We now live in a time when the consumption of images is at never-before-seen levels. For the past two decades, the digital revolution entirely changed the way we approach the images, and how we think of them. It even seems that words have become redundant and that images have became entirely self-sufficient.
That leads us to the question of what we shall do with all those images, what meaning they bear in the contemporary culture saturated with clickbaits, shares, likes, gifs and emoticons. This topic becomes even more intriguing when the argument concerning the economy comes to action, indicating an army of workers solely producing images for the never-ending circulation of profit.
Alongside various debates among the scholars, the image phenomenon is often explored in visual arts. The upcoming exhibition titled The Supermarket of Images, however, tends to toss and turn that phenomenon from a different, more engaged perspective.
The Jeu de Paume curatorial team led by Peter Szendy, accompanied by Emmanuel Alloa and Marta Ponsa, was wondering how this overproduction of images separates us from reality, and what are the consequences of a new paradigm. Furthermore, with this exhibition, they tend to estimate, analyze and underline the management, transportation, and storage of the images - in brief, they want to speak of their value in rather economic terms.
Led by various scholarly contributions on the subject matter, the curators decided to provide kind of a historical overview by selecting an array of artists that dealt with storage spaces, labor and its mutations, the scarcity of raw materials, and value and its new manifestations.
The image here is taken practically as a metaphor of the underlining processes that moderate our consumerist culture, so the exhibition title can be read as a two-folded, and a rather cynical, indication of the current socio-political matrix based on the fluctuation of images.
The upcoming exhibition will be presented through five sections: Stocks, Raw materials, Work, Values, and Exchanges.
The first section will include Andreas Gursky’s photograph Amazon that depicts the vast warehouses filled with piled goods; a sculptural intervention Por Um Fio by Ana Vitória Mussi made of 22,000 negatives; Evan Roth’s installation Since You Were Born constructed of the avalanche of internet pages. On display in this section are also the works Storage and Gerry Images that both take into consideration the present-day digital flow of data, as well as the works by Zoe Leonard, and historic diagrams by the celebrated Russian avant-garde mage Kazimir Malevich.
The second section will feature the was work On Balance (dare e avere) by Elena Modorati, alongside the paintings by Minerva Cuevas and Andrei Molodkin. The usage of innovative materials for the production of protective screens is the core of a narrative of the work by Chia Chuyia, while dissolved mangas that become colored flows are featured in the work Substrat 8 II by Thomas Ruff. Similarly, Jeff Guess considers the disintegration of the image in his work Addressability, as well as Taysir Batniji with the screenshots of a WhatsApp conversation in his work Disruptions (2015–2017). This section will also present the works by Samuel Bianchini and Victor Vasarely.
The section Work will include the cinematic work by Harun Farocki and Antje Ehmann, consisting of two-minute film sequences showcasing the different forms of work around the world, and the film After the Bell by Emma Charles focused on the stock exchange after the close of trading. On the other hand, on view will be other works that explore the making of the images themselves from the pioneering work Telephone Pictures by László Moholy-Nagy’s, the first images produced by sending remote instructions, to Clickworkers by Martin Le Chevallier which explores today’s mass production of images by digital workers. The section that is apparently focused on motion pictures, will also include Ben Thorp Brown’s Toymakers, a note on the manufacture of “deal toys, alongside the intriguing Are You Human? Series by Aram Bartholl exploring Captchas that differ robot from a human user.
The fourth section will focus on money as a dominant visual motif; the works spanning from Hans Richter’s 1928 short film on inflation to Máximo González’s grandiose wall installations made of banknotes (Degradación, 2010) will show how the artists deal with this subject, including the other works made by Robert Bresson or Sophie Calle who collected video surveillance images from a cash dispenser. This section will include also the considerations of cryptocurrencies from Yves Klein’s notorious zones of immaterial pictorial sensibility (cheque for gold kind of transactions), to Kevin Abosch’s bloody prints of the blockchain addresses; the reflected image of a banknote between two mirrors by Wilfredo Prieto, and the subversions of the movements of stock-market algorithms expressed through the works by Femke Herregraven and the RYBN.ORG collective.
The final section will offer the works by William Kentridge and Richard Serra alongside the dystopian images by Trevor Paglen of the contemporary data exchange that is similarly explored in the DISNOVATION.ORG collective’s The Pirate Cinema (2012). The participatory works by Pierre Weiss and Maurizio Cattelan will further deepen the notion of exchange, while the visions of Julien Prévieux and Martha Rosler indicate the political aspect of this particular activity. The exhibition will end with the Martin Le Chevallier Obsolete Heroes that poses a question whether the visible will fade into the programmed obsolescence, while Hiroshi Sugimoto’s now historic works U.A. Playhouse, New York (1978) and Palms, Detroit (1980) contemplate on the very notion of the image.
After this detailed and rather promising description of the installment, it remains to be seen how the works will communicate with each other and how the exhibition as a whole will function. This topic is very relevant especially in regards to the future of the visual culture itself since it is quite uncertain and hard to estimate what would be the effects of this order; perhaps a new kind of perception that is entirely non-physical and fully virtual.
The Supermarket of Images will be on display at Jeu de Paume in Paris from 11 February until 7 June 2020.
Featured images: Geraldine Juárez - Gerry Images, 2014. Courtesy of the artist © Documentation images Philipp Ottendörfer; Minerva Cuevas - Horizon II, 2016. Courtesy of the artist and kurimanzutto, Mexico City/New York © Minerva Cuevas; Chuyia Chia - Knitting the Future, 2016. Courtesy of the artist and of the Singapore Art Museum © DR - Singapore Art Museum. All images courtesy Jeu de Paume.