Constructed out of cardboard on the gallery floor, Michael Ashkin’s Hiding places are many, excape only one, a section of a sprawling squatter city, is made up of clusters of buildings with no real center or hierarchy of purpose. Foregoing program or central planning as- sociated with towns or cities governed through a set of codes which evolve over time to address health, safety, and business concerns, the apparently random association of these structures seems to have been generated from a combination of accident and necessity. In the absence of a coherent relationship between municipal and commercial structures, Ashkin’s anarchic representation of an “un- planned” community represents a condition which a growing number of the world’s population inhabits, a nebulous territory that might be defined only in contrast to the secured (green) zones around which many of these places develop.
Displayed in the gallery’s window on glass shelving that vaguely resembles those from a medicine cabinet, the objects in David Baskin’s installation are halfway between purist Brancusi-esque sculptures and mass produced goods which are clearly invested in their fetishis- tic aura. Cast from Dove shampoo bottles that eroticize a mundane product, the presentation of these objects suggests a realm that is both asserting its private relationship with the consumer, while inviting scrutiny by “opening the medicine cabinet” to the public. Repro- ducing consumer products with the brand image removed strips them of their commercially sanctioned investment in textbook Freudian seductions, leaving behind a slightly embarrassing factory produced totem that lays bare the underlying codes in consumer goods.
The muted facades of three-family homes shown in Betty Beaumont’s photographs depict the profound after-effects of an unregulated mortgage system on a low income neighborhood in Dorchester, Mass. Providing a source of embarrassment for local officials who failed to anticipate the severity of the crisis, these boarded up homes represent the “ownership society” in reverse, offering tangible evidence of the increasing foreclosures resulting from sub prime lending practices, whose effects are just beginning to be felt by a number of communities across the country. Appearing as though they are “in storage”, the houses have been shut off from any viable connection to the street, and as long as they exist in their current state, will serve as unfortunate reminders of the indifferent relationship the ebbs and flows of capital to any particular locale.
Gretchen Bender’s video Selling Cars combines footage from car ads and the America’s Most Wanted television show. By inserting the brutal manhunts featured on reality crime shows within the context of a pitch for a new car Bender’s short “video blast” parodies the quest for excitement and adventure that is the staple of these advertisements. Removing the “fire wall” between these two forms of television which are normally in very close proximity but never intermingled, Selling Cars exposes the extremely calculated nature of television mayhem which promotes fear and anxiety as a means encouraging consumption.
Produced in 1982 and incorporating the pace and look of a music video, Dara Birnbaum’s Fire! Hendrix sends up the cheerful narra- tives of consumerism while drawing parallels between the selling of sex in mainstream advertisement and youth culture. Cutting back and forth between a young woman drinking beer who is clearly the object of our gaze, and the activity around a fast food restaurant (money exchanged at the take out window, “cool” cars cruising past) while the Hendrix lyrics “let me stand next to your fire...” blares in the background, Birnbaum’s layered response to the associative mechanisms embedded in the advertised message also anticipates the now ubiquitous use of youth culture to sell goods to adults.
Invited by the Middleheim Museum to present an exhibition of his work, Jef Geys’ produced 115 line drawings responding to the mu- seum’s collection while integrating the ubiquitous name brands from the world outside. Gey’s drawings are an unusual hybrid of erotic interpretations of art historical subject matter with logos of international corporations like SAAB and Marlboro. With no particular logic determining the connections between each brand, one experiences the indiscriminate nature of the branding process, where companies compete for the public’s attention in an oversaturated visual field. Reinterpreting the historical past by aggressively contextualizing it in the ‘pornographic’ present, Geys’ suite of drawings ignore the tendency to offer the historical past as an antidote to the unresolved nature of the present, arriving at a series of graceful and articulate ruminations on the awkward relationship between cultural history and the ever-present appeals of commercial narratives within a branded landscape.
Dan Graham’s Death by Chocolate: West Edmonton Mall offers a hypnotic view of North America’s largest shopping mall. Shot over a period of twenty years, the video echoes Walter Benjamin’s investigations of Parisian arcades, which addressed the dream-like quality of store displays (“the arcade is a city, a world in miniature’’). Revealing Graham’s interest in both the city plan and corporate atriums, Death by Chocolate, through its non-hierarchical view of this spectacular commercial setting, hints at the utopian ambitions underlying the all-encompassing environment of the “all purpose” shopping experience.
