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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

Crang, M. Negative images of consumption: cast offs and casts of self and society. Environment and Planning A. 2012;44:763-767.

Author(s) from Durham


There has been a recent spate of artistic work focusing on (over)consumption using the lens of disposal and discard. In this brief commentary I will try to sketch out a few common themes across some of this work, showing how it connects with and challenges social science work on consumption and which registers it uses for thinking about the waste our societies create. Much work on consumption has referenced the thought of Michel de Certeau around consuming as appropriation. The artworks highlighted here suggest we might reflect more on his via negativa and concern with opacity, occlusion, and indeed the shadows things castöthe negatives of objects. The art here suggests consumption is not just the obverse of production, but a photographic negative or its material imprint in a cast. Part of the force of these of works is the old but powerful and necessary trick of taking something unthought and unseen and rendering it visible in new ways. But moving beyond much work in consumption, they speak not to layering meaning onto things, but also how it can be stripped away.
These artworks connect a sense of dissipation and decay as temporality in the unravelling and unbecoming of things. In that unravelling the materiality becomes more evident as the form is lost. And their signification is precisely the connection of unbecoming as material process with its adjectival sense as being disreputable. These artworks ask us not to attend to the arts of memory and conservation through material culture, not to look at those autotopographies that are full of meaning and life, but instead to use wastes to show them as the empty casts and imprints of lives. The imprints of wastes are the indexical signs of, and materially linked to, worlds lived and things inevitably consumed and used up. These are the landscapes struck in the likeness of current society.

Department of Geography