Tender Consumption by Jane Wallace via Salient
Tourist debris is a strange thing— both components are of an unfixed location. Debris, a
disintegration of something left behind, and the tourist, who may only belong nowhere. One is only ever a tourist while displaced, yet conscious of it, and embracing this displacement. So, when he leaves traces of his presence, these objects escape their original contexts also.
For Jade Townsend’s one night only exhibition at ENA, tourist debris is no longer the part that is left behind, but the part which remains. Townsend has collected discarded luxury swing tags from the VAT return area at Heathrow airport, as she herself passes through, and deactivated their commercial potential. It is the label as a concept that these items were originally purchased for (one buys Gucci duty-free because it’s Gucci, baby!), not for the physicality of a swing-tag. The removal of a single label is a reminder that consumption is a personal action, and individualises something that desires to remain a vast and homogenous whole.
The Gucci swing-tag on its own is therefore a severed limb of luxury. Townsend has added beading to this tag, in orange and green, in beautiful seed-like rows. It is now more considered than what it was attached to. The tag is then integrated into a wooden frieze that she commissioned from a Balinese carver, who normally makes tourist souvenirs, asking them to interpret a staged image from her Instagram with a biblical narrative. The piece has been painted over by Townsend, with a gradient that travels from sickly yellow light when the good weather has lasted too long, to the purple of the thunder that follows. This is Garden of Gucci. It appropriates the aesthetics of paradise, of a consumer paradise. This is a place that is always intoxicated by the shiny and the new. Yet, as Townsend recognises in the descriptions of her works, each paradise gives way to the entrance to hell. To thrive in a consumer paradise is to accept condemnation equally, but in Garden of Gucci, consumerist cynicism is mediated by craftsmanship and tradition.
The swing-tag has transformed again. With the absence of the cynical, we encounter it as a sentimental thing, no longer a signifier of something homogenous, but a thing of intimate and personal associations. Townsend has created a proposal for a tender form of consumerism.
Accompanying Garden of Gucci, there is a stand of old Hallmark Mother’s Day cards, which she has reworked with sealant and aerosol spray cans. I am drawn to one in particular, Mum said I could get a job at Louis Vuitton one day if I learnt Japanese. It is these personal myths and associations with labels that make us care for them so much. It reminds me of my mother, who wears Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue every day because it reminds her of what she thinks Greece will smell like when she finally gets there. There is value in anything that facilitates some sort of hope. It is boring to be only critical of consumption, and so Townsend is doing the unexpected and the interesting, in sympathising with the reasons we buy things and why we have attachments to such objects, beyond any status that they may bring. Tourist debris, therefore, is not just debris of the tourist, but debris that is a tourist itself too, moving across and collapsing different social circumstances and geographies.