Point of Purchase

Posted by Rob Walker on September 10, 2006
Posted Under: Artists,Semiotic Disobedience

There’s no Consumed in today’s issue of the Times Magazine, so here is a bit of a follow-up to last week’s “semiotic disobedience” column. The Point of Purchase show at the Dumbo Arts Center through September 24 (mentioned in the Rosemary Williams Q&A below, which you should really read if you haven’t already), includes a few other artists whose work could, I think, be considered in the realm of the semiotic disobedience concept that Sonia Katyal described in that column.

One example is the “Whirl Mart” project, which I’d heard about before and always thought sounded fairly amusing: “It is a ritual during which a group gathers and silently pushes empty carts through the aisles of a superstore.” Silly, childish — but, again, sort of amusing. (Recall the previously mentioned Wal-Mart podcast — maybe somebody should do a group show on Putting the Art in Wal-M(art).)
And then there’s “shopdropping.” I can’t remember where I first read about this, but basically it’s a project of Ryan Watkins-Hughes, who replaces the labels on canned goods with his own photography/artwork, and puts the results on shelves in stores: “Shopdropping strives to take back a share of the visual space we encounter on daily basis,” he explains on this site, where you will also find (click “related projects”) a list of precedents and/or similar actions. Some of these could be counted as semiotic disobedience (especially the work of the Barbie Liberation Organization, dating back to 1989), others not.

Obviously not everything in Point of Purchase can be classified as semiotic disobedience, but there’s a lot of very thoughtful work about consumer culture. I’ve long been interested in Julia Christensen’s Big Box Reuse project. I wasn’t familiar with, but enjoyed learning about, a shopdropping variation by Zoë Sheehan Saldaña: She buys clothes from places like Wal-Mart (there it is again!), hand-makes a duplicate, moves the tags, and returns the duplicate for a refund, meaning her hand-made version is presumably put back on the racks and sold. I was also interested to learn about Stefanie Nagorka, who constructs sculptural forms out of materials in places like Home Depot, then photographs them, and leaves.

And the show had work by several photographers who do nice stuff, notably: Brian Ulrich and Monika Sziladi (whose site seems to be down). Also worth note is the cool “limited edition weekly circular” for the show, by Nicole Tschampel & Bryan Bennett.

In all, a nice job of pulling together a good group of artists by curator Gretchen Wagner. Too bad the Dumbo Arts Center site doesn’t have links to the sites of all these creators — but luckily the aforementioned Brian Ulrich pulled just such a list together, and I’ve raided it liberally in writing this post. Check his site for links to artists I haven’t mentioned here, since I didn’t want to rehash the entire show.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

A-ha. I knew there was a reason that I have this compulsion to pick up a can of pork and beans, Spam, corned beef, vienna sausages, or bottles of that dried out lunch meat thing — basically anything that’s over-processed animal protein that was popular during the post-WWII-era — and then re-shelve somewhere else. I esp. seem drawn to do this in drugstores and super-stores (rather than supermarkets) that have large non-food sections. There’s something about putting a can of corned beef in a row of hair dye that’s quite satsifying.

Of course, after reading about all the above, I feel like a total amateur/wannabe.

Written By William Morris on September 14th, 2006 @ 3:27 pm
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