Trash & Junk Culture

An All-Consuming Consumption

Trash & Junk Culture (installation documentation) 4 minutes, stereo mix - © 1989

Background

Trash & Junk Culture was first installed as a one-off ‘Media Night’ at Performance Space in Sydney 1988. It was then installed for a 3 week exhibition at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne in 1989. The installations were identical, involving 6 small multi-media installations involving slide projections, transparency blow-ups, light-boxes, overhead projections, multiple-monitor set-ups and graphics. A soundscape was also incorporated into the installation design.

The purpose of the Trash & Junk Culture project was to create an overview of the streams, channels, flows and charters of cultural production and generated artifacts which are consequently circumscribed as being either ‘trash’ or 'junk'. Rather than attempting to defend or promote the high-versus-low sidings which make cultural debates imperative, conditional, moral or ideological, the presentations for the Trash & Junk Culture project are focused on how to:

• expose the viewer to a range of artifacts normally outside his/her experience
• highlight the estranged and alienated position from which so-called Cultural analysis' usually proceeds
• provide historical and mythological groundings for the formation of said streams, channels, flows and charters
• propose a model for how we could redefine and reclassify outmoded notions of 'consumerism', ‘consumption' and ‘the consumer'

Credits

Concept, direction, texts, sound & lectures - Philip Brophy
Body-chart painting, toy collection & slides - Maria Kozic
Video compilation editing & slides - Ian Haig
Graphic design, sign-writing & transparencies - Andrew Haig

1990

Repeat of the lectures only - Melbourne Cinematheque, Melbourne

1989

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne

1988

Performance Space, Sydney

Overview

Thematics & Metaphors

While the terms ‘Trash & Junk' might instantly (yet confusingly) call to mind many things, their status as slang (ie. outside of 'official' language) demonstrates the way in which dominant idioms attempt to locate and segregate such aspects of >low' culture. The terms ultimately are metaphors of bodily excrete : 'trash' referring to an industrial society as a machine or body that intakes materials and commodities and converts their energy and substance to waste for the junkyard ; 'junk' referring more complexly to the most popular anti-body drug - heroin - whose usage is viewed as a deliberate and perverse reversal or looping of the body's consumption chain, ie. feeding in shit. The connotations of these two negative terms are thus deliberately extended to provide the overriding thematics for the Trash & Junk Culture project:

• TRASH - refuse, garbage, waste: all the material that is leftover, disposed, spent, discarded; the end-process of consumption, digestion, regurgitation.

• JUNK – disease, corruption, addiction: all the material that is injected, invited, avowed, supported; the start-process of consumption, digestion, regurgitation.

Lectures

After first having allowed the audience to see and digest the 6 installations, two slide-lectures were presented by Philip Brophy. Each lecture lasts around 1 hour and each are intended to trace certain cultural and historical formations in the representation and fusion of sex and violence.

SEDUCTION & REPULSION

From literature to illiterature

Through slides and an overhead-projected historical chart, this lecture presentation traces some historical origins of the formal and social breakdown of what was by the mid-19th century an established, classical-derived concept of literature. The sanctity and preciousness of 19th century novel's classical ideals and literary models were continually being bruised by : gothic novels, penny bloods, shilling shockers, blue books, comics of all genres, pulp fiction, dime novels, crime stories, fantastic magazines, horror stories, speculative fiction, etc.

These various forms were all based on privileging the image over the word; sensation over exposition; action over dramaturgy; and violence over motivation. In effect, the individual histories of these various forms provide us with antithetical models of literature which could be termed “illiterature”. This lecture thus centres on the period 1850 through to 1950 to demonstrate that the operations of exploitation and the mass-media are nothing new to our so-called 'modern mediarized society', and further highlight the quintessentially 19th century tone of high-versus-low cultural debates.

IDENTIFICATION & TITILATION

From photography to pornography

Through slides and an overhead-projected historical chart, this lecture presentation posits inherent links between the photographic mode and pornographic codes by evidencing the changing ideals of the human body which have resulted in types and categories of pornography which most people would find near impossible to relate to. The historical tracing covers : erotic postcards and scandal news-sheets at the turn of the century; fine art photo folios; burlesque and stripper digests; wartime dream girl pin- ups; saucy'n’naughty girlie zines; liberated press publications; erotic journals and compendiums; hardcore magazines; specialist pornography and fetishizations; etc.

The aim is to show how the identification, commodification and idealization of the human body as either a sex object (presented as unattainable) or sex machine (presented as engaged) have all been continually changing depending on the cultural condition and social climate.

Catalogues

Catalogue - Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne © 1989


The original catalogues from the installations at The Performance Space and at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art contain some introductory texts, plus a listing of the project's contents (the installations) and proceedings (the lectures). It also sets and captures the tone of the project - outlining how the whole set-up is derived from educational displays and presentations (by museums, hospitals, police, schools, etc.) which intend to 'educate' the viewer. That whole patronizing and presumptuous tack is picked up here and applied to aspects of culture which are conventionally viewed as being destructive to educational ideals (hence the play upon healthy minds, healthy bodies, and a healthy society).

