What we have covered within the Pop Culture course in my MFA was mostly based on a Marxist material perspective and results in an analysis of a culture through the objects it produces and otherwise consumes. Furthermore, we, much like Barthes, critiqued the structure of that society, by the divisions within consumption, and the frustration of those divisions by a cross-class consumption especially when the intended result is to align an individual with another part of the social strata. This can include Barack Obama drinking Bud Light, hipsters drinking Pabst, or Glaswegians drinking Buckfast.1
The creative work submitted for exploring this material and social perspective is a white cube and operates from adapted mechanics of the white elephant gift exchange.2 The requested instructions are as follows: 1) Remove the lid. 2) Photograph the object inside. 3) Share the photo on any social media with #taste. 4) Take the object. 5) Place any object of yours. 6) Replace the lid.
One of the questions that immediately comes to mind is, “where should this work be placed?” And it is a good question. In order to frustrate culture hierarchies the work needs to be placed outside art institutional structures, such as galleries or museums, so it is without the perception of either ‘high’ or ‘low’ culture, or matters of taste.3 Unfortunately, with only a few participants, or users of the machine, in two locations within Glasgow City Center (Sauchiehall Street, and outside GoMA) I ended up moving it within the J D Kelly Building on the Glasgow School of Art campus and placing a call for participation on Facebook. The call to action was placed on a private group available to all current MFA students with the added instruction ‘some things you can think about, the capitalistic economy, the gift or sharing economy, cultural appropriation, the assimilation of subcultures.’4
The intent in creating this platform was for individuals to create their own art and have the ability to raise any object to a ‘high culture status’ through it passing through the white cube and simultaneously lowering the status of a previous object through social media dissemination, yet they hold onto the physical original lower status object as a sculpture. Therefore the co-creator retains both ‘high’ and ‘low culture’ within one object whether they are conscious of the consequence or not.
Instead of content creators one can more aptly talk about content curators. My unintended consequence through encouraging the documentation of this material exchange by sharing of photos on social media the documenter is allowed to show their ‘taste’ of social media.5 And is also subject to an implied social scrutiny through the object they leave behind.6
As participants shared their photos on social media they made a series of choices. They could share on snapchat and share their taste in participating in an art project in a short-lived share to intimate friends mostly of similar age, sex, education and income. Facebook acts more like a walled garden with that result only likely seen by those identified as friends even if it was selected as a public share giving a wider range of the previously mentioned metrics. Instagram and Twitter would fair better with the idea of sharing an image with the world and would be more permanently archived presumably the widest range of metrics. There is also a blending of social media that can be inferred and one image may have been seen on multiple platforms.7
Individuals also shared their ideas of what they could do. Sharing their ideas not only showed their imagination and what they would of like to be perceived to do with such an opportunity, but also what they find valuable in the exchange. During the exchanges several ideas can be inferred.8
People expressed anxiety over opening the lid with the idea they will have to complete the exchange with the result of getting an item of less commercial value than what they were going to provide. And in a similar group, those going for a capitalistic exchange, were individuals who were very pleased that they got something of greater or equal value to the item they provided. Another type of user might be either an optimist, or have buyers regret and justify the experience by finding value in a bit of string, an empty container, or a hairpin.
A different type of user saw more value in a gift, or share economy. They were excited to provide what they either happened to have on them or had specifically brought to share. One co-creator even went on a thought experiment placing tickets to an upcoming event and spoke of ‘paying it forward.’9 This group was ultimately more pleased with what they placed within the box and the surprise, or entertainment, the next person would receive than concerned with the social media sharing, or object they obtained. There is much in common with how this person perceived the exchange and the values within the white elephant gifting game.
There is a similarity with individuals who participated in a capitalistic economy, and those who envisioned a share economy to how individuals approach competitive or cooperative games respectively because the white elephant gift exchange is essentially a game.10 Removing authorship and thinning out authenticity, more accurately creating an inauthentic desire, for others to empower themselves created a vacuum and allowed in game theory and politics.11 One can say these things; or more accurately say that these things are true within those that interacted with the work. What is left out though is individuals without access. Individuals who do not feel they have enough education to interact with this project, or not having smartphones, or phones with cameras, or even internet access. They are not without the ability to participate in the simple material exchange, but due to reasons of class/economic, ethnic, and geographic prejudice have an ingrained perception that participation does not belong to them.
1“Beer summit between President Obama, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cambridge, Mass., police Sgt. Joseph Crowley… (For Obama: Bud Light, owned by Belgian beverage giant InBev; for Gates, Red Stripe, Jamaica-brewed and owned by premium drink behemoth Diageo; and for Crowley, Blue Moon, owned by MillerCoors.)” Liz Halloran, ‘”Obama Beer Summit Choices Make For A Happy Hour” – Interview with Matt Simpson. NPR website. URL: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=111373030. (31/07/09)
“Ten years ago, a man wearing a plain V-neck tee and drinking a Pabst would never be accused of being a trend-follower. But in 2008, such things have become shameless clichés of a class of individuals that seek to escape their own wealth and privilege by immersing themselves in the aesthetic of the working class.”
Douglas Haddow, ‘”Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization” The Rag Blog website.
