Digital Monument

In Laura Moore’s work, one man’s junk, the lifespan of consumer electronics is extended beyond the cycle of planned obsolescence into a geologic time frame. A pallet of old computers, meticulously carved out of stone, stands firm against the flow of technological advancement. A 1991 Apple PowerBook sits next to a computer monitor from the late 80s, next to the printer you threw out last week. These objects should be on the scrapheap, forgotten, but Moore has pulled their forms out of the trash and placed them back in our contemporary consciousness. This change in material and form shifts the objects beyond the confines of their original chassis into the realm of the icon. They become avatars of our technological infrastructure, that aid in the contemplation of what such an infrastructure asks of us. one man’s junk forms a point of contrast to the rapid production and consumption of the digital experience.

To have owned one of the computers depicted by Moore, hundreds of thousands of units had to be produced; economies of scale making production possible. Our memory and experience of the object is therefore contingent on reproduction. Changing the way an object is (re)produced, effects our relationship to the object. By moving production from the assembly line to the studio, Moore removes demands of time, multiplicity and functionality, isolating the computer’s existence to an individual object and an individual’s labour. The viewer cannot look at the objects as “junk” even though it calls to mind the existence of electronic waste. They are computers in name and shape only. Instead we see the work. We marvel at Moore’s careful replication. The time we spend idle in front of a screen, is matched by the amount of time Moore has spent on the screen.

Replication also serves as a function; to engage with the histories attached to the objects. Through Moore’s work, we are able to glimpse the labour of the original designers. Once we thought little of the cathode ray construction of the monitor, beyond the desk space it would take up. Carved in stone, the boxy form and ventilation slats can be appreciated as an aesthetic choice.

Replication of the mass produced object pulls the viewer’s own history into the work. Through familiarity, we connect with the form and project our own experiences onto the artwork. Memories of the novelty of the computer’s purchase, the programs run on it, the speed at which it ran are called to mind. Through this projection we start to contemplate how we thought of technology then and how that differs now. Through this process the technology, is allowed to leave the pile of obsolescence and re-enter our memory as an abstraction, an aesthetic object.

As an aesthetic object one man’s junk functions in a space similar to the surreal reproduction found in the grass and stick airplanes made by cargo cults of the Pacific. When a cargo cult copies mechanical objects in organic form, they are engaging in a ritualistic act of cultural jujitsu. Images are taken from outside the tradition of the cargo cult members and used to form a competing ideology to the dominate cultural narrative.

In Moore’s veneration of the object, there is an assertion of power over the image of the computer. For the last thirty years, the computer has represented wealth and intelligence to the collective consciousness. It is an image worth controlling. After the Snowden leaks of last year, it is apparent how much effort goes into controlling the digital experience. However by recreating the technology with her hand, in her medium, it is Moore’s vision of the digital experience that we are ultimately engaging with. In it there is a healthy scepticism of the digital experience. These are old computer, they cannot be connected to the network, they cannot be spied upon, but they are meant to be observed.

Written by Luke Siemens