Limited Good - Valerie Snobeck / Catherine Sullivan
The current project is oriented around graphic and sculptural elements which process, redistribute and re-imagine souvenirs related to socio economic expansion.
The primary element are works taken from the airline menu collection of anthropologist George M. Foster, notable for his theory, The Image of Limited Good. The theory holds that for “peasant” societies, good fortune (health, wealth, status) is finite. There are unspoken rules stating that since Good is limited, advancement only comes at the expense of others. Violations of the impoverished status-quo are discouraged by sanctions such as gossip, backbiting, witchcraft and assault. Economic scarcity is a determining factor of peasant ethos. Although Peasant Society and The Image of the Limited Good was written in 1965, it is part of an ongoing and contentious discourse around the persistence of poverty as a matter of either structural conditions in the environment or psychological characteristics and cognitive orientation. Underlying the matter are the unresolved tendencies within the social sciences to stage data, field work, ethos and pathos into models which can be developed and applied as social engineering. Foster was intrigued by the problem of integrating an “ethno-metaphysics” with other modes of analysis to confront the philosophical motivations at the basis of poverty and was largely criticized for the monolithic view he took of peasant and agrarian societies.
During his international travels from the 1950's through the 1980's Foster collected airline menus and often made notes about the quality of the food and service. The collection was donated to and archived by the Northwestern University Transportation Library in Evanston Illinois. The first iteration of our project in 2013 works with menus from Foster’s journeys between London and Tel Aviv on British Overseas Airways Corporation in 1966, Nairobi to Rome on AlItalia in 1962, Amsterdam to New YorkCorporation in 1966, Nairobi to Rome on AlItalia in 1962, Amsterdam to New York on KLM in 1965, Tokyo to Hong Kong on Air India in 1973, San Francisco to Minneapolis on Northwest Orient in 1978 ad Tokyo to Jakarta on Garuda Indonesia in 1986. We process and re-imagine the content of the menus through graphic and sculptural works that experiment with different forms of printing and transfer. Iconographic depictions of national identity, leisure, abundance and the psychic mobility of global travel combined with vivid descriptions of gourmet food are transferred to lightweight plastic which hangs from the wall with little support. Often these works are affixed to the wall with cufflinks.
Another element in the project began with an unidentified cruise ship menu not from the Foster collection. The original image depicts a small fleet of sailboats garnished with clouds and ribbons that look like seaweed. The image has been broken apart into its respective components and redistributed into a glossary of forms that are hybridized and recombined into far less idyllic scenes. These graphics were then transferred to a hectograph printer and printed on glassine. Hectography is a low technology process where images are transferred to a pan of gelatin with special inks and duplicated on paper accordingly. The process was historically useful in circumstances that required clandestine distribution of information where no traces of the printing process could be left behind. The work consists of twelve layered groups of these scenes, viewed simultaneously hanging from a rack used for blue print storage. The hectograph itself is also on display.
An additional menu from a cruise ship to Cuba has been re-written using a “typeface” developed from a wire formed greeting card rack. The rack is typical of machine wire formed construction that precisely bends wire to any desired form in little time. This material is particular to point of purchase displays and useful to it because it can be easily shaped to accommodate any kind of product thus servicing the “point of purchase”, the event of communion between the product and the consumer. The rack was taken apart, unbent by hand and categorized into different forms to form an alphabet. These letters were then used to substitute the fancy handwriting on the original menu. The menu has been reprinted at a scale corresponding to a large stretched piece of debris netting.
Elsewhere in the exhibition are a series of overlapping elements. A suite of crystal clear depression glass plates, a black and white graphic element which unravels the sunburst pattern from the plates and a piece of latex cast from a souvenir of barbed wire. Depression glass was once common but is now scarce and America would not exist without the invention of the barbed wire that delineated its vast geography.
Text by Catherine Sullivan