URL: http://theragblog.blogspot.co.uk/2008/08/hipster-dead-end-of-western.html (10/08/08)
2White cube is a common expression for a commercial contemporary art gallery. With the origin of that type of gallery attributed to James Abbott McNeill Whistler. The white cube described here is 311 mm3 containing 305 mm3 of space. The white comes from the structural material itself, white acrylic. White acrylic is used in commercial photography to give a sleek, clean, and high tech feel to the object being photographed frequently used for objects like cell phones and sneakers. The white acrylic commercial photography association comes from my own experience as an art director and associate creative director in the fashion industry dealing with Seattle ecommerce.
A History of Art in Three Colours (Episode 3: White: the darkest colour of all). BBC4 (BBC4, 25/07/12)
White Elephant Gift Exchange is a Christmas holiday practice frequently used in place of secret santa gifting in offices and corporate teams. The main goal not being of getting a valuable object but in the entertainment within the exchange.
Kelly Roberson, ‘”White Elephant Christmas Game” Better Homes and Gardens website. URL: http://www.bhg.com/christmas/games/white-elephant-christmas-game/ (07/10/14)
3 The distinction of cultural hierarchy and the legitimization of taste comes from Cultural Capital theory of Pierre Bourdieu. ‘Low’ and ‘high’ refer to amount of educational capital. And he defines ‘taste’ as one of ‘deepest level of the habitus’ and the higher one gets in the social hierarchy ‘the more one’s tastes are shaped by the organization and operation of the educational system.’
Bouraieu, Pierre, ‘DIstInctIon A social Critique of the Judgement of Taste ’, translated. by Richard Nice (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1984), pp. 1-96
4 It should be noted that not all currently enrolled Master of Fine Art students are on Facebook. Until recently 3 were not. One has conceded to join the social media platform, but add no friends. The justification was to alleviate the anxiety of missing out on something. Or in social media terms the FOMO. The objections of the others were not expressed as aligning with or not wanting to align with a demographic, instead a wish to maintain control of their personal information. You could read that wish as a maintenance of authenticity.
5 Though self reported data of social media use show a wide variety of use with 24% of adults using at least two social sites and 8% using four social sites. There is some ties with a particular social platform and education, income level and gender. i.e. 42% of the women who participated in the survey use Pinterest 34% of them make over $75k, have some college, and are between 18-29 years of age, while SnapChat users are 70% female, 71% younger than 25, and earn less than $50k. There is a perception that Facebook is trending older but 18-24 age range is still the largest demographic. ‘Facebook is losing some traction among a younger audience, causing it to skew a bit older. While this trend may be true, Facebook’s youthful base remains strong.’
Michael Patterson, ‘”Social Media Demographics to Inform a Better Segmentation Strategy” sproutsocial website. URL: http://sproutsocial.com/insights/new-social-media-demographics/#facebook (04/05/15)
What is left out of this observation of Facebook is the particular social influences of why a youth would join Facebook, i.e. to keep in touch with parents. Or the inflation of the demographic by multiple accounts, one for friends, one for family. (I will admit that Van Grove’s article is anecdotal, and perhaps cherrypicked data, even using data from a CNET editors daughter for part of the under-13 data. Gathering such data is problematic due to age and consent. But it does confirm the perception of social media usage.) Jennifer Van Grove, ‘”Why teens are tiring of Facebook” CNET website. URL: http://www.cnet.com/news/why-teens-are-tiring-of-facebook/ (02/03/13)
6 To delve more into public scrutiny, shame and social media check out “How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life” Jon Ronson, “How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life” The New York Times Magazine website. URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/magazine/how-one-stupidtweet-ruined-justine-saccos-life.html?_r=0 (12/02/15)
7 Here ‘one image may have been seen on multiple platforms’ refers to Instagram’s ability to simultaneously share an image on six or more other platforms. “How do I share from Instagram to other social networks?” Instagram website. URL: https://help.instagram.com/365696916849749 (10/12/15)
9‘ Pay it forward is an expression for describing the beneficiary of a good deed repaying it to others instead of to the original benefactor.’ “Pay it forward” Wikipedia website. URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pay_it_forward (10/12/15)
10 My knowledge of cooperative and competitive game theory comes from years of playing games and working in the game industry. I worked in the Research and Development Department for Sabertooth Games, a division of Games Workshop, as a designer/producer for Fantasy Flight Games, and finally a designer with Microsoft’s Entertainment and Media Division for Xbox. You can get a survey of the idea from the article “Cooperative and Competitive Games” and social evolvement in “The Effects of Cooperative and Competitive Games on Classroom Interaction Frequencies” Kai Guenster, “Cooperative and Competitive Games” Meeple Magazine website. URL: http://www.meoplesmagazine.com/2013/02/12/cooperative-and-competitive-games/ (12/02/13)
Susan Creighton, Andrea Szymkowiak, “The Effects of Cooperative and Competitive Games on Classroom Interaction Frequencies” ScienceDirect website. URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S187704281403328X (22/08/14)
11 The action of creating an inauthentic desire comes from the request ‘4) Take the object.’ since the desire comes from completing gameplay and is without desire for the object. The underlying assertion that the removal of the authentic increasing the input of politics follows Walter Benjamin’s similar assertion in ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.’