Language and Consumerism

Notes on a lecture by Gerald Deslandes

This interesting lecture was significant in that we are constantly surrounded by visual imagery intent on accumulating wealth via advertising. The concept that there is no ‘inherent value’ in objects for sale, only a social order of worth was explained given the example of milk being cheap in relation to other products, thus changing its’ ‘value’.

Deslandes cited some specific examples including the suprematist painter Malevich, referencing the world and Christianity in his abstract works. Deslandes commented on how language consists of signifiers which need a code to make sense of them; that systems enable us to navigate meaning. Therefore an image in one community can have distinctly different ‘meaning’ in another.

In Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass the artist is exploring and investigating materials and processes, but, claims Deslandes, Foucault would say that our understanding of the work is within the representation of the nude; our experience of this and exposure to classical models. This is specific within our culture, thus redefining the interpretation of the painting within each set of systems.

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Manet. Luncheon on the Grass

Richard Serra’s sculpture questioned not only how we use materials but how we use their properties; weight, balance, rusting etc. I have often walked past this sculpture, Fulcrum, at Broadgate alongside Liverpool Street Station, London. It’s dramatic scale and apparently carefully balanced panels create a dramatic piercing through the square; dynamic and powerful, the epitomy of a poignant mark in sheet metal.

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Serra. Fulcrum

In Susan Hiller’s work, the relationship between image and value is questioned. We are asked what we understand about the world in terms of the way we present it. In my own work I often reflect on this – what does it say about my perceptions and understanding of the world, and how confined is this to a particular set of constructs; my upbringing, global location, gender etc.

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Hiller at the Tate

Warhol’s images of celebrities depicted as screen prints using different colour schemes described as ‘curiously inane and empty of meaning’ by Deslandes are possibly some of the best known images of Modern Art, certainly a popular choice to create pastiches from in the classroom.  Again, the language is a set of meanings which depends on a framework. Society creates this framework and teaches it, thus meaning is taught in quite a structured way, and does not transcend globally.

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