the immateriality of the everyday

The Immateriality of the Everyday:

Assembly-Line Anxiety and Post-Consumer Waste

"However, the focus on form during the 1920s was not about willful ignorance or disinterest in social issues, but rather part of inflated hopes for the ability of new technology (as it functioned in industry) and the new man (as personified by the engineer) to provide a new, more equitable society (Lavin 46)."

Mass production of consumer goods and assembly line efficiency offered the promise of transformation in the 20th century through the creation of a new industrial society, one in which a growing middle class could flourish. The glorification of the potential of industrial production or pure form can be witnessed in the work of modern pioneers, such as the Soviet artist Aleksandr Rodchenko, the German artist Albert Renger-Patzsch and Americans Paul Strand, Edward Steichen, Paul Outerbridge, and later Carlotta Corpron. As we experience a new century, our awareness of the problems engendered through the embrace of consumerism stands in stark contrast to the utopian perspectives of many early modernists.

Artistic approaches formerly used to suggest the fulfillment of utopian ideals promised by mass reproduction are embraced in a new endeavor. I turn modern photography against itself to reflect on the state of our lives in the post-industrial era, especially in regard to excess consumption. By embracing repetition and pattern, I echo the source of the term montage, relating to the engineer and assembly line production. I would argue that this use of repetition now replaces the euphoria of modernism with an anxiety aligned with 21st century concerns regarding sustainability. My desire to locate a place between modernist celebration of the object and the conundrum of our increasing production of post-consumer waste--the aftermath of the assembly line--has prompted my documentation of objects to be recycled, part of my questioning of the nature of our everyday actions.

I photograph everyday objects that disappear.

Digital montage facilitates my transformation of detritus—plastic, steel, cardboard--into a mechanized system or apparatus. My photographic practice takes cues from the study of light patterns and reflections evident in modernist photography, and product studio lighting used in commercial advertising. Instead of welcoming the introduction of affordable, mass-produced products,I present torn, crushed, and discarded plastic, steel, and paper packaging in a manner designed to elevate, to impart value, if not to render beauty. Viewed as remnants or recyclables, before returning to their previous “raw” state as plastic or tin, these materials have a transitory existence.

By documenting objects that undergo transformation, I seek to prompt viewers to consider their engagement in daily rituals, and its resulting impact. We take for granted the plentitude of our natural resources and the potential of recycled materials, which support our everyday human existence, our place within our environment. Activities that appear to have limited measurable financial value, that are economically invisible, have become factors in determining our ability to sustain human growth. For example, work completed in the household is not included in the gross domestic product, or GDP. Meanwhile, an alternative measure of productivity, the GPI or Genuine Progress Indicator, includes factors relating to the environment, volunteerism, housework and parenting, to foster policies supporting sustainability (Redefining Progress: The Nature of Economics.). I hope these images prompt a reevaluation of the importance that we assign to objects, a reflection on the nature of our relationship to consumption and waste, and an increased awareness in terms of how our everyday actions connect to global concerns, namely sustainability, and questions of scarcity and abundance.

Maude Lavin. "Photomontage, Mass Culture and Modernity" in Montage and Modern Life: 1919-1942. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. 1992.

Redefining Progress: The Nature of Economics. “Genuine Progress Indicator.” Homepage. 28 December 2007.