by Girinandini SinghMar 04, 2022
The sandwich packed in a one-time-use material is a common sight in our urban life. The pizza slice purchased and consumed hurriedly is another common practice. The ‘on-the-go’ food when displayed outside cold storage spaces as an installation on the wall of a gallery could not be held as a common phenomenon. The UK-based multidisciplinary artist, Alex Frost, with his works across sculptures and videos talks about the act of consumption. The work is all about the ‘on-the-go’ food, the kind of food you would find in a train station or you would see at the entrance to any convenience store, ready to be bought and eaten quickly. On his return to London six years ago, after living away for more than 20 years, Frost realised the expanse of hyper-modern urban life.
In an interview with STIR, Frost talks about the cultural and economic importance of food in his works, “The contemporary life in London wasn’t filled with the science fiction imagery of space stations or cryogenic labs, instead it was littered with a hyper-modernity that had crept up on us and looked quite ordinary.” Given the vast spread of urban modernity, it would have been easy to overlook many of its signs. Frost adds, “One of these signs was the role of food in city life. Specifically, these on-the-go products were not limited to food though, they related more to the broad concept of consumption and also included certain types of medicines. These are medicines that are travel-sized, energising, and soothing. It was as if on-the-go foods and medicines were designed to help smooth the flow through the city.”
When Frost began to compress many of these food products within the layer of transparent resin, the idea was to capture something quite temporary like the hasty eating of a sandwich at work or the cooking of frozen pizza at home. Frost mentions, “By capturing these foods in resin I was ossifying them, turning them into some form of contemporary fossil. But after a while, I realised that much of the character of these products was connected to contemporary digital life.”
Harbouring on the mobile digital life that smartphones enabled, Frost says, “It made sense for me to develop an artwork that would slot into the digital spaces of social media. In tribute to the unboxing videos, I had watched on YouTube, I decided to make videos unpacking the ‘on-the-go’ products underwater. In unboxing videos, the act of consumption becomes completely digital. We can watch an unboxing video and digest the product virtually.”
Like the act of consuming information on the digital platform is beyond any rules of fixity, and is perpetually fluid and changing, the quick food is devoured without a set of secured and established directives. “I liked the fact that these videos did not necessarily identify themselves as art. I put them online anonymously and they circulated through social media eventually getting viewed by millions of people across all continents.”
In his recent exhibition, Passive Aggression (July 23-September 5, 2021) at Taco, London, Frost once again walks the viewers through the acts of consumption. Frost with his works attempts to explore the reverberations and merging of the two worlds: physical and virtual. The sculptures and videos of the exhibition employ the language to determine the patterns of online consumption and how they are combined with the physical lives. Giving an explicit account of the sculptures displayed at the exhibition, Frost says, “In this exhibition, I have made three pairs of robotic silicone versions of my own hands. The fingers on each hand respond to data taken from the social media accounts of commercial products - every ‘like’ for Belvita Biscuit on Instagram leads to twitching of one of the hands' fingers. With each finger receiving a different piece of ‘information’ the hands can be seen to be talking to each other in a private (and privatised) language made public.”
Frost uses “food as a shorthand for the idea of consumption”. The consumerist power is all-pervasive, which makes us humans turn blind towards its many forms and faces. The artist is clear about the fact that “I am not making a protest against all forms of consumption. I am more interested in exploring the way we consume as a relationship or exchange.” Unlike the fast consumption of food, the artworks by Frost demands the viewers to see, gauge and contemplate their urban modern surroundings which has (un)knowingly encased them.