Nicholas Fraser – Jamaica Flux / Effi Ibok
The alienation of workers to the products of their labor, most famously put forth by Karl Marx in the 19th century, is an issue that continues to play a central role in our current market-based economy. This is the view that capitalism prohibits workers from identifying the link between their labor and what they produce, forcing them to accept notions of access, ownership, and value as defined by the capitalist class. The neoliberal brand of capitalism has accelerated this alienation by, among other things, weakening labor unions, relocating labor geographically, and introducing nebulous forms of capital in the service and finance sectors. Especially participants in the modern urban context are constantly presented with new forms of alienation, due to the sheer mass of economic activity that surrounds and confronts us daily. We find ourselves in a strange space of estrangement, unable to understand the commercial material world we build and reinforce, even though it greatly shapes our everyday existence.
Enter Nicholas Fraser, a New York City-based artist who approaches his project, Follow, as a historian who observes, documents, and narrates what happens in the space between a street and a storefront. This work began in 2010 when he started filming storefronts in New York for a project entitled Fronts. The result was a comprehensive web-accessible video archive of contemporary urban streetscapes. For Jamaica Flux: Workspaces & Windows 2016, Mr Fraser has presented Follow, a new video that he edited together from select footage in his archive of moving images.
Follow features commercial storefront footage from varying geographical and chronological origins stitched into one virtual street. In each frame, a pedestrian casually walks by a storefront, neither taking note of nor interacting with it. Upon reaching the end of their respective frame they are exchanged for a different pedestrian entering the adjacent frame in such a way that appears to blend the two people together. Editing these disparate clips together with a thorough sense of continuity, Nicholas creates a narrative of one wandering pedestrian walking down a 10 storefront long city block.
At first sight the pedestrian appears to take center stage in the piece, driving the movement of the camera and occupying the middle of the frame at all times. However, on closer inspection, it becomes clear that they represent a flat character, devoid of the ability to make decisions about or interact with their environment. The diversity of characters represented further flattens the subject into the everyday character, general and banal. It represents no particular persons or groups of people. This flattening gives way for content within the storefronts’ signage, which scroll across the screen like a marquee, providing key texts to contextualize each frame.
In this way, the video serves as a testimony of a neoliberal world, in which humans become a powerless and characterless subject constructed by material-oriented consumerist culture, instead of a unique individual subject. The video addresses our poor understanding of the experience of living with capitalism and how it subconsciously affects our everyday lives. By converting the storefronts into narrative content, Fraser opens up the possibility for finding essential meaning in the commonplace parts of our society that we often find incidental and banal, providing a new and exciting way to look at and understand the world.