Sunday, April 19, 2020

Supermarket Panic

When people ask me why I do supermarket prints, the short answer is that there are so many stories to tell.  My work always starts with narrative, an idea that can be visualized.  When this comes up before a large group (such as in a class, or a gallery talk), I ask if anyone present has worked in a supermarket, and if I get anyone saying yes, ask if they have seen anything weird.  Of course, they have stories of their own.   Oddly, none of my supermarket prints are of things I saw during the time I worked in a supermarket, close to 6 months.  Probably because I was too busy working to see what else was going on, and nothing in my own department lent itself to art.

I do a lot of shopping, though, because like everyone else, I need to eat.  The idea I've been thinking about lately relates to things I've seen recently, and also a conversation from over a decade ago.  The conversation was with John Lustig, one of my fellow grads out in Illinois.  As another artist and educator, he had to deal with the changes in the slide industry.  As I mentioned earlier this month, back in my student years slides were a huge part of the art world.  I saw them in classes I took, used them in classes I taught.  Shot them as an artist, and when I became a teacher, shot them for that and showed them to my students.  Then suddenly they were over.  Film photography disappeared overnight. One day at my community college I was told that if I wanted anything from the photo classroom I should take it.  I rescued two working slide projectors, one went to my current classroom the other went home, where I used it a few weeks ago.  The file cabinets from the slide library were moved into a closet in my classroom and I was invited to help myself before they were gotten rid of.  As students worked on projects, I'd sneak in and go through the disorganized drawers, found a few dozen that are now part of my teaching collection.  The projector I brought home I used to bring back to the school during the semesters I taught Art History I, to show slides I had borrowed from the big slide library at the university, where I was teaching at the same time.  By that point hardly anyone was still using them, and I only borrowed slides that existed in multiple duplicates, but I doubt anyone noticed anyway.  (when I had a summer Art History II class a few years later, couldn't access that big slide library, but it didn't matter, as the department lent me an overhead projector that plugged into the ceiling based projector- projected images right out of the textbook) I used the slide projector in the studio classroom for the classes I taught there, and when I had 3D in that building, I'd borrow it to carry to that classroom, then return it when I was done.

Anyway, around the time slides were eliminated, some wondered about the future of them.  A slide projector is fairly low-tech, a lens, and a strong light bulb, plus the means to rotate the carousel and slide the images in and out.  In recent years, some of my students are mystified by the machine, no idea how such a thing even works.  If the bulb fails, the whole thing is useless until it's replaced, and they can be quite expensive.  At least they were, but I don't even know if they are sold any more, or where.  This led John to speculate (phone conversation of course) that "in the future, artists will be driving around the desert in hot rods, wearing bondage gear, searching for slide projector light bulbs."  Anyone my age would know instantly he was referring to the film, The Road Warrior (technically Mad Max 2, but released in America under the other title as they feared not enough people would know what the Australian import was). The producers shouldn't have been afraid.  Ended up being a huge hit, one of the most influential movies of its era, and made Mel Gibson a star.  The first film had been set as civilization is collapsing, and the main character is a police officer working the highways, unable to save his wife and child from gang violence.  In this sequel, war has brought the collapse of civilization, and gangs have taken over.  Some members may be former police, based on their cars and clothing.  The cars have been souped up with turbochargers and weapons, and on both sides, people often wear elaborate masks, football pads, and sometimes the leather outfits favored by S&M types.  People fight for the chance to eat canned dog food.  The conflict isn't over light bulbs, but the endless search for gasoline to power all these cars.  It became the blueprint for countless post apocalyptic movies.   If you were a sci-fi fan in that era, you knew the film well. And John's age is near mine.

And that brings us to today. Right now a corvid-19 epidemic has mostly shut down our country.  More than a month ago my university shut down all classes, moving to a remote learning system, all on the internet.  Anything that involves meeting in a public place has been gradually banned.  Supermarkets are seen as essential, but they are not what they were. When this all began there was a huge wave of panic buying at supermarkets, like what we sometimes see before an approaching storm, but worse.  All shelves emptied.  Some products have been restocked, but some aren't. A month later, there is still no soap.  Paper products, like toilet paper and paper towels, still non-existent.  Self serve baked goods are gone. And no good reasons are given for these changes.  Yet the news includes stories of farmers dumping collected milk and farm products, no longer needed by restaurants (all closed), but they can't figure out how to package if for stores.  The materials that are used to make toilet paper are in this country, but the manufacturers can't figure out how to make it and get it into stores.  All the empty shelves seem to indicate that there is a demand, potentials for large profits, but the suppliers don't seem interested in selling the products.

Other weird behaviors in stores. Sheets of plexiglass installed all around the cashiers.   Some stores have employees watching the doors, to see who enters and leaves.  Everyone who enters the store is required to wear some kind of mask, even if it is just a homemade thing from cloth.  One way signs directing foot traffic in the aisles.  Haven't seen it myself yet, but the news has had stories of fights breaking out in aisles, completion for certain items.  So many stories.

The idea I have been developing is somewhere between all this.  Likely less extreme than what is actually happening.  There's a lot of overlap between that 30 year old movie and what is going on now.  Nothing drawn yet,  just taking notes, finding source materials, considering options.  Have a piece of wood ready when the time comes.  Assuming I can get into my Studio, I may try to pull a few more decent proofs of the Vesuvio image, and while the ink dries, start doing some sketching.


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