Yesterday, I visited the Institute of Contemporary Art. I go there a lot, but hadn’t been recently. I primarily went to see the Mark Bradford exhibit, and while I enjoyed his work very much, I was surprised to enjoy the other exhibit on display perhaps a little more.
Gabriel Kuri’s exhibit there caught me off guard the moment I walked in. Using everyday materials, Kuri explores our hyper-consumerist habits, our relationship with disposable items, our interactions with money, and our consumer culture in general.
DigBoston summed up the exhibit a little better than I can:
After visiting Gabriel Kuri’s exhibition Nobody needs to know the price of your Saab at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, you’ll think differently about the next time you pick up a newspaper or receive a receipt in a store.
Through the use of disposable materials such as plastic bags, magazines, parking stubs, price tags and aluminum cans to create collage and sculpture, Kuri challenges contemporary consumer culture and how we interact with money on a daily basis.
“When Kuri looks at a newspaper, he is looking at its physical material but also the words, the way we use it in the world, what it means to us and the way it conveys information,” says ICA Associate Curator Randi Hopkins.
A quick look around the exhibit shows pages of magazines covered in price tags, hand-woven tapestries replicating receipts, a metal spindle extending from ceiling to floor with a year’s worth of his receipts arranged by date and a conveyor belt in motion … as an empty energy drink can is stuck at one end.
“It’s that interesting juxtaposition for him of what the materials are on a sculptural basis and what our relationship with it is, especially with words in a linguistic way but also just in our common usage of vocabulary,” says Hopkins. “[The exhibit is] a place where your physical experience and intellectual experience of the world come together.”
What first grabbed me upon walking in was the plastic shopping bags filled with air and suspended from the ceiling as clouds. But upon entering one of the following rooms, I froze, transfixed by Column. Column is a collection of an entire year’s worth of receipts, arranged chronologically, spaced according to their timing, and mounted on a large spindle that rises from the floor to the ceiling. There are actually two spindles: one for receipts, and the other for all the numbers saved from whenever it’s necessary to take a number, from places like the RMV or the deli counter. The spindles were held in place by a slab of cement at each end.
What really struck me was that the first thing I saw about it: the way the two wire columns were intertwined, a double helix, just like DNA. It made me uncomfortable to consider Kuri’s accusation that at our core, when pared down to our most basic programming, we are all just consumers. We are beings who need certain things to survive, and our culture has built a system of profits around those needs so that a few may benefit at the expense of the rest of us. Are we no more than consumerist zombies who need to buy things to survive? I don’t like to think of it that way, but it’s kinda true, especially in my experience with American consumer culture. Can I change my DNA? Do I have to have everything about my being tied to money and my financial situation in this way? Can we change this? Is this system truly cemented in place at both ends? Don’t we deserve better than having everything about us come down to money and consumerism?
This whole exhibit was haunting to me, particularly because it spoke specifically to the environmentally-minded green movement out there that I feel a strong connection with. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so interested in making as many of my own household products as I can. I know I still need to buy the supplies from somewhere, but it makes me feel like I’m making a difference. Like maybe deep down, my own DNA isn’t made up of my receipts.
I usually don’t like to advertise stuff on here (and I have neither been asked nor paid to), but if you live anywhere near the Boston area, I highly encourage you to walk through and see it for yourself.