Baggage doesn’t look like a traditional art show. As you approach, it appears as if a high-end retail outlet has snuck into a gallery as part of a deep guerrilla marketing campaign. Since the objects are all for sale at prices ranging from ten to twenty dollars, one could argue that it is a retail outlet. And yet, the objects are designed to be useless in any practical sense, and the whole set up equally designed to confuse your artistic and consumerist sensibilities, to force you not to shop as much as to ask yourself what you are willing to spend to attain something, and what you are seeking to attain in the first place.
This incarnation of Baggage was presented by Rhetorical Galleries and housed in the central of the three shipping containers located between 5th and 4th street on Roosevelt Street in downtown Phoenix. White rectangular shelves and black metal pegs projected from the mostly white stucco walls, with a few black, vertical lines interspersed. On the shelves sat identically shaped ceramic objects reminiscent of egg cartoons or oversized Legos. Powder coated black, turquoise, magenta, and neon yellow, they attracted the eye while projecting an air of sleekness that evokes a new car’s gleaming paint job. Hanging from the pegs were two varieties of pillows. The smaller ones are roughly a foot square and covered with neon yellow meshing on one side. The larger ones are roughly a foot by two feet and striped black and white with wads of neon yellow material barely visible like organs beneath too-thin skin.
There was a pedestal register housing sleek translucent plastic bags emblazoned with the rounded, blocky lettering spelling out Baggage. Finally, there was the artist, Rachel Goodwin, wearing a black skirt and tight, white tank top emblazoned with the same logo conspicuous on her chest. This is all intentional, from the vague feeling of being tricked to the useless marvel of the shiny objects to the considered appearance and personality projected by the sales associate.
The show is a smaller though still punchy extension of her graduate thesis show of the same title presented at Step Gallery in March. Her work is partially inspired by the convergence of her personal experience in retail sales jobs and her desire to create work that would challenge the observer and force them to contemplate their identity-construction in a consumerist culture. While working retail, she felt “trapped” and recalled “the conversations that I’ve had with people on the other side of the counter. How they judge you and see you differently, as not being an educated or intellectual person.” Happily, she escaped such doldrums and entered ASU’s Master of Fine Arts program. Initially, she produced large abstract paintings but they weren’t “doing anything for me(her) content wise.” Reflecting on her feelings and imaginings from her retail days, she “realized I wasn’t done with it yet.”
She began experimenting with a vacuum form that she made into a plaster mold. Next, she slip casted multiple copies of the ceramic forms. She was fascinated by the power of propaganda, recognizing how we all use consumerist objects to construct our personal identities and how this turns us into walking billboards for large corporations and a pseudo-capitalist ideology.
The ceramic forms are empty inside. In that way, they reflect an emptiness that conspicuous consumption can momentarily ameliorate. That the emptiness is projected on to us from endless commercials and social media feeds is the classic charlatan’s ruse writ large. Goodwin’s show Baggage forces one to consider all of this, while at the same time tempting one to engage as a consumer. The effect is a coy subversiveness and quizzical dissonance. I left the show with this paradoxical mix of thoughts and feelings, in addition to an uncomfortable though visually appealing pillow.