Artist Statement

Video Installation 2012, Book (205x150x42 mm), self-published, digital black and white print, soft cover, 826 pages, (35 numbered copies), video (1920x1080px), AVCHD, 4:31, 1-3 channels), site specific installation (dimensions variable).

“Consumption, Hong Kong (Volume 1)” is a researchbased project, which traces the relationship between private sphere of individual decision making (e.g. what to buy for dinner) and the public sphere of aggregated socio-economic effects which we get to know from the news (company revenue, stock price, GDP, unemployment, etc.) in the specific circumstances of Hong Kong. The work is part of an ongoing series of works, united by method and book form, but diverging in presentation formats ranging from digital data visualization (as in this case) to architecture photographs (Bares, Consumption, Taiwan 2014, goo.gl/Xrlkos) or handwriting (Bares, Consumption, Korea 2015, goo.gl/Gx3ysI). The understanding of attention-directing and knowledge producing cognitive faculties as a form of intangible capital has strongly shaped our lived experience of the last decades (Davenport & Beck, 2001). The trends went hand in hand with info-technological development (Zwick & Denegri Knott, 2009), leading to a decoupling of consumption from the materiality and use-value of the products consumed (Baudrillard, 1996). Yet despite these developments, semioticised and financialized consumption is driven by our material bodies, needs and desires (Deleuze & Guattari, 1983) that are all manifested through idiosyncratic coping tactics of everyday practice (De Certeau, 1984). The work takes everyday consumption as the starting point by and through which to conduct research. Consumption is used as a hinge that allows for hyper-reflexivity, while staying true to an art practice-based approach where experience is transformed into expression, taking yet a step closer towards life and engagement with the everyday, while at the same time keeping a critical position that sets art apart from live itself (Ranciere, 2006). By linking the facts that everyone is a consumer and that consumption is creation, the approach exemplifies the enduring significance of everyone’s potential to act as an autonomous creative individual, while questioning the mechanisms of the market economy. Economists like to use term ‘dollar voting’ to explain an analogy between consumer decisions and political decisions: In the same way citizens select between a number of political candidates, consumers use their dollars to select products and companies which will be the ‘losers’ and ‘winners’ of the market race (von Mises, 1951). Theoretically, this example is used to highlight the ultimate power of consumers over producers. ‘Consumption: Hong Kong (Vol.1)’ traces the author’s consumer decisions during 12 months of his stay in Hong Kong (Sept. 2013 – August 2014) and relates them to news items. It thus documents a personal narrative of a visitor, which can however be related to a more general experience of living in Hong Kong: For example the market concentration means that most people buy groceries in one of the two major supermarket chains as the author does. Also the average monthly expenditure level documented in the work is similar to that of the majority of Hong Kong households (Census and Statistics Department, 2014, www.censtatd.gov.hk/hkstat/sub/sc60.jsp). The project uses a ‘decision recycling’ process, where previous independent consumer decisions (decisions made during a period preceding the project itself) are used to determine the selection of the news item of each day within the monitored period. Within the data set, each purchase (‘consumer decision’) is associated with a retail company where the purchase was made. These companies are grouped according to company holdings. News items published on the same day when the purchase was made are selected by searching for keywords like company name, holding company name, company owner name or, when no news item can be found, more generic terms like “Hong Kong economy”.
The book presents the data set in a linear narrative form. It documents the consumer decisions and associated news items day by day, including the full text of the news item. The book is a thick paperback printed in black and white, 826 pages long. It contains a preface (explaining the context) and introduction (explaining the method), followed by the body of the book, which lists the author’s daily consumption in Hong Kong and one daily news item. The book is a physical manifestation of the slow process/experience of reading and connecting disparate pieces of information relating to Hong Kong, its corporations and the world economy.
The video is a condensed visual counterpart to the book. It is based on the same data set, displayed in the form of a virtual 3D data sculpture consisting of a spatial arrangement of white spheres and news headlines in an infinite black space. Each sphere represents the spending on one day in one specific company group, the diameter of the sphere represents the amount spent. The spheres are ordered horizontally according to spending type and company group (14 categories) and vertically according to time. Each vertical layer represents one day and is associated with one news item headline (the associated news articles can be found in the book). The fast-paced video makes is barely possible to read the news headlines. The soundtrack of the video mirrors the visual pace: It consists of a voices reading out the news headlines, overlapping one another so that only fragments of the voice can be understood. Different channels of the video show different points of view of the data sculpture.
‘Consumption: Hong Kong (Vol.1)’ proposes a model of how everyday personal consumer behaviour data can be employed within a creative practice. It is also a model that provides some insight into what it means to conduct research through artistic practice by balancing on the line between the everyday and art, the microand the macro-economy, or, in Ranciere’s words between two different aesthetics. The work shows the gap between data visualization and the source data contained in the physical book by placing them next to each other. The data collection process for this work highlights the cognitive labour executed by the consumer in the process of decision making. The data appears to be “useless” to the consumer, while the very same transaction records are being aggregated, data mined and monetized by marketing research specialists. The question regarding the effectivity of dollar voting is left open.

  • JOSEF BARES ’s area of interest lies in systems of signs. He uses different ways to visually convey the processes taking place in signification – the creation of meaning. Bares is especially interested in relationships between city and language, space and semantics: How we do ‘read’ our urban living environment and how do we shape it in this process of reading. Recently he has focused on the process of consumption as a process that is not complementary but equal to creation: Consumption as creation. How do we position ourselves within the realm circumscribed by knowledge, affect, attention and cognition – terms which more and more frequently appear as differentiating adjectives of the term ‘economy’? The Consumption Series project re-appropriates personal consumer decision data, which would otherwise be silently forgotten by the consumer while actively data mined by the merchant. Furthermore, the consumer decision data is re-used as a compass to navigate lived mediated experience represented by news items, images, etc. resulting in a vast yet consistent data sculpture, reflexive of the conditions of its own creation.  josef.bares.name

Full text and photo (PDF) p. 27-30