Rare earth metals are the backbone of your tablets and laptops along with cars and fighter jets. These metals, which line one of the bottom levels of the Periodic Table, were discovered in the United States and most notably applied to technology developments by Americans.
According to last night’s 60 minutes, the first rare earth mine was shut down because it was polluting the Mohave Desert and a major rare earth company in Indiana sold itself -and its patents- to China before many of us could imagine their current ubiquity in our lives.
Although, Lesley Stahl conveyed these facts in the segment, I sensed a propagandist tone against the Chinese in her phrasing.
For example, Ms. Stahl asks, “So how did they pull it off? What were the factors that allowed them (China) to basically take this away from us (United States)?”. Later in the segment she reemphasized, “The U.S. developed this technology, but China bought most of it right out from under us. For instance, in 1995, China bought the biggest American rare earth magnet company, “Magnequench” which was based in Indiana.”
I am not arguing against guest Dan McGroarty’s confirmation that Chinese control of the industry creates dependency on China or that they are mining the metals without attending to environmental concerns.
Instead, my issue with the segment is that, to me, the tone perpetuates the media’s underlying narrative of the ‘evil Chinese’ rather than simply presenting the facts. “Take away from us..” and “…bought most of it right from under us” makes it sound like theft. Or like we are sore losers.
Contrarily, I think Ms. Stahl more accurately defines the circumstances in this transition, “The mine lay dormant (after the Mohave pollution) for a decade, giving China an opportunity.”.
As we try to revive the rare metals industry in the United States, it’s convenient to be outraged as we grip onto our cell phones and laptops. As I type this on my tablet now, I get the longing- but not the outrage.
Do commercial objects act as props in our life stories or are we Becoming them? Margeaux Walter continues an exploration of our relationship with the commercial world via an interactive public art project in Queens and her solo exhibit at Chelsea’s Winston Watcher Gallery.
First conceived of as World War II propaganda, the “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters encapsulated the British crown and the stolid personality of his subjects.
Seventy-five years later the slogan has been appropriated with fill-in-the-blank varieties ad nauseam for advertising campaigns, T-shirts, mugs and a myriad of memes on social media. Each version purports everything from self-empowerment to a celebration of the utterly mundane.
So what did Ms. Walter do?
By way of 14×48.org, she bombarded a Sunnyside, Queens billboard with an image that crams layers of ‘Keep Calm’ slogans. Its composition reflects the slogan’s wear and tear; the photograph is literally littered with ‘Keep Calm’ bills pasted over more tattered bills and a pasted photograph of a figure that lies in relief under them as if suffering death by the chaos of calm.
Some of the posters Ms. Walters designed for her photograph include these fill-in-the-blank messages: “…Test On,” “…Blog On” and my favorite, “Follow the White Rabbit”.
It is particularly apropos that 14×48.org repurposed the vacant ad space into her canvas as Ms. Walter is interested in sparking conversations about how advertising language infiltrates our interpersonal communications. With this constant barrage from the advertising world, we are constantly perceiving ad information on a subconscious level and, as is the aim of advertising, the messages pervades our lives at every level.
To further engage the community in the dialogue, people are invited to tweet their own ‘Keep Calm” slogans to #keepcalm14x48; the adapted slogans are printed on postcards that are to be available across the street at Ave Coffee House for the duration of the display.
Ultimately, the artist hopes people will not only be able to “see how their own words fit into that template of advertising language,” but at the same time “kind of subvert it in a way to create their own messages”. In other words, it’s an opportunity to shape the words into a campaign representing the individual rather than the consumer.
On a side note, Ms. Walter identified “Keep Calm & Get Jiggy” as her favorite contribution because it made her smile as it is the most unusual one to emerge from the worn out template.
“Keep Calm” is among the images in Margeaux Walter’s solo exhibit which opened in January. Each of the 6 photos and 9 lenticulars perpetuate the dialogue on how we as individuals are “consumed” by objects and our environment much in the same vein as her MFA thesis show.
Variants of another iconic campaign, “I❤️New York,” mummifies a new victim in T-shirts. Some of the shirts offer more simplistic messages like “I❤️MOM” or clever graphics – “I❤️Sushi” (with chopsticks sticking out of the heart), while others imbibe an ad within an ad such as “I (Adidas logo) ADIDAS”.
The lenticulars alternate between a stereotypical scene to a “psychological rendering of what is actually happening” or the characters being consumed/overwhelmed by the objects in the scene. For instance, one image portrays a family birthday celebration that morphs into a candy coated nightmare – and, incidentally, the dedicated artist’s apartment.
Additionally, the individual versus consumer commentary is quite poignantly presented in “Sunday Best,” which Ms. Walter shared was inspired by watching someone preoccupied with Snapchatting. With this in mind, the lenticular oscillates between a young woman who is posing for a selfie in her closet mirror and the woman knocked over by an avalanche of her own clothing.
Continuing her Becoming theme, Ms. Walter’s still photographs capture figures disguised in a natural setting such as a birch tree forest. At first look, it seems as if the image celebrates a union with nature but, upon reflection, it appears to be more of a reflection of our more stilted relationship with our environment. Ms. Walter’s clarified her conception, “The camouflaging is (us) trying to fit into an environment we no longer fit into,” and her use of faux nature props -like craft store birch tree peelings- in these images speaks to our level of disconnect with the Earth.
As always, MargeauxWalter orchestrates complex scenes in which she deftly plays most of the roles through costumes, her extensive wig collection and a range of expressions. With each series she appears to be fine-tuning the conceptual foundations in her exploration of the personal, the social and the cultural. So, if you want my advice, Keep Calm and Follow the Artist: