Stuff, eBay, Photography

Like many contemporary artists I make assemblages (although I tend to call them arrangements of things in the world). They’re made up of a variety of things, many of them discarded or recycled and often found in special places like eBay, car-boot sales and pound shops. It is truly amazing, when one takes a particular ‘slice’ through eBay, what people offer up for sale. I have been lucky enough to find family photos and slides. It seems some people no longer need or want them any more. If they have digitised the images, they have a new life, without need for physical storage space shared extremely effectively. It still seems strange to me that these once treasured items could now be turfed out so easily. I am pretty obsessive about the photographs I collect and of course I have my own archive too. Alongside collecting others’ images I also make my own – photos, prints and digital collages/montages. The montages are a bit like browsing through eBay – items are of different registers, sometimes professionally sold, sometimes amateurish, often sold directly from a far away market. In terms of its aesthetic, eBay constitutes a kind of global surreal. Isn’t this juxtaposition a technique the Surrealists practised to access the unconscious? I’m not sure I’m interested in accessing an audience’s unconscious, and I’m not sure that’s what sellers on eBay are trying to do either but it’s certainly something to chew on!

Most things in my assemblages have got a bit of the melancholy about them but somehow when they’re all put together they seem more joyful. A bit image for image’s sake. When these images and objects are wrested from their original (often domestic) context, they have a new life, they are redeemed and somehow joyful. It’s strange, my process was so much based in time spent with Walter Benjamin, all this collecting of stuff that’s just obsolete, just past, that I didn’t see that we’re actually in the 21st century. Perhaps this Marxist reading of the world of objects is obsolete in a world where, according to Kazys Varnelis, the dominant ideology is that of the network and not the commodity. (Varnelis, 2010). Perhaps the mass-circulation of the digital image has irrevocably changed our relationship to the image? Svetlana Boym writes that “The internet is organized in a radically spatial manner; it is datacentric and hypertextual, based on simultaneity, not on continuity. Issues of time, narrative and making meaning are much less relevant in the Internet model.” I think she’s on to something. When I do a Google image search I might get a picture of a cat in a teapot next to an old photo of a Victorian lady taking tea, next to a graph of tea imports and exports. I love those surreal juxtapositions. But it’s like Boym says, in her model everything is always present. It’s as if images have been entirely de-anchored from their temporal and spatial context. Perhaps the image in our time has become atemporal? Just look at the recent trend for faux vintage photos taken on your mobile and circulated on Facebook. Check out this essay by Nathan Jurgenson about the Hipstamatic image where I nicked this idea from. It’s a bit like what I do in my work. It’s all a bit faux, a bit surreal and a bit decontextualised.


About sophiebbarr

I am an artist and a teacher in higher education. For me art is a re-organisation of stuff that's already in the world.
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4 Responses to Stuff, eBay, Photography

  1. thanks for the link – was poking around your blog and came across this:
    did you find anything good? as you can imagine, i think we are similar boats here!

    • sophiebbarr says:

      Wow – nice to hear from you! I thought your essay was really convincing. I’ve been trying to write a practice based PhD proposal for the past four days precisely because I want to learn more about this area. It’s painful so I posted this flippant version of my propsoal to help me get it straight. I’ve got a long way to go but I will post any original nuggets if I come across them!

    • sophiebbarr says:

      Looking forward to Varnelis’s new book A Critical History of Network Culture – perhaps he will help!

  2. *in* similar boats, i mean

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