some inherent irony as well?

Yeah, it would have been quite easy to make some sort of oblique signage that would better fit into the cannon of my work. This doesn’t really fit that well, but it’s a piece that has more of a dialogue to it and is provocative in its own way. That was something that was important to me in thinking about working in a public context such as this. And, though it might not really look like my work, I’ve written some of the poems that are on the shrine and there will be a little bit of my art work on it as well. We actually tried to buy some of Bubbles’s artwork as well to put on it.

Would the funds collected go specifically to his care or to the center, more generally?

No, it would go to the center as a whole and his sub-group of apes within the center. All the apes have had quite similar experiences. It’s just that bubbles had the most notable previous owner by some distance, I imagine. Apparently Latoya went to visit him at some point but didn’t make any kind of sizable donation. The funny thing is, actually, that there are quite a few rumors about Bubbles, which circulate around the music industry. Apparently, Bubbles was around for quite a bit longer as a young chimpanzee than is normal. The reason for that, from what I’ve heard, is that the original Bubbles was shipped off and then followed by several other Bubbles, allegedly about three in total. We think that the Bubbles at the Center for Great Apes is the original. Rumor also has it that one of the others died in an accident with a forklift truck, but I have no way to back that up.