Culture Industry is the group exhibition curated by Interface Gallery director Suzanne L’Heureux for the department’s experimental gallery, Slide Space 123, where the artists, Sara Cwynar (Canada), Débora Delmar (Mexico), Shana Moulton (USA), and Tabita Rezaire (France), all explore how various means of cultural production are employed to shape our desires and produce us as subjects.
The title Culture Industry comes from a chapter in Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s book Dialectics of Enlightenment, which critiques the mass production of culture under capitalism. The authors examine how popular culture is designed to overpower consumers by producing a false psychological need for the products the culture industry provides. In various ways, the artists in this exhibition all contend with this “cycle of manipulation and retroactive need” as well as the racialized, classed and gendered nature of its influence.
Sara Cwynar and Shana Moulton do so with varying degrees of irony. Cwynar’s composite photographs, which draw upon advertisements, postcards and catalogs, explore the way popular images work on our psyches, infiltrating our consciousness and exerting the influence of systems of control. Her Little Video (2015), shown in this exhibition, investigates these themes, as well as the artist’s personal relationship to image making and her own archive.
Moulton’s videos, performances and sculptural installations examine the culture industry’s conflation of New Age spirituality and products for health, wellness and beauty. A recurring character in her videos, Cynthia, has thoroughly bought into the idea that various self-healing tools and rituals, prescription drugs, foods and beauty products will bring about enlightened bliss. In Every Angle Is an Angel (2016), a video presented as part of Moulton’s installation for this exhibition, one bite of a bowl of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes sends Cynthia into a nearly orgasmic state of spiritual ecstasy.
Like Moulton, Débora Delmar often focuses on the health and beauty industry and “lifestyle” marketing. Her work employs the aesthetics of globalized corporate culture and advertising to mirror its psychological influence, particularly its messages of social advancement. Here, Delmar presents photographs (taken with a product fashion photographer) featuring the beautiful, youthful hands of a professional hand model, imitating poses from luxury brand advertisements. The distilled hand gestures evoke a powerful sign system designed to lure in consumers.
The white hands in Delmar’s photographs can also be seen as signifying the hegemony of white culture, a theme at the center of Tabita Rezaire’s work. Rezaire uses video, performance, and Internet art to critique and seek healing from the effects of white, Western, patriarchal, cis-hetero techno-capitalism. Her video in this exhibition, Deep Down Tidal (2017), presents the Internet as a form of “electronic colonialism” and finds a metaphor in the way that underwater Internet cables reaching out from the West follow the same routes as ships during the slave trade.
As Adorno and Horkheimer state, “The basis on which technology acquires power over society is the power of those whose economic hold over society is greatest.” Dialectics of Enlightenment was written in 1944, long before the Internet, globalization and the emergence of social media, which have only served to extended the reach and the grip of the culture industry. Collectively, the works in this exhibition present a picture of the mechanisms through which it continues to assert its influence.
Sara Cwynar, Débora Delmar, Shana Moulton and Tabita Rezaire
Dates: October 21 – November 29
Venue: Slide Space 123, Mills College, Oakland, CA
Curated by: Interface Gallery Director, Suzanne L’Heureux