In the late 1970s, a group of artists in Texas formed a collective called the ‘Pablum eaters’ in response to the vapid culture surrounding television. Their manifesto’s stated intention was to raise awareness of the consumption and celebration of ‘junk’ content on screens: soap operas, celebrity gossip, game shows and early iterations of reality TV. They sought to empower audiences to reflect critically on their own watching habits and to resist its addictive potential. Their artworks, consisting of collaged film reels and images spliced into short films, mimicked and intensified the act of flicking through channels at a rapid rate; the borderline automatic, apathetic nature of the TV watcher’s behaviour made into an actually automated process.
Channel surfing, a once ubiquitous trope, is now almost quaint and outdated. The addictive behaviour it connotes is more commonly seen in our relationship to smart phones, computers and tablets. Instead of merely absorbing media we engage with it, predominantly through online social networks. The compulsion for engaging with one’s phone to consume—and create—content has caused unprecedented changes in behavioural addictions. Studies indicate the average person (aged 18-33) spends five hours looking at their phone per day. This relationship between the platform (content) and the user has created habitual tendencies. We are addicted to absorbing, responding to, creating and distributing new content. These behaviours cause increased levels of stress, be it from communicating, self-promoting, or separating from the content itself.
Daniel Gurton’s experiences creating such content has informed his understanding of its mechanisms and effects. Bridging from a career in fashion photography, Gurton has developed a series of artworks as a response to his research into behavioural addiction. The subject matter of the photographs themselves—the production line for police, military and navy uniforms—is illustrative of the vanishing authenticity Gurton wants us to appreciate. Captured inside the Bruck Textile Mill in Wangaratta, one of few textile mills still operating in Australia, the photographs depict processes of production by highly specialised workers who will one day be replaced by automation. He places the authentic image alongside a distorted version. There is little else to facilitate the audience’s engagement with the artwork. No clear conflict is established between the two parts of each piece; at first glance they are complementary. Rather than clearly delineate the reductiveness of the distorted image, Gurton makes it the responsibility of the audience to consider the relationship between the two parts (and furthermore between the artwork and ourselves).
In our current social media and content centered age, we find ourselves literally closer to our screens, emblematic of our reluctance to step back and reflect on the significance, the thoughtfulness, of a captured moment. The gallery provides a uniquely low stimulation environment so as to facilitate this ‘stepping back’, allowing us to ponder, among other things, the detailed process of garment manufacturing in a mill.
His aesthetic and medium may differ from the Pablum eaters, but Gurton provokes a similar imperative to address our content addiction by framing its essential descent from reality and circumspection.