In a less ironic mode, the project's prime concern is to expose people to a range of materials and objects (rather than 'issues') so that some more informed discussion could continue elsewhere on issues (exploitation, ideological control, mass media, censorship, advertising, pleasure & leisure, sexual identification, commodification, consumerism, etc.) which are too often treated in dismissive or superficial terms.

Press release

The original press release replicated the foaming excessive delivery that usually accompanies hysterical attempts to warn off the mass populace of some dreadful destructive media force.

“You’ve heard all about them ... all those things like "video nasties", “victim toys”, “weirdo porno" and “exploitation movies”. Perhaps you've even talked about these things to other people - but how much of it all have you encountered?
In fact, have you SEEN any of it?
If all you've seen is a small selection presented for shock value in some ‘concerned' article or television news item, you've seen NOTHING.
But now here's your chance to check it out in detail - and in an art gallery no less!
TRASH & JUNK CULTURE is an exhibition of all these 'unsavoury' items. The emphasis of the exhibition is to literally expose people to these many items of mass culture which have been caught up in various legal battles, hearings and censorship debates over the past 5 years.
Directed by Philip Brophy and presented in collaboration with Maria Kozic, Ian Haig & Andrew Haig, Trash & Junk Culture is an over-the-top yet thought-provoking exhibition of the more ‘messy’ aspects of everyday life.
The aim of Trash & Junk Culture is simple : to let people see these things for themselves so that perhaps some informed discussion can take place as to whether they're detrimental or not to kids, adults, psychos, whatever. In the miasma of media disinformation inflamed by volatile issues, Trash & Junk Culture is a MUST for anyone interested in mass culture!
Not to be missed! Not to be avoided!”

Technical

Installations

TRASH & JUNK CULTURE is comprised of 6 small mini-installations or ‘information sites’. Each info site highlights a particular cultural form and partially contributes to the end aim - to demonstrate that the social/cultural fabric is made up of many different modes of consumption (from the ironic to the sincere) and many different 'types' of consumers (from the obsessive to the disengaged). The installations are as follows :

1. TOYS

140 slide images of 'Victim' toys (‘technically' banned since March 1988) from the exhaustive toy collection of Maria Kozic.

Toys - various slide images © 1988

2. MOVIES

Approximately 240 key gore scenes from 'video nasties' (horror, terror, thriller, crime, fantasy, gore, etc.) edited across 4 monitors, each playing different scenes at the same time. Editing and compilation by Ian Haig.

3. PORN MAGS

A selection of images from 'specialist' pornographic magazines which are totally removed from normal expectations as to what constitutes a ‘pornographic image'. The images are reproduced as transparent cibachromes fixed to a vertically-hung light box.

Porn Mags - lightbox images 1 & 4 © 1988

4. TERMS

A single large painting (top and bottom lit by two black-light fluorescent tubes) on which is sign-written the following four words :
P O L Y A S E X U A L
H Y P E P S E N S E F U L
M E G A M O R P H I C
A G G R A C U L T U R E D
(These neologisms suggest certain things in a very oblique way, but their ‘meaning' is defined in the evening's lectures and in the accompanying catalogue.)

5. SCHEMES

A large anatomical wall-chart of the human body over which is projected 4 separate transparencies (via an overhead projector) that use the human body as a symbol for how cultural production works in the fields of (i) art; (ii) music; (iii) cinema; and (iv) literature. (The diagrammatic analogies are based on what makes a healthy body and what are the germs and diseases which affect the body, and then extending that to what is desired of a 'healthy’ cultural form and what are the forces and symptoms which signal the form's decay.) The transparencies are laid out on a horizontally laid light-box, so that the viewer can pick each transparency and project it onto the wall chart.

Scheme - Cinema © 1988

6. ADS

70 slides of the most outrageous examples of cinema advertising and poster art.

Exhibition Design

The arrangement of the 6 installations at both The Performance Space and at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art is based on a symmetrical evenness and overall balanced proportion to how the installations occupy the space. The spatial design of the 6 installations is to be based on the rectangular dimensions made up from the 4 monitors (placed in their square configuration): approx. 2m width by 3m height. The slide images and overhead projections are projected to that size, and the painting and large light box have been constructed to that size. The idea is that each installation thus occupies a similarly sized space.

The other interconnecting design principle in the installations is that they each project light and do not require lighting directed onto them (the reverse both of normal exhibitions and cultural analyses - these objects and artifacts are in a sense projected onto the viewer; the viewer is literally being 'exposed' to these objects and images; they are not ‘illuminated’ by the insight of a curator or critic). Each installation would require approximately 10 minutes for total viewer intake (ie. to see the full number of slides or video images in any one installation) making the maximum time needed to view the installations 1 hour.

Jam spread by Philip Brophy, Maria Kozic, Ian & Andrew Haig - Tension No. 16, Melbourne © 1989