OPEN MAGAZINE on ‘GENERATION UNDONE’
21st September 2009, Alex Hopkins
Our culture is so saturated with images of consumerism that we barely blink if we see a 10- year- old sauntering down the street wearing the very latest accessories while playing innocently with his or her iphone
Jonathan Darby’s first solo show at London’s Signal gallery asks us to question this image, probing the ideology behind conspicuous consumption and raising pertinent questions about the role that children play in what can, perhaps, be seen as a mass marketing conspiracy.
Darby’s interests are intricately linked with the contemporary world’s obsessive reliance on acquisition – the ‘spend, spend, spend’ culture that demands we own and brazenly flaunt ‘must have’ gadgetry and designer goods in order to fit into a perceived mould.
Paradoxically, it is the restrictive qualities of this mould that this exhibition seeks to amplify and deconstruct. Darby appears to be saying that while adults should be more informed and capable of making choices as responsible consumers, it is the vulnerability of children that alerts us to the exploitative, sinister undertow of the capitalist enterprise.
The imagery in this show is simple, yet bold. A proliferation of children’s faces stare out at the viewer, their expressions by turns forlorn, melancholy or simply confused. Their youthful, innocent features are daubed, indeed almost obliterated, by the countless logos and branding of high street stores.
Indian portrays the face of an Indian sweat shop worker. His eyes look empty, almost incapable of expressing emotion, while his face is scarred with the catch phrases of the western conglomerates that other more fortunate youngsters in the developed world feast upon. Juxtaposed with the searing look of disillusionment on his face, the words Just do it and Gap Kids assume darkly ironic ramifications as we begin to imagine the inhumane hours such children must endure for barely subsistence wages.
The overridingly bleak suggestion is that this nameless boy’s western counterparts are no less afflicted by a materialism that traps and deforms. Little Prisoners depicts eight black and white faces of the same young girl, her torso and cheeks ridden with everything from cosmetic, soft drink, clothing and chewing gum emblems. The downcast eyes and shadowy features merge into one, reminding us that that the infinitely shallow quest for the latest trend thwarts any promise of individuality or spiritual meaning.
Knotted around this dominant image is a pristine purple ribbon. It may be immaculately tied and presented, yet it symbolises no less of a prison than the dark confines of a sweat shop. The difference, however, is that this British girl has room to exercise a choice as a consumer – a choice, Darby remind us, that has stark consequences.
Generation Undone, Jonathan Darby, Signal Gallery, 96a Curtain Road, London, EC2A 3AA, until 10 October 2009