Bridget Moser: Prop Comedy & Consumer Anxiety

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Bridget Moser, Season of the Witch (2016). Photo by Yuula Benivolski courtesy of Doored.

By Alexandra Bischoff

We live in a society of spectacle where our dreams are often wrapped up in consumer realities. Sparkles and sequins are not practical, but they do catch my eye. “To post or not to post,” but I graze on social media—and their targeted ads—compulsively. Fuck Nestle, but I do miss eating Häagen-Dazs. And neoliberal feminisms got me thinking, like, “I need a new lipstick to be a strong woman.” Some days this feels true. My ideal-I is only the proper shade of violet away.

A few things I would buy as a performance artist if I had unlimited funds:

  1. Several zentai suits in various metallic shades
  2. “Egg Sitter Gel Support Seat Cushion as Seen on TV”
  3. A customized neon sign that reads “a muse me”
  4. Plane ticket to France, so I could take a selfie in front of Victorine Meurent’s grave
  5. 1000 copies of the book “Rosa Luxemburg speaks”
  6. 1000 lbs of butter, in sticks
  7. A large filing cabinet

    butterstick
    Western-style butter.Steve Karg via Wikimedia Commons.

When I explain Bridget Moser to people who aren’t familiar with her work, I first call her a prop-comic because of her use of objects (Marcel Duchamp would love her for her candid use of the ready-made). Then I describe her comedy as awkward because her jokes are always wrapped up in some form of anxiety. But a more nuanced analysis would find that Moser’s objects and anxieties have everything to do with each other, rather than being discrete means to a punchline.

During her artist talk at Concordia University in October of 2018, Moser admitted that sometimes she purchases items—a bright red air dancer, for example—before she knows what to do with them (CICA, 2018). As a follow-up, during the Q&A I asked the artist to speak to her proclivities towards objects. Her purchasing habits came as a surprise to me; I had imagined the artist strolling down the aisles of Walmart or Ikea, pondering her next performance, seeking out and curating the things she imagined herself working with. Instead, her buying practices appear to be far more casual. It sounds like she is drawn to certain things, finds stuff that she just has to have, and stocks up before connecting them to her archives of audio, text, and gesture. She is a collector, like the rest of us.

Don’t be self-righteous; all of us love objects. Minimalism is a luxury and should be taken as an exception to the rule. Beginning with the inflated consumer culture which frames the 1950s, and spiralling into the Globalization and Neoliberalism constituting the 1980s, North America’s identity has always been defined by the desire to spend. What our present moment has inherited is consumer anxiety which pressures us to replace our smartphones every year, and causes us to wrack up an inexplicable amount of credit card debt.

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Bridget Moser, Chaotic Neutral (2017). Photo by Yuula Benivolski courtesy of Doored.

Performance artists are particularly poised to remedy consumerist anxiety because we buy practical things under the guise of artistic worth. We don’t spend hundreds of dollars a year on swathes of canvas, variously-haired brushes, and exquisitely pigmented paints—the most useless, hedonistic, and glorious of art materials. Instead, performance artists buy things that we might otherwise utilize in our day to day lives. The small ladder from Moser’s Real Estates (2013), the lip-shaped throw pillows from Chaotic Neutral (2017), and various teal-coloured apparel from Don’t push the river. (2013) could also function as tools for the artist’s studio, furnishings for her apartment, or as personal gym gear. I wonder if she uses these things for their intended uses, besides as performance props, or if they sit pristinely on shelves awaiting their next performance-induced animation.  

And as it turns out, consumer anxiety and the all-too-familiar buyer’s remorse we collectively experience might be culturally healthy. Whether intentional or not, these feelings of self-doubt and monetary concern could be aptly applied outside of our individualist selves, as prompts to investigate how the objects we lust after are produced in the first place. It is ethically valuable to question who profits off of the vulnerable labour required to make our exponentially cheaper products (though the ability to do so also requires a position of certain privilege).

Performance artists could be considered especially bound to this duty; our practices can be politically motivated in many ways, but conversely, often rely on the purchasing of common things in a very a-political fashion. Moser said that she has always loved objects, but “feels equally troubled” about where she gets them (CICA, 2018). The artist understands the “economic disparity that goes into a lot of the way that these things are made or sold,” and that even the labour of finding it in a warehouse somewhere and sending the objects to her are fraught with exploitative ethics (CICA, 2018). Amazon, for example, doesn’t have the best track record as far as labour practices go. Moser also told the audience that she’s not yet sure how to address these concerns in her performances. I think she’s inadvertently doing a good job of it already.

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Bridget Moser, Season of the Witch (2016). Photo by Yuula Benivolski courtesy of Doored.

The anxieties in Bridget Moser’s performances are served up through the objects that she employs, so I see very little distance between the anxieties of an individual and the anxieties of contemporary consumerism in her work. Broadly, we can understand Moser’s performed anxiety as the anxiety of displaying sincere emotion—a concern common to the glossy veneer of commodity culture. In her exaggerations, Moser simultaneously makes fun of intense emotional reactions, absurd paranoias, and the disappointing realities of everyday minutia—a carbon copy of advertising tactics—while also celebrating, in earnest, the bizarre affections and attachments we form with inanimate objects. In fact, Moser employs the same tactics as television commercials. These are loud, human displays which catch our eye and tell us what we need in order to mitigate our complex concerns, usually to profound and comical psychoanalytic ends. What are commercials, after all, but displays of hyper-human versions of ourselves? Commercials create exaggerated, if not unflattering portraits of human desire—and what we usually desire is for our every minor, mortal agitation to be consoled.

Moser’s inflated and ultra-physical connections with her props best sums up the modern day consumer’s relationship with objects. When we buy, we temporarily salve the wounds of our knowing doom, and cling to our new things as a kind of security blanket. This relationship is absurdly devotional. We know we are killing the planet, but we still buy bottled water. The office coffee maker is evil, but those Keurig pods are so cute and convenient. This pink, plastic watering-can shaped like a poodle is as good as a baby—it might as well be “my son” (Freak on a Leash, 2016). And if given the choice to choose between objects of anxiety or anxiety without objects:

 

WHAT WOULD YOU DO? WHAT WOULD YOU DO? WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

WHAT WOULD YOU DO? WHAT WOULD YOU DO? WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

WHAT WOULD YOU DO? WHAT WOULD YOU DO? WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

WHAT WOULD YOU DO? WHAT WOULD YOU DO? WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

Season of the Witch, 2016

 

 

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