Artist raises questions about consumer culture in ‘Goods’

Installation shot of ‘Goods’ by Jenny Murphy

By Sarah Weinman

I’ve long believed that part of the purpose of art is to call attention to societal issues.This extends to environmentalism and consumerism, two subjects brought together in striking clarity in artist Jenny Murphy’s exhibition Goods at COCA.

Murphy highlights consumerism, or rather anti-consumerism, by first displaying a series of “how-to” illustrations teaching visitors how to make their own products instead of buying them.

One disposable product Murphy focuses on is paper towels. Her diagram demonstrates how to make reusable towels from items most of us already have, such as old clothes: Cut old cloth to the preferred size, roll up loose pieces for easy storage and dispensing, and stitch layers together for more absorbency. These homemade towels can be washed and reused many times. Other diagrams focus on coffee and tea filters, undergarments, brooms, folders/notebooks and toothbrushes.

At the back of the gallery, Murphy set up a “store” in which visitors/customers first select a “receipt” to “purchase” homemade items on display, like towels, sponges, even underwear (I used quotes above because all ideas here are free, and that’s what we’re really “buying”). The receipts are printed with questions that make us think about consumption and the waste we create when we buy disposable items. The receipt for the towels asks “What other materials or items absorb liquid? When and where do you use paper towels the most?”

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Next, visitors go to the checkout counter to get a payment voucher. These ask questions as well, such as “What is one disposable product that you could stop buying?” Goods encourages us to answer the questions, drop the vouchers in the slot in the counter, and go home and create our own reusable items. 

All the ideas presented here are free for us to use to make free, reusable items from materials we already have. Compare that to buying disposable, one-time-use products many times over throughout our lives.

This exhibition not only speaks out against consumerism, but also promotes reducing, reusing, and recycling commonly used items. It’s a great, timely commentary on our consumer-focused and one-time-use material culture. 

Goods runs through August 28. COCA is located at 524 Trinity Ave. near Kingsland.  Gallery hours are Monday and Wednesday, 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and closed Sunday. For more information, call 314-725-6555 or visit www.cocastl.org. 

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