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[insert slogan here] is a show about objects. Consumer objects specifically. By which I mean mass-produced objects. Mass-produced objects that are then given meaning by the narratives they’re placed within. Narratives which we all agree with. An iPhone comes in a variety of colours so that you can express your individuality. Because individuality is an important thing we should all aim for. Wouldn’t you agree?
But with the work I’ve made so far there always comes a point where someone, not usually me, someone realises what the show is really about. Something to do with me. So I guess for 5 Encounters on a Site Called Craigslist I started making a show about queer male sexuality, and ended up making a show about my own anxieties around the way I get to know people. And for [insert slogan here] I started making a show about advertising and ended up making a show about longing. My longing to be recognised and seen by other people.
Because in a way, I love advertising. I find advertising deeply sad. I find it sad in the same way I find the Psalms sad. There is something profoundly moving, I think, about the depth of longing that those texts imply:
‘Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’ – Psalm 23:4
Whether you share the religious beliefs of the Psalmist or not, there is something deeply moving about the need expressed there. The deep, longing for someone, anyone, to be looking after you. All religious texts do that me to be honest. The depth of longing that’s implied by the fervent belief in a man coming back from the dead. It gets me. I find religion so moving because it implies a deep human despair. A despair at the meaningless of life. A despair at the loneliness. And a deep longing that that engenders.
And I think advertising does the same thing. Baudrillard said that advertising has replaced God in the modern world. And from where I’m sat, on the other side of having watched a ton of adverts, I can see what he means. Advertising supplies the security of narrative that religion provided in the past. The amazing thing about advertising, I think, is that you don’t have to believe that you’re going to get the wonderful life that is presented to you on the screen. You just have to believe that that’s what you want. You just have to believe that someone out there has seen you and has recognised your wants. That someone knows who you are. The terrifyingly beautiful reality of advertising is that it no longer functions exclusively as a means of selling you goods, it also reminds us that within consumerism we are perpetually seen, we are perpetually recognised, we are perpetually rendered transparent. And yes, this is unsettling. Yes, this is unhealthy. But the question remains, why does it work in the first place? And I think it’s because there is a deep longing woven into the fact of being human. A longing to be recognised and understood. A longing to be seen.
In making this show I spent a lot of time watching car adverts, particularly Volvo adverts, which I think are especially good at this. And that means I spent a lot of time feeling seen. Feeling transparent in the gaze of headlights. And there’s only so long you can feel so recognised before you start to fall in love with the thing that’s seeing you.
[insert slogan here] is here Tue 15 – Thu 17 May. Book tickets here.