The Artifact Institute. Service 1

As plastic begins to outperform sand on certain Pacific beaches, perhaps now is the time to reflect on the imposing ubiquity of manufactured objects. Until the Industrial Revolution, most people could possess only a few—handmade ones, at that. Today, objects are so available, we spend vast amounts of energy, money and time simply managing them: collecting, arranging, storing, recycling and, at last, discarding. And technological artifacts, with their irresistible marketing hype, rapid obsolescence cycle and invariably toxic contents, pose a special problem.

With Service 1, the Artifact Institute confronts this challenge, helping members of the community assess, evaluate and decide what to do with their broken, unused, or unwanted technological artifacts. Venturing beyond mainstream environmentalist memes like “reduce, reuse, recycle,” the Artifact Institute instead creates a complex, comprehensive thought-system into which each technological artifact is entered.

The result is a most refreshing alternative to the attitude to technological consumer artifacts prevalent today: buy it, use it, toss it. In the Artifact Institute, even the lowliest artifact has its place in creation, perhaps (one hopes) prefiguring what might one day become just plain ol’ good policy. No less important, situated as it is in the gallery space, the Artifact Institute invites visitors from the community to think about technology as part of a system and to contemplate their own relationships to technology in the context of industrial capitalism.

The Artifact Institute treads a playful line between hacker-inspired social service and art, branding their project with modernist-inspired fonts, formats and diagrams, which conjure a subtle nostalgia for the days when science was promise and the goodness of technology was an article of faith. These aesthetic decisions are only augmented by the qualities of the artifacts themselves—faded plastic housings, the hint of rancid machine oils, etc. Aesthetically, the Artifact Institute calls us back to the days of the mid-twentieth century, before widespread awareness of things like technology lifecycles and non-fixable “proprietary” devices—perhaps a useful regression, psychologically speaking, as we rouse ourselves to confront the errors into which, back in those times, we first began to slip.

Born in Winnipeg and based in Montreal, Edwin Janzen’s work reaches across artistic disciplines to examine how we define ourselves through fantasies about technology. Edwin is president of articule’s board of directors.

Participating artists: 
Edwin Janzen

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