New Exhibit Curated By Courtney Lynne Carter ’17 Takes a Long, Hard Look at Material Culture

WE’RE SORRY THIS ITEM IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE, up through March 6 in VCAM, finds comedic value in a serious subject.

WE’RE SORRY THIS ITEM IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE, an exhibition organized and curated by Hurford Center Post-Baccalaureate Fellow Courtney Lynne Carter ’17, is most definitely still available; it is on view through Friday, March 6. Sponsored by the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities, the Malcolm Baldwin 1962 Fund, and VCAM (Visual Culture, Arts, and Media), the exhibition features works by interdisciplinary artists Maia Chao, Ilana Harris-Babou, and Korallia Stergides that challenge visitors to reevaluate their relationships with material objects and the commercial systems that produce them. 

“In a cultural moment where people are becoming increasingly aware of the insidious effects of capitalism on human relationships, individual well-being, and community-building efforts, I felt it was appropriate to bring together recently-produced artwork by artists who seek to understand how meaning is made, value is ascribed, and identity is determined in relation to the material objects we surround ourselves with,” said Carter, who also curated spring 2019’s VCAM exhibition Your Special Island. “These artists do not pose simple answers, which is part of the reason why I believe their work is so powerful and important right now.” (Continued after gallery.)

The exhibition, which is located in the VCAM building’s Lower Create Space, consists of three short video works with runtimes of 15 minutes, 6 minutes, and 19 minutes each. Though neither narratively continuous nor set in the same time or place, the videos all follow saleswomen of varying degrees of professionalism as they advertise products. In the first, Deep Love Sales: Drop a Winter X Bubbles of Time TV Tutorial Special (2019), Stergides plays Deep Love, a heavy-accented Southerner who incentivizes the members of her audience to play a glitchy arcade game by promising that they stand to win plastic “bubbles” containing prizes that can help them survive imminent ecological disaster. (Stergides also performed as Deep Love in a live Skype performance at the exhibition reception on February 15).

Describing the premise of the video, Carter said, “Deep Love gives a tour of a renovated arcade game, which she interprets using the storytelling devices of astrological, planetary, apocalyptic, and self-help lingo.”

In the second video, Human Design (2019), Harris-Babou inhabits the characters of the CEO, designer, and researcher of a Restoration Hardware-inspired home goods company. As the researcher, she travels from New York to Senegal in search of the “origin of good design.” Using language drawn directly from sources that include Restoration Hardware advertisements, the Joseph Conrad novel Heart of Darkness, and the television show Roots, she makes ironic observations about the nature of artistic creation and provenance to encourage discussion of cultural appropriation, musing, “Design without the knowledge of its history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots. We connect you to the places in the world where your story started.”  

In the third video, Gently Used (2018), Chao and her real-life sister play siblings desperately attempting to auction off, on eBay, items found in their real-life parents’ basement: an Egyptian creamer gifted to them by their uncle Stephen; a box of their mom’s old reading glasses; a Guatemalan mosquito net that, according to Zoë, has the potential to be repurposed as a wedding veil; and a not-immediately-identifiable object the subtitles describe as a “glittery gold cone from Crate and Barrel.” “This is going to enhance your room, this is going to enhance your visitors’ experience!” they chirp of the creamer, a claim made all the more funny by the fact that it refers to a piece of tacky tableware. At one point, they even resort to using their own personal relationships as selling points, cooing to the camera, “You get to become a part of our family by buying these objects!”

Collectively, the videos showcase moments of personal and political self-discovery while simultaneously offering scathing critiques of late capitalism and its dehumanizing effects—critiques that refuse to let us, the viewers, off the hook, either. 

“For me, the strength of the exhibition is that each artist is brilliant on their own terms, even as they share a similar concern about the interplay between identity, materiality, and commercial spaces,” Carter says. “Exhibited together, I believe their works reveal similar emphasis on playful performance, affective labor, and transactional economies, as well as expose differences in subject matter, humor, and artistic approach.”

All told, WE’RE SORRY THIS ITEM IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE is a provocative take on what it means to be a human being in a world where everything, including personality, is commodifiable. After all, what are punching up a résumé, posting on social media, and putting on makeup but attempts to sell yourself in some way, shape, or form?