The misleading pleasure of consumption

Courtesy Wunderarts

If you happen to be jonesing for a sugar high, look no further than ‘w’uuml;nderarts’ gallery where artworks by Petula Bloomfield and Sarah Bliss are currently showing. The exhibition, ‘Consumed,’ touches pointedly on themes of excess, pleasure seeking, the one-dimensional drive to consume and the consequences of a culture centered on those practices.

Both of the artists share a kind of playfulness with their overlapping vocabulary of consumer culture; their works both use bright colors, neon streaks, lush imagery and torn up fragments of magazine ads to voice a harsh criticism of contemporary society with deeply satirical underpinnings.

Petula Bloomfield’s work depicts decadent food objects and floral motifs in bright colors and high gloss in a style that approaches lewdness. Gallery owner Nora Maroulis recounts, ‘Petula went off on this exuberant bent with regard to these over-the-top pastries and florals.’ Her dense imagery conveys ‘opulence as a reflection on the still lives of the 18th and 17th centuries but reflecting on the exuberance of our own times.’

In fact, Bloomifield attributes her source of inspiration to works ‘by artists such as Lucas Cranach, Quinten Massys and Hieronymous Bosch with their portrayal of human shortcomings.’ In this tradition, her work highlights the hedonism of contemporary lifestyle and appetite.

For instance, her piece ‘Feeding the Soul’ evokes the promise of pleasure, but really only offers the empty calories of fruit tarts stacked one on top of another. The piece articulates the idea that, like junk food, you know it is bad, but that knowledge is not enough to curb your appetite.

Through the digital manipulation of photographs and oil and acrylic paint Bloomfield presents a cross between a magic eye print and a Capri Sun juice box label, or a neo-classical acid trip with overripe fruits, cupids and Rubenesque virgins.

While there is something tacky, kitschy and contrived about Bloomfield’s pieces, it is in no way a turnoff. Instead the works touch on the pleasure of consumption, despite its false promise of fulfillment.

At the same time that Bloomfield focuses on the practice of pleasure seeking, Bliss’ work centers on the collateral damage of consumer culture. In her recent works, Sarah Bliss moves away from strictly oil and acrylic painting to incorporate a variety of different media, including what an average person might think of as trash.

Using packaging refuse, trash bags and other ‘disjunctive materials [her work] draws attention to the ‘backside’ of consumption: both its seductive beauty and the fantastic accumulation of material that becomes ‘trash.”

Bliss writes, ‘My work addresses systems of exchange, the relationship between commercial and cultural production, and the commodification of the art object. I explore the dynamics of seduction and the methods utilized by producers, marketers and retailers to attract consumers, claim value, create desire and manufacture pleasure.’

While Bliss’s bold and brightly colored works of dribbled paint on Plexiglas as well as her bric-a-brac wall installations comment on the production of desire, echoing the falsity of pleasure-seeking emphasized by Bloomfield, she implicates herself in this grotesque system of commercial exchange.

Owner Nora Maroulis explains, ‘Sarah went down this path that took her into thinking about and working from a frame of reference where she is very interested in not only society as consumers but in herself as well as an artist.’

Her tower of trash, titled ‘May Cause Flash Fires,’ consists of shrink-wrapped cardboard boxes and inkjet prints of packaging debris. The work comments on the wastefulness of her own art practice as a participant in ‘art making as a commodity industry.’

Though the underlying message of ‘Consumed’ may inspire guilt in viewers ‘- or at the very least leave you with a toothache ‘- the exhibition on the whole is joyful, fun and thought provoking.

Consumed’ will be on view Saturday from 12-5 p.m. at w’uuml;nderarts, located at 383 Main St. in downtown Amherst.

Caroline Scannell may be reached at [email protected]