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Significant and signifier, the can’s value and aesthetic is shifting and shifty. Each one is the remains of a mass-produced Metal Box, fashioned as a vessel for a mass-produced and nutritionally empty beverage. The most famous of these beverages has a recipe that is still an industrial secret, but whatever is in it shifts the tarnish off copper coins. Its logo stands for the latest of the empires on which the sun never sets and is a graphic for the way in which global capitalism is happy for us all to be “US”.
This can is component of a commodity which alludes to Youth and Glamour, Progress Leisure and Pleasure, but it also intimates exploitation, pillage and murder, expendable junk, trashy taste, waste.
The empty can has become an emblem for the recycling movement. You can even buy a gadget to crush it and do your day’s environmental workout, but the news is just coming in that recycling is just more ecological disaster doomed to repeat itself.
The properly flattened can offers a modest paradigm of art history and printmaking. Referring en passant to Warhol, it is a found object and a ready made, a printing plate all ready to be appropriated. With each inking and wiping, each passage through the etching press, each cleaning, it becomes burnished, exquisite, “re-enchanted”. Onlookers quickly start to covet them, they are “like jewels”. As printing plates they form a rewarding relationship with dampened paper, inked up or otherwise. They imprint collagraphs which reward the eye and tempt the hand, urging further visual and conceptual investigation.
Their added value seems to be that they celebrate individuality –each has compacted differently enough to remain interesting, to affirm open-ended possibilities of transformation for each one- an iCan? For, as someone said, “ can’t is almost as intolerable as the word communist “. But their truth is the dreaded Truth of the Delusion of Individualism, for they are all, after all, all cans, just cans, cans-for-a-while, remnants of can. Like us they are humble, transient things which may have briefly been seen to be useful or decorative or clever, may have managed to tart themselves up with a bit of cosmetic surgery and sell themselves as something else, but ultimately they are made from, and will move back into elemental dust.
What a relief.
Copyright Pat Harvey June 2005