to be continued…jatkuu…, Catalogue text by Nav Haq, published by The British Council, 2005

Caroline McCarthy - Promise

Caroline McCarthy’s transformational approach to working with everyday signifiers of consumption, seeks out the aura within the prosaic. Sited between an object and its representation, McCarthy’s installations such as Promise (2003) draw our attention to the surface quality of contemporary consumer culture, and imminently re-present it in the form of a simultaneously poetic and sly critique. Her previous installation From the Testors Military Range (2002) presents a series of empty packaging and containers that have been painted in various shades of ‘military’ black and grey enamels, slickly displayed on glass shelving. Resembling a shop display, the viewer confronts what looks like a range of high-end electrical products. Both recognisable yet indistinguishable, these freshly coated objects play on our fetishistic desires that are fuelled by increasingly premeditated forms of presentation. Promise appropriates the commercial photographic imagery that pervades our experience as customers in society. Or rather, as McCarthy clarifies for us through her practice, due to the ever-increasing commodification of lifestyle, we are now consumers of society and no longer consumers in society.

Promise consists of a simple wooden frame structure that acts as the base for the work, on top of which an assemblage combining plastic plant-pots and cardboard food packaging has been placed. All the packaging is from TV dinners and ready meals, and each presents an image of a perfectly prepared meal with all its saccharine allure. The integral part of the imagery that is intended to suggest our imagined meals possess natural freshness is of course the garnish – the ‘touch of class’ factor that is common to (all) the images of pre-prepared dinners. All the packaging has been neatly modified to fit adeptly within and around plant-pots of various sizes, and the garnish has been carefully cut around and folded to point upwards. A set of three lamps are suspended directly above, which gives the installation the resemblance of a hothouse. Seemingly nurtured by artificial light from the lamps, the garnish forms a field of ephemeral, synthetic produce.

Consumer culture is not something that just surrounds us, it is much more internalised. McCarthy interrogates the contemporary notions of value and substance, where such ideas are seen to shape our apprehension of nature and salubriousness in the world. Its formal aesthetic is just surface yet it complicates matters by implicating our own perception as being fallible within the overabundance of images presented to us. In the process of seeking to unveil the pedestrian nature of commercial imagery, McCarthy has also discovered and released a lyrical essence from within it. As the work’s title suggests, the produce never lives up to its self-proclaimed standard, yet here the act of revealing its construction marks for a kind of transcendence of itself. Promise possesses a curious poetic charge, whose voice is not cynical enough to talk of emptiness but rather of the surrealism of contemporary purchase encounter. Any likelihood of disenchantment is turned in on itself through the work by providing us with a new, more curiously digestible perception of our routine consumption.