Culture Rover

#78 - Appliance Reliance

Culture Rover's favorite Chicago gallery exhibition of this past summer: Satre Stuelke's show of "fictional household appliances" at the Aron Packer Gallery.

Stuelke's SATResearch Appliances explore the forms and uses (or uselessnesses) of the consumer products we buy: televisions, toasters, coffee makers, personal computers, ipods.

We pretend these objects are necessary purchases. They are useful, practical, functional, utilitarian. But beneath that ruse, we most often want them because, either consciously or subconsciously, we hope they will transform our lives. They will remake our very selves.

What is so great about Stuelke's fictional household appliances, which look as if they walked off the cartoon set of The Jetsons, is that they are totally useless for any functional purpose, but they remain immensely pleasurable, even transformative.

For instance, the KarizMatic is supposed to improve your charisma if you sit in front of it for five minutes every day. The oval, robot-like appliance is wired with a theremin inside. It whirs to life through radio waves to measure your charisma levels ("actual charisma levels vary by individual user," the small print notes).

"Fictional consumer appliances" such as the KarizMatic are weirdly goofy and sleek at the same time. They are smooth and awkward, flowing and bulky, ultramodern and retro-cool all at once.

They are, for all practical purposes, impractical. They are functionally useless: unnecessary pieces of garbage. But wandering among them in a gallery (or, one could imagine, in a home), these fake appliances start to seem wondrously functional.

Why? Because they bring out the dysfunction at the heart of our utilitarian world, the irrationality humming in the television, the ghostly flickers of bonfires haunting the halogens, the specters of religious vision spinning on the reflective silver rims of the state-of-the-art mixing bowl.

What art objects such as Stuelke's appliances reveal is the way that consumer goods channel needs, desires, and pleasures into purchases. Stuelke's sculptures unleash the epic uselessness of consumer objects. Their use value is no use, but their magical attraction pulsates nonetheless.

Stuelke's "fictional household appliances" reveal the Promethean myth of fire harnessed in the toaster -- set to explode, burning our bread.

24 October 2005

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