Dollar Store is an ongoing project in which I combine the exacting instincts of a collector with the obsessive-compulsive habits of a thrifty, focused, list-wielding shopaholic. Dollar Store investigates notions of collection and classification, appropriation and abundance, posing questions surrounding high vs. low art, the collection practices of cultural institutions, and why cultural capital is awarded to some items and not others.
To create these photographs, I scour 99-cent stores for products that follow strict linguistic parameters. I purchase these items thematically and then arrange them according to the conventions of selected art-historical genres and movements. These include portraiture (Podium, Royal, Portrait), landscape (Mountain, Ocean) image and color-field painting (Apple/Orange).
The composed images thus evoke an amalgam of themes and traditions. Dutch still life, for example, highlighted abundance with depth, dramatic lighting and an emphasis on organic elements. Its corollary was death, another organic process, alluded to through skulls, maggots and other elements of decomposition.
In contrast, the dollar-store items are completely inorganic, borne of the petrochemical industry and imported from developing countries with lax environmental and labor protections. The shadowless lighting of commercial advertising replaces the rich shadows and candlelight of Dutch still life. Everything within the frame comes from assembly lines, far removed from any natural product or artisanal process. Yet death remains ever-present in these images, through the toxicity of the products themselves rather than natural decay. The fact that many are cleaning products, meant to rid our homes of dirt and germs, brings an extra level of morose irony to the tableau.
Dollar Store also highlights our need to classify everything from items to ideas. Whether it’s stamps, bottle caps and business cards, or art, fine wines and rare books, collectors furiously classify and present their accouterments according to strict geographical, temporal and economic parameters. The dollar-store items presented in my photographs are virtually worthless, but the modes of classification dignify the composition. Despite the nature of the items themselves, viewers recognize the process and respond to the familiar framework and structure. These 99-cent store items are plentiful and accessible to all. Most are generic, low-cost knock-offs of other pricier, brand-name items. Arriving on containers from China by the thousands, they are abundant in neighborhoods in cities around the globe.