APPETITE & PLASTIC REBELLION
VIEW | 9 August 2019
Photos & Text: Alyssa Boehle
We are always watching what others consume and what people have an appetite for. Whether it's sex, food, entertainment etc, knowing what other people value gives us an 'in.' It opens a window into that other person, and it lets us answer their appetites – usually to get something in return. What I find most interesting is what we choose to be transparent about versus what we hide, what we feel comfortable selling versus what we do not, both as the consumer and observer.
To me, there's something very freeing about the lack of appetite-shame today, but there’s also this beautiful intimacy to capturing the remnants of what feels private, and therefore exposed.
There's something about the aggressive colors and feeling of stillness that puts me into a pleasant, hot daze.
To me, this is the plastic version of meditation: effortless, instant, silly. Neither good nor evil. Just the way I turn my brain off best.
The series could seem shallow, because Barbie colors and manipulated landscapes aren't supposed to be beautiful or soulful. But that's almost the point – to me they are. I am going through a sort of eternal process of allowing myself to be okay with how I see things, and a part of that is recreating what I see, over and over again, even if it seems offensively vapid. That's its own sort of rebellion and assertion of the soul.
This plastic meditation, rebellion, and appetite are inextricably linked. Without meditation, it's hard to develop the sense of self-awareness you need in order to fulfill short-term appetites (sex, food, entertainment, "likes") without losing sight of more laborious, long-term appetites (art, kindness, love, companionship).
People often tend to demonise or shame these short-term pursuits, but it often ends up backfiring because once you start neglecting one for the other, there's a part of you that goes hungry. And even though hunger can be great place for rebellion to start, it often just leads to lethargy or gorging on unnecessary things.
Things like social media make it especially difficult to stay balanced. It's a really easy place to confuse self-consciousness with actual self-awareness, and so for a long time I was so concerned with other people's appetites (what other people might "like") that I barely thought about what I wanted for myself or how I wanted to get there. Which is silly, because if you're not even in tune with your own appetite, how could you ever really understand the appetite of others? But being directionless made it really easy for me to start consuming things I didn't necessarily need, like dog videos, memes, or endless TV sessions, instead of taking a step back.
Once I started shooting, things changed. Even though I always messed around with photography since high school, I only started tearing into a bit over a year ago when I took a year off from advertising.
It was the ultimate freedom to just walk miles and miles from morning to night, and I wanted to capture every inch of the city. Back when I had taken photos in high school and college, I was always very precious about not taking too many photos and overloading my SD cards, but this time I just went for it. It was pretty manic.
In the beginning of that year, I didn't want to shoot anything in particular. I just wanted to shoot everything. So instead of consuming everything from the world, for once I felt like I was throwing myself back out into it, asserting my space.
Over time, I became more selective again. I was definitely concerned that the things I was shooting were too vapid or colorful to be taken seriously. In the past, I tended to only shoot with muted colors and low contrast. But the more I walked and allowed myself to go after what I naturally liked, the less I felt that hunger to satisfy what I thought serious photography had to be. At the core of it, I was insanely lucky and grateful for the time off, and the last thing I wanted to do was to waste it guessing at the appetites of others. I think that in photography or art in general, we can always try to anticipate the appetites of others, but choosing the lowest common denominator that you aim to please is very risky, and is a mathematical equation that I don't have the skills or desire to do.
The best I can do is represent my specific equation of appetites and hope it rings true enough to someone else.
I think of my process as a plastic meditation and rebellion, because when I'm shooting and editing, I am just in this world of plastic objects and colors that shouldn't, in theory, be grounding forces.
I find calm in McDonalds, Barbie, neon lights, and color-drenched skies, and I know they're supposed to be seen as figments of commercial tyranny, but giving in to that sort of shame, or assumed self-shame, is what has caused unhealthy compensatory behavior for me in the past.
It took a long time for me to to appreciate that you can have a mix of appetites – for the mundane and spiritual – and not be lesser for whatever your true breakdown is, as long as you're very aware of your needs.
My plastic rebellion is to just embrace it all in an equation that feels right to me, without worrying about the rest.