Toby Lloyd

May 26, 2009

Oxfam, 33 Percy Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, £4.98

Toby Lloyd – Oxfam, 33 Percy Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, £4.98 (2009)

“Thrift is creative, waste is unpoetic” – G.K. Chesterton

Toby Lloyd uses his new body of work, Re, to seek alternatives to the consumer culture of the High Street. Following on from, Consumed, made during his MA Photography at Sunderland University (2007-8) in which he drew attention to the ubiquitous and suffocating nature of materialism, the new work questions how we attribute value to the things we buy.

The concept behind Re is that Lloyd requests donations of a full suit of clothing bought from a charity shop, complete with the plastic bag and receipt. He then dresses in the clothing, and in common with Consumed, places the bag over his head before making a studio self-portrait. The title is made up of the name and address of the charity shop and the price of the outfit.

Lloyd’s work is influenced by performance artists from the 1970s, such as Bruce Nauman, and the contemporary work of Matthew Barney. Like them, he sets himself a set of constraints within which to operate creatively. Constructing boundaries which perhaps mirror the range of constrictions we face, socially, politically and physically, in everyday life. In the case of Re the constraint is the formulaic process of acquiring the clothes and titling the image, and then the physical constriction of placing the bag over his head without space to breath whilst making the self-portrait. The combination of formula and physical challenge are common to each of Lloyd’s projects, including North South Divide (2008), in which he identifies all the Greggs (North) and Starbucks (South) outlets within a mile radius and then obligates himself to consume a sausage roll or espresso, respectively, at each of these. Each has the effect of pushing the artist to the physiological limits of consumption, again drawing attention to Western culture’s particular brand of conspicuous consumption.

The work addresses the current economic instability by highlighting how this system relies on a culture of cheaply made disposable goods, rather that things made well and made to last. The charity shop being a High Street form of the tat stall, that gives us the opportunity to imagine how we might alter, renovate and create anew from the old and discarded.

Lloyd’s deadpan sense of humor reminds us of the joke made of the Oxfam shop for years, for the middle classes a place to find an outlandish fancy dress outfit or a comic gift, yet in the midst of the economic crisis it becomes a more feasible answer to our clothing needs than high street brands. But at the same time a trip to Primark could leave you with more change in your pocket than the equivalent shopping experience at the charity shop. So we are left with a choice that threatens to undermine the seductive power of the new in favor of the more sustainable ethic of reusing and recycling.

Re is a dry joke but with a cutting social critique of our own conspicuous consumption and waste.

Text by Claire Rousell


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