ATLANTA – The Hagedorn Foundation Gallery is pleased to present Consuming Passions, a group exhibition of six young American artists—Becca Albee, Phillip Birch, Colby Bird, Jessica Bowman, Nikita Gale, and Bryan Zanisnik—curated by Amanda Parmer. The show nods to Judith Williamson’s collection of essays published in 1988: Consuming Passions, the Dynamics of Popular Culture. These practices are held together by a common investment in questioning our culture’s belief that one can purchase the desirable parts of specific lifestyles, rather than experiencing the dynamic, mixed reality of any one. The works emphasize consumerism’s style and— its often comedic—failure to deliver on the dream of an idyllic, easily controlled life.
Compiling celebrity snapshots sourced from the internet; overlaying the impersonal solicitations of credit card mailers with directives in the second person; and recontextualizing images of a romantic getaway in their historical trajectory– the artists push the bounds of photography, drawing on its necessary relationship to literature, design, sculpture, film and painting.
Rather than operating as windows onto aspirational identities and experiences, these images function as objects asking viewers to look again at the polished and commodified ciphers of experience, naturalized in the everyday. In this way the images in Consuming Passions make light of the power imbued in commodity fetishism to fulfill a social need, emphasizing it’s alienating effects and the recursive psychosis of consumerism it installs.
Over the past year Becca Albee has collected images from the internet of celebrities in New York and LA carrying to-go coffee cups. This branding and identity marks the specificity of each coast (New York is Starbucks, LA is Peets) and focuses on the democratizing effect of being branded by carrying a to-go coffee cup. But the celebrities, with the cache to lend their name to these brands, are left in a strange in between zone: are these individuals sponsored by the coffee companies that they wittingly or unwittingly help to brand?
Philip Birch’s video Concerning Human Understanding, consists of still images of classic architecture and romantic landscapes culled from the internet and taken in places along the route of the European Grand Tour. The appropriated views, accompanied by a faux instructional text, question to what degree first hand knowledge is necessary, valued or possible today, and for whom it is available. The video points to the ironically programmatic quality of experiences of discovery and the precariousness of the internet’s democratizing effects.
At first glance Colby Bird’s images could be everyday snapshots of the artist’s life and surroundings—but as viewers spend time unpacking the contents of the images a dialogue with popular culture and photographic history emerges. The images are all carefully considered, determined by a strict color formula—Bird uses only the tones in a Kodak proofing color bar - projecting a lifestyle and an aesthetic of white middle class American male culture. The photographs’ contents are literally framed and polished, elevating the middle class experience – one currently being economically and socially eradicated – to an iconic, curated status in art history’s canon.
Jessica Bowman’s amalgams of intensely feminized ideals play on an indulgent identity that hinges on consumption of branded materials. In these images, much like the Bird photographs, the material goods speak in place of the image of the woman attached to these objects.
Nikita Gale’s enlarged images of credit card solicitations layered with gold colored spray paint are a peek into the neuroses nurtured and spurred on by debt culture. The seemingly innocuous and anonymous letters sent from credit card companies are overlaid with a first person narrative—“the things I want the things I need”— pointing to the confusion these offers present and the temptation of conflating needing and wanting that drives individuals to entertain the false promises these letters offer—“Platinum Visa—for whatever life throws at you,…keep your credit on track…now it’s even easier,…It’s a brilliant choice—Platinum MasterCard,…Reply for the card that will make managing your account easier.”
Bryan Zanisnik’s colorful, chaotic, layered photographs show a mash up of worlds colliding that create an absurd visual tableaux. The central figure in each section of Zanisnik’s over-sized triptych is the standing office file cabinet. In this presentation it becomes an uncanny animistic figure. In each instance the cabinet is visually overwhelmed by layers of symbols, metaphors and signifiers of consumerdom—mementos, to-do lists and objects of common, personal shopping—which stifle this structuring signifier to the point of near invisibility. The essential, dated object of organization—the filing cabinet—mimics our own lack of control over our goods oriented world and everyday lives.