Between August – September I began work on very different ideas to the content of my previous work. During a trip through European capitals I started thinking about the Kitsch and the acceptance of throwaway culture in Western Society, especially the typical plastic souvenirs that haunt us in every agreeably nice place in the world. With the rise of ‘selfie sticks’ and the increasingly advanced technology of the smart phone camera I also found an interest in the way we treat photography now. It seems that now the photograph is so accessible we feel the need to take photos of every experience to prove that it was ours, as though if we take a photo we are some how experiencing the moment more intimately than if we did not. (These thoughts were also inspired by reading; John Berger: Ways of seeing, over this period.) From watching people take photos constantly without actually LOOKING at the things they were taking photos of I started thinking about how the photograph is now how we feel present in the world around us. We have generated a dysmorphic relationship with our surroundings. Our excessive photo taking distracts us from our sense of really ‘being’ in a place, an experience or a moment. This sense of being has become objectified in the photographic data of an Iphone, an Instagram post and Facebook profile pictures. We cannot be without instantly proving we’ve been.
This is the foundation of ideas that formed my piece ‘ENJOY ME/DESTROY ME.” The idea was a collaboration between myself and friend KAYA FEHMI, whose photograph is included in the piece. Our idea was to have a large scale image made into badges and attached to a denim hanging so that people could see and then interact with the image, being able to take a piece of it with them, until all the badges have gone. Through this process the piece aimed to challenge the audience to enjoy it whilst simultaneously destroying it, mirroring humans relationship with nature and the environment.
For me, the importance of the denim for the background of the photograph was to demonstrate the culture of the Western
world. By taking second hand denim jeans and cutting them up to make a flat sheet I was taking something practical and useful and making it functionless, as I feel the buyers of plastic souvenirs do to natural recourses. The use of badges on denim also took inspiration from Peter Blake’s: ‘Self portrait with badges’, a physical representation of his painted collages.
I found the large scale making of this piece to be very physical, it became in itself a ‘mass production’ of plastic objects as I attempted to make 486 badges by hand. The badges themselves were made from plastic poker chips, electric tape and safety pins with photographic paper stuck on with double sided sticky tape. I enjoyed the physicality of this making process along with the sewing of the denim by hand. This idea of handmade but ‘culturally disrupting’ objects echoes the process of Ai Weiwei’s work, especially his sunflower seeds due to their initial interaction with viewers in the Turbine Hall.
From a collective perspective the badges create a whole aesthetic image, which is about distinguishable. The moment a badge is removed it transforms from part of a whole to a bland combination of grey and white pixels, making it as worthless as a €4.50 souvenir that loses it’s value and meaning as soon as you remove it from its surroundings.
The photograph used is of the Hungerford Bridge’s ‘Skateboard Graveyard’ by Southbank. The image appropriately documents an accumulation of old and broken skateboards that have been abandoned onto the bridge support, an island of consumer waste in the middle of the Thames. So to stage the interaction between audience and piece we decided to take it there, inviting people to take a badge rather than to take a photo, to be present beyond the screen of their phones. This location did not work for this piece as it was at an awkward angle for people to interact with it, so we later moved it opposite Southbank skate park, this change of location turned the piece into an almost-memorial for the fate of the on looking skateboards.
The expectation of public interaction with the piece was where it failed, it seemed that people were too awkward or just plain uninterested to interact. I believe now that the piece would only have been able to create this interactive presence with the viewer if it had been much larger. It was very easy to ignore, due to its height and placement at the side of the pathway. If it had been bigger and able to stand independently it would have been impossible for people to ignore and possibly less embarrassing for those who were interested but shy. Interestingly a lot of people asked how much the badges were and were confused that they were being given away. At some points I felt that there would have actually been more interest if the badges were for sale rather than for free. Possibly at this stage it was a little over ambitious to expect people to interact physically with my work but I feel that the majority of my ideas came across successfully here and I am happy with the visual outcome and repetitive processes that it developed.