If Louise Lawler’s photographs of museum and gallery spaces in the process of installing exhibitions could be likened to a “backstage view” of contemporary art, the subjects of her 1997 Metro Pictures show might be seen as a partial cataloguing of the construction of its stage. Photographed a decade ago during the renovation of an industrial space into Metro Pictures new gallery, the images of raw industrial interiors being altered for cultural use featured in Lawler’s Paint, Wall, Pictures: Something Always Follows Something Else describe what would become a ubiquitous sight as the explosive growth of the Chelsea art district paralleled the city’s building boom. Revealing an intricate relationship between the economies of culture and real estate, this soon-to-be white cube exists in a kind of stasis or holding pattern, not yet resolved to its ultimate function, but now obsolete as a space for industrial production.
Altering scale and offering sweeping views across vast distances, Alex Maclean’s aerial photographs of Las Vegas, Nevada and U.S./ Mexico border describe the factory like process of housing development, and the almost immutable nature of economic differences rep- resented by a national border. Maclean’s “bird’s eye view” over Las Vegas shows a planned community at every phase of construction which appears, at this distance, almost like a Monopoly board which incorporates built and unbuilt structures. In U.S./ Mexico, the clear delineation of the border betrays enormous socio-economic differences between the miles of densely packed and improvised housing to the south and the open, largely unused space to the north.
Readily visible under the thin veneer of real estate ads pushing Wiliamsburg, Brooklyn’s future as a destination for the moneyed, yet “hip”, classes is an urban renewal project on a scale not seen since Robert Moses’ “slum” clearance of the 1960’s. Documenting the brutal nature of the development spree which occurred as a result of the neighborhood’s re-zoning from light manufacturing/residential to the loosening of codes that allowed for forty story towers on the waterfront, Nerwen’s video offers stark evidence against the cheerful notion that the unrestricted laws of free markets are ”good for everyone”. With images of a neighborhood being literally torn apart by outside developers capitalizing on a frenzied housing market, and locals under pressure to “sell out” while the price is right, this work documents aspects of an incredible drama that has been woefully underreported in the mainstream media.
Changing scale and multiplying the subject from her previous Salary Man piece, Momoyo Torimitsu’s video is an expansive map or model of the global struggle for resources, played out by crawling “suits” who have limited mobility and control over their ultimate destination. Partly an epic description of the landscape of power struggles and partly farcical display of the blind urges manifested in ambition devoid of reason, Torimitsu’s piece employs a great deal of humor while addressing the irrational nature of the competitive instinct.
Momoyo Torimitsu’s oversized bunny exaggerates the concept of cuteness, pervasive in Japanese culture, to the point of claustropho- bia. Forcing a 15-foot tall inflated rabbit into a 10-1⁄2 foot tall room, Torimitsu’s Somehow I don’t feel comfortable confronts the underlying anxieties of consumer cultures that are awash with infantilizing imagery. Torimitsu says of this piece: “Another meaning of my bunny installation has to do with what we call “rabbit hutches” in Japan, which refers to our cramped housing situation in the big cities. It was originally coined by a French diplomat who visited Tokyo in the early 70’s. This expression remains in Japanese culture today. I wanted to visually illustrate Japan’s repressed lifestyle with my cute but cramped creatures.”
Alone in their rooms but lacking nothing, the girls and boys in Jeongmee Yoon photographs are depicted in a sea of carefully catalogued and displayed toys. Holding down the fort and possessing a kind of resignation to their newfound responsibilities, the subjects stare across the gulf of pink (girls) or blue (boys) goods that separate them from the camera, as if waiting for the viewer to inspect each and every item. The stifling nature of a composition filled with edge-to-edge stuff is partially alleviated by the absurdity of such a precise cataloguing of playtime, as well as the irony of children as shopkeepers, taking careful inventory of the products acquired thus far.
Making direct reference to a renowned project of the master of irony himself, Filip Noterdaeme takes the macro to micro approach of Duchamp’s “Box in a Valise” one step further, creating a transportable museum-in-a-suitcase version of the Museum of Modern Art. In part a reaction to the 60% increase in the admission fee (from $12 to $20) at the museum, Noterdaeme presented his compact MoMA across the street from the “original”, offering the public a free alternative to its expensive counterpart. In shrinking a now monolithic cultural institution to a “consumable” scale and taking it on the road (MoMA HMLSS also traveled to Kansas City, Mo., Paris, France, Toledo, Spain and Waterloo, Belgium) Notredaeme’s project offers a wry commentary on the expansionist approach now deemed nec- essary to increase market share within the global culture industry.
