Material Worlds Mar 30, 2018
by Elissa Favero
A response to Material Deviance in Contemporary American Culture by Alice Gosti (Mar 29-Apr 1, 2018) (Photo: Tim Summers)
“I don’t really see myself being able to use that in my life right now…I agree they should stay in the family…There’s more?”
This dialogue comes about midway through Alice Gosti’s Material Deviance in Contemporary American Culture (MDICAC). When I heard it I chuckled at the uncanniness. I had uttered these words, almost verbatim, earlier this week on a phone call across the country with my mother. She and my Dad have just purchased a small place in the Pacific Northwest and will sell or donate or discard many of the many things they’ve lived with in Maryland for the last thirty years. Once they’re ready, once they’ve shed the skin of their current home, they’d like to take a road trip across the country. They want to travel light. In anticipation of the move, my Mom sends me a large picture album full of marker drawings on construction paper. As a young child, I apparently gravitated toward bright colors, angular shapes, and lots of negative space. Perhaps not too much has changed. This week, she’s considering getting rid of her collection of ceramic Santa Clauses. Would my sisters or I want them?
The things we gather around ourselves tell the stories of our lives. MDICAC was packed with so many glimmers of recognition, it felt like the story of my life, evoking references far and wide that I’ve acquired over the years: I saw in the rolling carts of piled objects that serve as the show’s set Andrea Gurksy’s giant enormous c-print 99 Cent II Diptychon of stacked supermarket goods as well as the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis video that made the Ballard Goodwill famous. I thought I recognized the Black Fridays group-think and squabbles I’ve only ever seen from the safe distance of evening news; Extreme Couponing, the reality TV show my younger sister and I binge-watched one spring break in college; and George W. Bush’s alignment of consumerism and patriotism as he encouraged us to go shopping more after 9/11. This is a show disillusioned with and struggling against capitalism and its excesses and fetishistic routines of consumerism but also caught in their vortex, finding wry humor and even solace within them.
I had wanted to take part in the community ritual last week that preceded the show, to participate in the “release of emotionally entangled objects” that would become part of the set. I looked around my house in anticipation. I considered a book with an inscription from an ex-boyfriend. I fingered the mink stole that my great-aunt had once worn and that hangs now in my closet. I paged through a day-planner filled with the appointments and aspirational lists — to-do’s, to-reads, to-buy-at-the-grocery-store — from when I first moved to Seattle almost ten years ago. But I wasn’t ready to part with any of them. I remembered how my older sister had gotten rid of almost everything she had after she got divorced. Everything she hadn’t lost she let go of. I had never thought to admire her for that bravery.
At the end of the show, as the rolling carts, still stacked high with objects, come forward, they also pull apart. A single dancer gestures to the space beyond. Its vastness, its emptiness called to me too.
Elissa Favero teaches critical and contextual studies at Cornish College of the Arts and writes essays about art, architecture, and landscape.
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