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Weekly Watchlist: How We Consume the World Around Us

Mary Mattingly iconifies her possessions

Do objects come with responsibility?

Reevaluating the role of objects in her life, Mary Mattingly transformed her personal belongings into sculptural forms that she later incorporated into photographs and performative actions.

Over several months, Mattingly traced the history of each of her belongings and published her documentation on a website for others to access. Throughout this process, she took stock of the environmental and societal impact of her personal consumption.

“Maybe we need art more today,” she considered, “because we’re in a world with so many mass produced things.”

Mattingly aggregated the items into boulder-like sculptural bundles and dragged them across a bridge from New York to a port in New Jersey—symbolically returning the objects to the place where they entered the U.S.

“It’s really incredibly Sisyphean, in a way,” said Mattingly. “We’re burdened with so many of these things. I wanted to do something with clarity about what literally weighs me down.”

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Fifteen films on consumption

Minerva Cuevas installing Bitter Sweet – Hershey’s (2015) at kurimanzutto in Mexico City, 2015. Production still from the Art in the Twenty-First Century episode, “Mexico City”. © Art21, Inc. 2016.

In the first season of Art in the Twenty-First Century, artists responded to the concept of consumption—of images, information, objects, and land. Over the past two decades, Art21 films have continued to explore how artists approach this theme, broadening the scope of voices and investigating new forms of consumption introduced by emerging trends such as the rise of social media and the evolution of advertising tactics.

“We spend our whole lives training to understand movies and television and video games and clothes and beds and houses,” wrote curator Katy Siegel in her essay for the first Art in the Twenty-First Century companion book. “And so contemporary art often invokes these experiences and objects; art often looks like a commodity, because in a consumer culture, nothing could be more essential.”

Leading off this playlist are the five original segments from our Consumption (2001) episode, followed by additional artist perspectives on how we consume the world around us.

Watch the playlist.

Recommendations from Art21 staff

Watch: Hillbilly Elegy on Netflix

Not an easy watch, but kept me thinking for days afterwards about how family trauma affects us on an individual and societal level. And of course, Amy Adams and Glenn Close’s performances are amazing.

Shared by Danielle Brock, Assistant Curator; Watch now on Netflix (with subscription)

Watch: Jazz Shorts 1929–1939 on the Criterion Channel

On the surface, these films serve as a reminder that “music video” as an art form was being practiced and refined well before the advent of MTV in the 1980s. Looking closer, these films capture a glimpse into American life during the Great Migration. These are thrilling early examples of narrative intertwined with and around music and lyrics, buoyed by the caliber of performance that cemented the star status appointed to each of these artists.

Shared by Jonathan Munar, Director of Digital; Watch now on the Criterion Channel (with subscription)

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Your indispensable, generous donations make our work possible. With safety measures in place, Art21 has resumed on-site film shoots and will release films in the coming year, and will produce even more digital education programs allowing for multiple avenues to discover and interact with contemporary art. Resources that are in higher demand now than ever before.

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