LAST DAYS

13 - 29 August 2009

Curated by David Mutch

David Sebastian Brown, Adam John Cullen, Michael Danichewski, Zoey Louise Moonbeam Dawson, David DeCarteret, Jo Duck, Charlotte Ghaie, Therese Harrison, Nils Olle Oskar Holmberg, Kirsty Hulm, Devon Lang Wilton, Bridget Radomski, Hannah Lucy Alice Schiefelbien, Phillippa Wallis + Jacob Weiss

This exhibition is staged as a retail outlet for the discontinued Polaroid line and brings into question the value of analogue technology in an age of disposable consumer culture. 1000 Polaroid images are created and offered for sale.

Slip away

In early 2008 Polaroid announced that production of its instant film would cease by the end of the year. In Last Days, with the knowledge that the Polaroid is an endangered object, we enact the frantic urgency of a ‘closing down’ sale. Here the Polaroid is available for cheap consumption; instant photos for instant consumerist satisfaction and at bargain prices! They are soon-to-be relics of an analogue past mimicking the fast pace of this digital age where images are created, consumed, conflated, and added to the pile of visual detritus. The Polaroids in Last Days partake in the devaluation of the image that has occurred since mechanical reproduction became possible, and certainly since the digital image was conceived.

Seventy years ago Benjamin spoke of the loss of the artwork’s ‘aura’ in the age of mechanical reproduction. The ‘aura’, or sense of reverence one feels when looking at an original work of art is, Benjamin argued, tied inherently to its status as an object of power. By freeing art from the aura of authenticity, and uniqueness, through mechanical reproduction, the artwork can be controlled by the masses. Benjamin anticipated, through his Marxist text, art as property of the proletariat.

Edward Land’s invention of instant photography gave birth to the Polaroid in 1932 and with the release of the Land Camera in 1947 the Polaroid became a medium of the masses and their domestic spaces. The photos of family, friends, social and home-life, which have populated the history of the Polaroid, are remembered in Last Days. Perhaps more than ever, and perhaps thanks in part to the Polaroid, images in the form of party pictures and the-morning-after Facebook photo, instantly up-loaded and tagged, now anchor our social lives.

Of course the mechanical reproduction of the image has served capitalism as equally as it has the masses. The exhibition rehearses the linguistic and visual rhetoric of late capitalism and its marketing manoeuvres. The visual cacophony of the street invades the gallery space and upsets the conventions of the art market, replacing the expensive one-off with a cheap mass, bought like lollies for fast satisfaction.

Certainly critique of the art market’s veracious consumerism has often entered the gallery. Importantly however this exhibition draws into focus the contemporary consumption of the image, rather than simply scrutinising the commercialisation of the art object.

Polaroids however resist the contemporary visual currency. While undoubtedly mechanical, Polaroids are of course is not reproducible; a photographic anomaly in the mechanical age, and recalling the singularity of the frail daguerreotype and cyanotype of the early photographic era, the Polaroid retains the ‘aura’ of singularity. The instantaneousness and ease of digital photography has long since overshadowed the technological advances made by the Polaroid. It is the un-replicable framing of a moment, the setting of this image apart, in the otherwise routine sphere of the everyday that invests the Polaroid with wonder for us today.

The photographs in Last Days attest to the inherent intimacy of the Polaroid as a medium. This is not a camera for the grand or expansive subject. The Polaroid, at work in the everyday minutiae of existence, produces a print that sits in the hand, requires a close look and carries a distinctive and fragile materiality. The intimacy of subject is played out in the intimacy of viewing. The works in Last Days are invariably fragmentary rather than explanatory. They are images anchored in the everyday. However the artists have gleaned, from the mundane, aesthetic mementoes; some by archiving or recording the patterns of the everyday, some by casually observing happy accidents or incidental glitches, some by musing on the uncanny at the seams of the ordinary.

These works do what the Polaroid does best – they are works that speak of their medium. The Polaroid, as a photographic method, is not imbedded in a high art tradition, neither is it a mechanism of mass production; it, like the subjects it depicts here, articulates an in-between. Most compelling however is that Last Days inserts the aura of the Polaroid into the image-saturated sphere of consumerism and in doing so unsentimentally, with irony and wit, memorialises that which will die with the Polaroid instant film as it falls though the cracks of technological progression.