Monday, December 6, 2010

ESSAY: Thoughts Occasioned by a Lecture by Jeffrey Stuker at Marlboro College

By Stephen Orloske

On November 30th Marlboro College hosted an artist talk with Jeffrey Stuker, whose art produces fictional advertisements. Even the brand is a prop and has some oblique, satyrical reference to history. And the sharp product advertised is a complete fabrication. A diamond is actually a drawing, the marble it's displayed upon is painted pine board. Every atom of an eye liner only exists in his computer.

I won't get into the details of Stuker's art here, but he did raise a few interesting ideas about the relation between art and commodity.

1. The gallery and the boutique store mimic one another. As the sale of luxury goods continues to appropriate the minimal aesthetic of a gallery space, so too are galleries starting to appropriate the commodity aspect of luxury stores. Stores ask themselves, how can we be more exclusive? Galleries ask, what will make more sales? Perhaps there will come a point where they meet and become indiscernible. When Stuker hung his Constant: Depuis 1858 show the gallery was mistaken for a watch store. People who knew the gallery were afraid the boutique stores descending on the block had done it in. Others attempted to buy the fictional watches.

2. There is ruthless thing-a-ma-cation and commodification. As our communal relations become ventures for commodity – galleries show product, hospitals treat patients like clients, impromptu dancing for advertisement… – so too do our personal relations. Stuker's diamond, for example, was partially inspired by an ad for "memorial diamonds" made from a beloved's corpse. A body, an urn or a tombstone is not a sufficient end. Whether the grief is for the lost or our own mortality, it seems a diamond, a commodity worthy of advertisement, is more fitting. It is, like art, a way to make the person undead. But where art attempts to capture a bit of soul, a diamond captures, keeps alive, our market value.

3. Luxury items promise an absurd connection with eternity. Whereas humanity once aspired to immortality through song, now luxury products claim to be the cosmos's purveyors. One might even claim there is a competition between art and product. And that that competition is not a light affair. The universe connected to through art is not the same universe connected through product, and for advertisements to claim otherwise is absurd.

If I am to add my two cents I'd say the absurdity Stuker highlights isn't absurd enough. His watches needlessly synch with satellites, yet our cell phones (the most common timepiece these days) are constantly communicating with dozens of satellites, even GPS takes relativity into account because nanoseconds really matter for its function. His beauty products contain poisonous ingredients, yet we all have taken a smoke and chow down fast food and stick radiating electronics in our ears. We are more than willing to take poison with our pleasures. Our daily lives really do depend on the function of man made celestial objects. Even contemporary advertisements are critically self aware. They sell with a cheeky irony that says, "of course you know the promises we make are ridiculous and we're in on the joke too, but isn't it fun anyway?"

Highlighting the underbelly of our relations with capital isn't enough these days. We must not think our art and dreams can embrace just the benevolent parts of capital. We must stop waiting for the miracle that will excise ills from pleasures.

Images: Jeffrey Stuker, 16X20" Color Photograph, courtesy of Manfred Baumgartner Gallerym Père Lachaise Cemetery. Paris, August 2007