Artists' fascination with pop culture and commodity aesthetics has led to the development of some of the most significant and popular art of the last fifty years. Yet while much of this art has concerned itself with the celebration of commodities as objects of desire, relatively little attention has been given to the human cost underpinning such cultures of excess. Variable Capital counters this trend and examines the way in which contemporary artists have critically responded to the seductive allure of globalised commodity consumption. Taking its title from a term Karl Marx used to explain how value is produced in a commodity, the book charts the strategies artists have employed to redirect attention toward the apparently invisible processes of exploitation and alienation underlying production. The book, in accompaniment to an exhibition presented by the Bluecoat Arts Centre, Liverpool, examines the work of a range of international artists including Common Culture, Hans Op de Beeck, Richard Dedomenici, Alexander Gerdel, Richard Hughes, Melanie Jackson, Louise Lawler, Ken Probst, Wang Qingsong, Julian Rosenfeldt, Santiago Sierra, Larry Sultan, Brian Ulrich and Andy Warhol. Much of the work discussed is characterised by a willingness to engineer awkward and embarrassing situations, challenging the viewer with uncomfortable realities. Many of the artists achieve this by humorously subverting familiar objects and rituals to displace, critique and emphasise the ridiculous. This art is not redemptive, but a vehicle by which the often absurd and brutal logic of commodification is revealed.
David Campbell is an artist and works collaboratively with Mark Durden as Common Culture. Mark Durden is an artist and works collaboratively with David Campbell as Common Culture.