As the economic downturn continues we encounter dramatic changes in the landscape of our high streets, with both the small independent stores and the larger national chains – those at the very core of our consumer society – closing down under the ever increasing financial pressure. In their place we find pawnshops springing up across […]

As the economic downturn continues we encounter dramatic changes in the landscape of our high streets, with both the small independent stores and the larger national chains – those at the very core of our consumer society – closing down under the ever increasing financial pressure. In their place we find pawnshops springing up across the nation, an institution that reflects upon a period of struggle not seen since the great recessions of the early 20th century. Alongside these pawnshops we find pound shops and bargain basement stores, forming our new consumer mecca, each selling a vast and disparate range of products, only connected through their shared price, with everything costing one pound or less.

Theo Simpson’s documentation of hundreds of these disparate objects forms his latest body of work, What We Buy. As we look at the list of products presented as a series of vivid silkscreen prints – a process that adds to the illusion of the experience, enhancing the objects with both surreal and hyper-real qualities – it reads like a prize list from a low-budget, recession-era TV quiz show: Electronic Insect Terminator, Handbag Hook, Stay Fresh Cheese Bags, 4 Tablecloth Weights, 3 Pack Padlocks, Sex Maniac Dice, Purple Table Decoration and Gnome On Swing Ornament.

As we look at each object presented on a neutral grey background, it is easy to see the function and practical application of many of these purchases. After all, who could not find a use for 4 Gang Socket, a Hand Saw or a Pack of 30 Ball Point pens. Others, possibly the vast majority, such as the Pink Furry Dice, Bee Windmill and Artificial Carrot, leave the viewer a little bemused.

But What We Buy is not just about the function or form of these objects, as interesting as this may be. Instead Simpson presents a timely social commentary, through the use of a visual metaphor, for the ultimate collapse of the consumer culture in which we live, a society in which we accumulate possessions beyond our basic needs. As we look at these objects, we are asked questions of our own consumer habits, through which we may reflect upon how we live our lives, question what is truly important to us as both individuals and as a society in general, and reassess how we might live our lives in a post-consumer world for the benefit of all.

theosimpson.com

Wayne Ford.