Walter Robinson’s photographic yet lavishly painted “product” paintings balance a handmade approach with the readily identifiable aspect of everyday products. Part pop and part expressionistic, Robinson’s choices of subject matter are often mirrored in his own consumer habits. Painting beer bottles as he drank a six-pack, or “painkillers” (aspirin, advil, etc.) when in a “down” period, the artist arrives at an odd harmony between the obligations of mass consumption and the need to “channel” one’s experience via the tradition of paint on canvas. While seemingly deadpan, these paintings also encompass the near futility of direct expression within a landscape of branded objects, responding to the options “at hand” amidst an overwhelming array of consumer choice.
Ron Rocheleau’s collages precisely reconstruct the rarified world contained within the pages of post-war and contemporary art auction catalogs. Shuffling the deck and arriving at what sometimes appear to be random hybrids that present well known art world figures and artworks in unlikely pairings (Gerhard Richter standing in a room constructed by Thomas Demand / Barbara Kruger’s slogans grafted onto a photograph by Andreas Gursky), these alternate layouts are so carefully crafted that they present the viewer with plausible mu- tations of the “natural order” of market hierarchies. Highly idiosyncratic and guided by seemingly random associations that upset the finely tuned status quo which dictates the worth of an image or object, Rocheleau’s obsessive “what-ifs” provide a skeptical view within the seamlessness of art market aesthetics.
Zoë Sheehan Saldaña
The intensity of the recent debate on immigration often overlooks the socio-economic complexity of cross border relations, instead focusing solely on what’s “good for America”. Zoë Sheehan Saldaña’s tapestry reveals a more complex and layered relationship to the production of goods in Mexico for the U.S. market. Handmade by craftsmen in Guadalajara, Mexico in a workshop devoted to maintain- ing traditional weaving techniques, Saldaña’s pixilated tapestry is born out a set of contradictions within the global marketplace, where information flow often displaces the circumstances of locality. Saldaña’s subject, a downloaded image of a seemingly innocuous inter- section in Florida which an insurance company determined as the most dangerous in America, provides a haunting counterpoint to the painstakingly fabricated tapestry, underlying the ambiguites inherent in the handmade objects role in a late capitalist economy.
Heidi Schlatter’s lightboxes offer a somewhat twisted reversal of real estate fantasy routinely expressed in advertising for luxury resi- dential properties. Incorporating a ubiquitous vehicle for commercial messages to the public, Schlatter’s lightboxes invoke the means through which the consumer is seduced on a daily basis. But instead of offering an escape from the frustrations of the workaday world into a new car, home, vacation, or bottled water, the images in these displays confront the viewer with the reality of public housing. Born of utopian goals that originated in European modernism, the neglect of many American housing projects is partly a result of the absence of progressive social agendas from the original model, leaving in its place segregated communities based on race and class.
Peter Scott’s photographs address the relationship of advertising and the built environment via a fairly recent trend, which adopts huge banner ads on buildings under construction to illustrate the opulent life soon to be housed within. As full-scale depictions of living rooms and bathrooms are projected onto buildings facades, the collapse of the distinction between conventionally public and private space, and the territorial nature of broadcasting a coveted lifestyle into the public realm, reveal the underlying aggressiveness inherent in the real estate boom. As each new luxury address tries to top its neighbor, the city becomes the site of a large scale advertising war, fought to determine which is the most luxurious of all.
Featuring details in store windows that usually escape the passerby, Monika Sziladi’s photographs present an alternate view of the hermetic environment within which the consumer’s desires are put into play. Through highlighting aspects of the displays that are meant to be overlooked, such as armatures supporting the mannequins or wires binding them to their products, her compositions present an almost unconscious parallel world where perverse interrelationships offer embarrassing counterparts to the prevalence of “good taste”. Opening up a Pandora’s Box of the repressed which lies just beneath the surface of the self-assured poses struck by mute figures, the photographs of On Display betray the banal psychology at work in much of the styling of shop windows, momentarily liberating us from their predictability by revealing the accidental byproducts of their facile narratives.
back to Market Forces, Part 1 and 2 page