What would Marx make of the internet? The man who envisioned future communists hunting and fishing by day and writing criticism by night would probably appreciate blogs, but think less of groceries on demand. Marx also believed that alienation stems from the worker's lack of control over the distribution and use of his product -- a theory that informs the exhibition "Forms of Melancholy," organized by Chris Coy at Sego Arts Center in Provo, Utah. Coy had about thirty of his artist friends submit designs to Café Press, the online store selling over 150 million user-generated goods. The full catalog of "Forms of Melancholy" can be viewed on a Café Press site. Coy said he wanted to show all of those products at Sego, but the order would have run over the show’s budget. His edited display can be seen in a deadpan YouTube gallery tour. It looks like a souvenir store, full of the sort of useful trinkets that, in advanced capitalist economies, function as vehicles for announcing social affiliations -- the mug with the insignia of the coffee drinker’s alma mater, the T-shirt with a bald eagle proclaiming that the wearer is a proud American. But “Forms of Melancholy” tweaks these conventions. Jeff Baij’s black hoodie reads "I hate U Mom & dad & School & Town" in Gothic script, making the message implied by a surly teen’s wardrobe bluntly explicit. There are several mugs with vacation pictures of strangers, or pictures made strange. With so many everyday things, “Forms of Melancholy” almost looks more like a novelty store rather than a gallery show. When Eilis McDonald puts the "pinwheel of death" -- the spinning Mac icon that signifies a forced pause -- on crude, animated wristwatches, it’s a pure play of signs; when she combines the stilled disc with the moving hands of an actual clock, is the result art or a witty, offbeat design? Coy partially skirts questions like these by not selling anything at Sego. The gallery installation of “Forms of Melancholy” is a vestige of an online shop and the inverse (but equal) of a gutted suburban shopping mall, where the commercial infrastructure and empty shelves crisscross forms of alienation.
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by Nicholas O'Brien on Jun 25th, 2015