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This Surreal Installation Is Like Stepping Into A Capitalist Nightmare

Artist Alex Da Corte’s Slow Graffiti explores the pursuit of perfection through materialism.

We usually remember a dream in bits and pieces: an image here, a feeling there, a sense of disorientation. There’s assured randomness. Now imagine that dream is about capitalism in all its maddening dysfunction, and you have Slow Graffiti, conceptual artist Alex Da Corte‘s new installation at the Vienna gallery Secession.

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Alex Da Corte, Slow Graffiti, installation view, Secession 2017. Courtesy of Maccarone, New York, Gió Marconi, Milan and David Risley Gallery, Copenhagen. [Photo: Sophie Thun]
Da Corte, who is based in Philadelphia, is known for immersive installations that address consumerism, pop culture, and class. A landscape of sculpture made from mundane objects, Slow Graffiti provokes viewers to contemplate what these items symbolize as they meander through the 6,500-square-foot gallery.

Awash in saccharine hues and bathed in neon light, the 6,500-square-foot gallery is filled with a jumble of puzzling readymades: a bag of pink packing peanuts, upturned umbrellas, chairs with no seats, artificial flowers, yards of rubber rope. The gallery describes Slow Graffiti as “a kind of fractured cityscape full of dysfunctional objects.” The colors and the objects are unrefined–a commentary on high versus low culture.

Growing up between middle-class suburban New Jersey and Caracas, Venezuela, a city sharply divided by rich and poor, Da Corte became acutely aware of how social class is experienced and displayed through consumption.

There’s a notion that the less something costs, the less enjoyment it can offer and the more expensive something is, the better. In our culture, we’re told to become the best we can be by buying the “best”–meaning the most expensive–we can afford, regardless of how it actually makes us feel. In a blog post on the fashion site Ssense, Da Corte explained his fascination and love of cheap, mass-produced products and what buying them signals:

[A]round us we would see that there was really high and really low, and there was often this conversation of, ‘why isn’t there a middle?’ Why does it have to be high and low? Why is there an X that says this is good taste, or this is high taste, or this quality of scarf is going to be the best? Or if your taste is so high, can you not eat a peanut butter sandwich? And what’s bad about a peanut butter sandwich, if the peanut butter sandwich was made with love? How do you grade all these other things that might give you a quality of life that might be the best? What is the best? I was privy to a lot of these kinds of conversations between my parents, and I grew up proud, proud of my sandwiches and my thrift store clothes. And I loved this cheap plastic stuff. Not because it was the best, but because it made me happy. I think I’ve learned to love the big box stores I grew up in, and not in an ironic way, but in a real, earnest way.”

Alex Da Corte, Slow Graffiti, installation view, Secession 2017. Courtesy of Maccarone, New York, Gió Marconi, Milan and David Risley Gallery, Copenhagen. [Photo: Sophie Thun]
In the back of the gallery, Da Corte projects a new video that riffs on the 1967 experimental Danish film A Perfect Human, which depicts an idealized man and woman dressing, walking, and dancing in a blank white room. In Da Corte’s film, the people are replaced with someone dressed in a Frankenstein costume. Da Corte was drawn to Mary Shelley’s story of how a scientist in pursuit of creating the perfect being actually created a monster that destroyed his life.

“This idea of perfect is one that should be abolished because, frankly, there it is, intangible like rainbows,” he told Wallpaper. “The expectations of this perfection is the root of disappointment. We could do better and get free.”

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The lesson hidden in Slow Graffiti‘s surreal dreamscape? Perfection is capitalism’s ultimate marketing gimmick.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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