IDI: Review of 'KING OF JUNK' plus interview, Feb. 2014

FEB 21 IDI INTERVIEWS MARPLONDON

The King of Junk”: consumerism captured.

We live in a disposable age. By this I mean that as a society we purchase goods and products with the intention of discarding them once they have served their purpose. Increasingly, this purpose is to make a statement on behalf of the purchaser; declaring them to be affluent/intelligent/socially responsible and/or cool. Consequently, packaging often trumps original purpose.

Long gone are the days of “make do and mend” when products were valued for their longevity; today’s consumer craves credibility. Everyday our high streets and shopping malls are emblazoned with cartons, containers and carrier bags shouting our allegiance to particular retailers, products and brands. Packaging’s primary purpose is no longer seen as a means to carry products from shop to street to car to home; its labelling provides a powerful mixture of moving billboard, brand reinforcement and lifestyle statement. The contents are of secondary importance.

Naturally, these receptacles are themselves subject to changes in fashion; today’s “must be seen with” sack is tomorrow’s windblown castoff.

George Orwell got it wrong in “1984”. Our future will increasingly be consumer driven with more, not less, products becoming available within the same or similar markets. And in a world where multiple products occupy a limited commercial space, design differentiates. The fast food industry provides a microcosm that reflects this trend.

We know the health risks but carry on regardless; the consumption of fast food is tantamount to an act of rebellion; it has parallels with perceptions of cigarette smoking in the mid-20th century. Sugar and salt substitute for nicotine and tar; the dubious glamour of the smoker is replaced by the high octane, live for the moment life style of the fast food aficionado.

Primitive peoples fashioned artefacts from the creatures they killed for food and clothing; literally wearing the evidence of their physical and mental superiority, accomplishments and achievements on their sleeve.

Visibly declaring what we choose to eat is merely the modern extension of this trait.

Therefore, if the packaging is to all intents and purposes a badge, why not carry this to its logical conclusion and create a more permanent form of adornment, namely jewellery and other accessories?

This is the premise behind a fascinating photographic project from the artist Marplondon who makes a further connection in her work by drawing parallels with the visual exuberance associated with Hip Hop music.

Entitled “King of Junk” the series explores the delicious paradox that exists between reality and fantasy; the ego of her subjects is manifested in the gaudy ornamentation that proclaims their chosen lifestyle, they revel in the outward symbols of their status as style icons while we, the viewer, are fully aware of the health implications of this.

Today’s sleek bodies, blemish free skin and healthy teeth harbouring the seeds of tomorrow’s obesity, diabetes and decay.

Ironically, what Marplondon does in this series of photographs is to record precisely what her subjects want; their perfect image frozen in time, forever to be seen as current, contemporary and modish. Marplondon’s subjects don the object d’art of the take away outlet as visible symbols of their allegiance because no others as available to them… yet.

This is the “now” of our fast food culture, a phenomenon that has only recently hit the UK when compared to the U.S. And in Britain, we are seeing the results with the massive increase in rates of obesity amongst our population over the last 20 years as the cult of fast food consumption continues to expand.

But these people are sitting on a dietary time bomb, victims of their belief that increased consumption equates to greater credibility, enhanced status and reinforced egos. Marplondon’s images are as vibrant as the brands she is targeting; their corporate colours reflected in the apparel of her subjects. This is an ingenious device and hammers home the point comprehensively.

Marplondon’s subjects have themselves become living, breathing advertisements for the products they consume. Essentially they have become human receptacles for the fast food brands they favour, packaging for the products of the industry. Unfortunately, like the products, the packaging may remain resilient while the contents rot and decompose.

Marplodon’s photographs articulate a worrying thought that, for a whole generation, the pursuit of style will blind it to the potential dangers of substance. Nothing new here you may think – and you’d be correct.  Smoking is now infra dig where once it was ubiquitous.

However, it should also be noted that there is humour and wit in these technically accomplished photographs. This is an excellent of photography being used to make social commentary.

Marplondon’s images are peppered with references to 20thcentury consumerism and commercial art. For example, the Heinz Ketchup sachets provide an oblique reference to Warhol’s soup cans, the composition and colours are reminiscent of Pop Art, 1960’s music album covers and contemporary menu illustrations.

At its best, art reflects its time and provides the viewer with a window on a specific period. Often, we look back at artwork that records the aspirations and behaviours of our ancestors and, with the benefit and arrogance of hindsight, marvel at their naivety.

I suspect that Marplondon’s “King of Junk” will fall into this category in time and will acquire a shelf life far beyond that of its subject matter.

Can you tell us a little about your background; for example, did you have any formal training?

BA(Hons) in Contemporary Media Practice from University of Westminster. Currently working as an art director, graphic designer and visual researcher.

Do you regard yourself as an artist or photographer in the first instance?

As an artist as it gives me the freedom of choosing; subject, medium, style and expression.

Where do you get your inspiration for your work?

Culture. People. Colours. Often it comes from something that I’ve read, that I want to explore in depth which then leads me to other areas of discoveries. A quest of understanding. I don’t have one overall theme, at least not intentionally.

Do you think that your environment influences your work?

Yes, but mainly social and cultural environments, whether that is virtual or physical. Although I do feel more alive when I move myself physically and put myself in new environments loaded with cultural symbolic that I have to decode in order to make sense and connections. Something that kicks me out of my comfort zones, yet makes me feel at home at the same time. When I’m in that space I feel very charged with excitement and energy.

Who do you regard as having the greatest influence on your work?

My curiosity combined with the scandinavian freedom of thought and the London state of mind.

Whose work do you admire?

- Sinan Hussein (his style and ability to convey cross-cultural ref. and messages)

- Elmgreen and Dragset (their conceptual thinking and execution)

- Doug Aitken (his mastery of creating multi-sensored, fluid and interactive installations and his sense of rhythm in sound and visuals)

- Larissa Sansour (the way she elegantly makes use of surrealism and wit to delivery a very political message)

- Olafur Eliasson (his humanity)

- Jean-Charles de Castelbajac (his imagination, humour and design)

- Viviane Sassen (her inventiveness, use of light, form and shapes in fashion/art photography)

- Guy Bourdin (his play on fantasies of lust, desire, consumption, his use of colour and fashion aesthetics)

- Nick Cave (his use of found object, use of performance to address rituals of globalised cultural identities)

What are you currently working on?

At the moment most of my time is spent on filling out applications, applying for funding, so that I can afford to finalise my projects.

Do you have a burning desire to tackle a particular project?

Yes, I have been working on a project called Saints and Sinners for quiet some time now. It questions our need/obsession of iconism/status/labelling – from hero to saint to celebrity to villain to sinner to outcast. For example, some people view a whistleblower as a hero, but others, they only see a traitor.

I’m making use of religious references, old masters, the whole concept of exhibit, a gallery, putting on a display as a mean to attract the eye and to create familiarity in the environment, as I have created a series of fictional ’saints’ and ’sinners’ characters based on contemporaries.

Whether one is considered to be good or bad, sacred or holy, one of us or one of them, that conclusion I’ll leave up the viewer to make, based on their baggage of experiences and cultural references and beliefs. Hopefully through their experience of “worshipping”, “judging”, “cursing” “jubilating” or “rejecting” these characters, I somehow also make them think about why they landed on that conclusion or why they reacted as they did!  

It’s meant to “challenge” the notion of worshipping, idolisation of status, celebs, heroes etc, but look at any (fictive) society and its need of making everyone into small saints and heroes, whether that is something to worship or despite.

Review by Michael Stewart: King of junk  

Download the review here: PDF