Archival pigment prints on diasec
49 x 37 inches
Installation at John Hartell Gallery, Cornell University
tilism – an inanimate object transformed into its own world
Tilism is a series of large format photographs of tiny plastic toys, scaled up to reveal the objects’ unusual materiality–marbled plastic, strange fluorescent colors, and irregular form. The objects are machine-molded, but appear uncannily to be hand-made, rendering uncertain the division between the craft object and the industrially manufactured commodity.
Created in small workshops in the informal sectors of the South Asian megacity, they utilize inexpensive recycled plastic granules to which new colors have been added. The irregular molds have been used far beyond their capacity for reproductive fidelity, and they are freely and multiply repurposed from previous iterations or existing objects. Their branding and origin remains a mystery.
In a standard macro photograph, much of a 3-D object is rendered out-of-focus due to shallow depth of field. But here, each photograph is digitally stacked using twenty or more separately focused exposures into a single final image, resulting in uniform sharpness across the whole object. The original scale is thrown into question, and the distinction between the miniature and the life-size collapses.
The photographs are surface-bonded with acrylic, creating a high-gloss finish reminiscent of slick advertising of high-end branded commodities. Their layout acknowledges the legacy of mid-century color field painting by Joseph Albers and others. By encountering these humble objects at a much higher aesthetic register, the viewer is invited to reflect on the relation between material aesthetics and the life worlds this evokes.
Globalization is often understood as a process in which transnational brands replace local products. But this view overlooks its shadows—the largely invisible processes of labor, production, and consumption that transpire in the vast informality of the Global South. This is a realm of superexploitation, but also one of immense productive capacities, in which branding and intellectual property regimes are constantly challenged by those who seek to fashion a world from affordable designs and materials found at hand or created anew.