The Chamber at Langham Cultural Centre, Kaslo, BC, 2013

The Chamber was developed from observations made during over 1000 vacuum form experiments, particularly the cyclical production process in which the form inside is obscured by the sack and revealed in the vacuuming process. In The Chamber, this cycle is equated with natural cycles such as tides and breathing and the cycle, necessary for survival, of awareness and denial of the current human condition. In contrast to the physically inert Antechamber, The Chamber is a massive, white, breathing landscape that slowly inflates and deflates; a dreamscape of epic proportion that envelops the viewer’s space and fills the room in low light with a soothing natural soundscape. Inside the fully deflated sack, harshly lit and accompanied by a frenetic soundscape, is a collection of once valued objects destined for the waste stream, mainly gathered from the urban context of the exhibiting gallery. At this point the euphoric, fantasy-like landscape collapses to reveal the consumption paradigm on a human scale. The repeated deflation and inflation of the nylon sack makes reference to the vast scale of a crisis, the boundaries of which have expanded beyond comprehension.

Artist Ian Johnston brings his architecture and ceramic background to Reinventing Consumption, a dazzling installation in three parts. The first section, The Inventor’s Room, presents artifacts related to his original experiments and investigations into a vacuum-forming process for ceramics. The Antechamber is a repeating-motif ceramic environment crated through this process, which evokes the massive scale of consumer goods manufacturing today. And finally, The Chamber is an inflating and deflating piece which shrouds and reveals an enormous mass of household items diverted from the waste stream in Medicine Hat.

Johnston comments that although his invention of the vacuum forming process for ceramics is unique, his actual intention in developing it was simply to see what would happen, to open up new opportunities for his art practice. And after seeing 12 year-old Alistair Aiken’s game Inv-Ento-Opoly, he realized that his purpose had shifted to the idea of invention itself. Through the invention process, there are always surprises and unexpected results, and for Johnston, this proved to be the possibility of radically adapting the ceramic vacuum forming process to create The Chamber.

In the exhibition, Johnston interweaves a critique, both ironic and earnest, of our human obsession with glamorizing and inflating the unimportant, along his exploration of invention and development of remarkable forms from mundane origins. Mesmerizing, intriguing and sobering, Reinventing Consumption brings home to viewers, as Johnston comments, “the paradoxical relationship between limited resources and seemingly unlimited appetite.”

Statement from Joanne Marion, curator Esplanade Art Gallery, June 2013