Artists make a better stir stick, and more

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The Goldstein Museum in St. Paul has collected our trash and every avenue we take to create it for its latest exhibit, ‘Products of Our Time.’

If a college student were to write down everything he or she consumed – ate, read, smoked, etc. – on an average Friday, it might look something like this: three cups of coffee, two cans of Mountain Dew, eight beers, two bowls of cereal, 10 chicken wings, 30 pages of educational texts, three episodes of Chapelle’s Show, and that doesn’t even cover everything. Sunday morning’s list might read differently: two Ibuprofen, water and an old “Full House,” anyone?

Products of Our Time
WHEN: Through Sept. 30
WHERE: The Goldstein Museum, 341 McNeal Hall, 1985 Buford Ave., St. Paul
TICKETS: Free

Writing down these personal lists, in all of their cringe-worthy excessivenesses, is only one method of inquiry into the phenomenon of product consumption by artists in the Goldstein’s current exhibit, “Products of Our Time.”

It was named in honor of a book with the same title. Its spine fell apart after a couple skims, unintentionally adding to what “products of our time” might mean.
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photo Courtesy Tobias Wong
The prescription to our over-consumption?
But ridiculously rapid obsolescence is only one characteristic of the gadgets we spend our money on.

“Turn your innermost parts into chambers of wealth,” is the spiel posted next to a gold-plated pill, full of golden flakes. Common sense labels the product wasteful and pointless, but with that one poetic line of endorsement, it is suddenly transformed into a metaphorical experience. The consumer’s own intestinal tract becomes an elaborate, organic safe, sparkling with the kind of booty to make a pirate jealous. Buy it?

“There’s a humor involved with that. The gold pills are designed for the person who has everything and might want gold-speckled feces,” comments Daniel Jasper, curator of the exhibit and assistant professor of graphic design.

Many of the displays were collected from Europe, where an artistic movement called “Critical Design” is gaining momentum. Like advertising, both use textual means to give significance to objects, but Critical Design isn’t tied down by the agenda of mass-marketing.

“You’re not going to make a product that has negative connotations, so designers are conditioned to think that everything they do is produced from an affirmative stance.” Jasper explains. Critical Design is free to be just that, and can thus provide a check to our happy-go-lucky stream of commercials.

Turns out there’s a little dystopia buried in even the most harmless of plastic doo-dads, as pointed out by Tobias Wong and an artist by the moniker “Just Another Rich Kid,” both based in New York City. The two re-designed the Bic pen cap and the McDonald’s coffee stirrer in gold and labeled them as elaborate coke-snorting devices. McDonald’s, realizing what Jasper claims is “the potential for good and bad embodied in objects,” has long since canceled their coffee spoons.

But we’re busy, yada yada yada, and it’s easy not to think about our everyday snack habits, garbage habits or methods of zoning out in front of the TV. But, artists like Jean McElvain keep us thinking with projects like a collage made from teabags. By quantifying the repetitiveness of his ingestion of tea, she attempts to “exploit the quotidian nature of consumerism.”

Kind of refreshing, since it’s usually just exploited for money.