Jay Batlle 2009 “SHOP OR DIE”
In the installation “Shop or Die” Batlle skewers discarded credit cards onto brochettes of glowing neon color lines. These sculptural works question definition of the line, whether it be a credit line or a physical representation.
In the installation “Shop or Die” Batlle pulls the line from its familiar two-dimensional context and makes what appears at first glance to be a group of familiar Minimalist or Arte Povera sculptures. Whereas the Minimalists tried to remove any subjectivity or personal baggage from their works, Batlle subjectifies his sculpture with pathos that stems from the idea of debt. Sometimes in Batlle’s work, this theme literally relates to being broke, negative, overdrawn, alone, but also on a broader scale it speaks to the historical burden of the artist who is indebted to his predecessors as he tries to create an original work. Debt is also pertinent in relation to the value of art in present day society.
Like Sisyphus, Batlle repeats the same formal structure of shish kebabbed credit cards on neon lines within each work, using a formal structure that is at once associated with 60s and 70s sculpture and the realm of the culinary — think lamb. With color and text varying in each sculpture these works each possess a subjective autonomy of their own. Red (Severe), orange (High), yellow (Elevated), blue (Guarded), and green (Low) give the works their titles. The color and number of sculptures correlate to America’s Homeland Security Advisory System. This alert system was famously put together after 911 in America. According to ex-president Bush Jr., it was to be counter-measured with shopping. “Stop terrorism, go shopping.” On the back of each credit Batlle has translated the title of each sculpture into the various meanings from Google’s Italian online translation. The labels are placed over the signatures on the credit cards further complicating the read of the sculptures and bringing them into the context of Milan and Europe, international communication.
By putting defunct credit cards on a line, the installation “Shop or Die” questions the role of art as a commercial product. Batlle turns credit cards — the object that allows consumers to shop and get into debt (or “in the red”) — into an art commodity. Financially we all want to be in the green, and according to Homeland Security, green is the safest.