Written by Molly Dunn
It’s something many of us experience every day: the crinkle of opening a granola bar, the pop of a fresh Yerba Mate, the screechy squeal before a munch of Cheetos or chips. But what happens to the remnants of these instant gratifications? Minneapolis artist JoAnn Verburg’s photo series “After Before”, an exhibition in the Cornerstone Art Center’s I.D.E.A. Space until March 11, provides some insight.
Centered around everyday objects, “After Before” examines the pervasive sense of consumerism within modern society, underlining both our addiction to the shiny and new and our disregard for the used.
Verburg holds a BA in sociology from Ohio Wesleyan University and an MFA in photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Her master’s thesis focused on photography’s capacity to convey motion and create a sense of time. The artist is known for her ability to produce photographs that transcend single moments, as she lends vitality and volatility to each subject she captures. Verburg often focuses on the natural world, exploring the “energy and sensuality” of nature. Her work is in the permanent collections of the LACMA, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, MoMA, the National Portrait Gallery in D.C., the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. She has held teaching positions at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Yale University, and our very own Colorado College.
“After Before” is appropriately set in the canals of Venice, a city whose fate is determined by rising sea levels, a likely consequence of overconsumption. Verburg snaps lone pieces of garbage occupying the Italian waterways—examples of the repellent ‘after’ defined by their apparent use. These shots are quick and unrefined, taken with a digital point-and-shoot camera. Their rawness emphasizes the banality of pollution; the litter that graces each frame is a commonplace find. A crushed juice box bobs alone in green waters. A sloppy paper towel languishes in mud.
In contrast, Verburg’s ‘before’ stills take on a highly calculated creative direction. Elegantly framed, the mundane objects she photographs read as precious treasures. Although these articles—a basketball delicately perched on the edge of a table, a banana lounging against a wall, a rose clasped between aged hands—are nothing short of products one can find in their neighborhood Walmart, they possess inherent value. We find these items are beautiful because of the wants and needs they fulfill. We desire them.
Together, the trash and treasures of “After Before” highlight the drug-like qualities of modern materialism. By giving objects personality, Verburg emphasizes the abusive nature of consumption. Like abandoned lovers, items pined after in one moment are discarded the next. Thus, Verburg presents the viewer with a timeline of gratification: first by provoking our lust for satisfaction and finally by displaying our apathy toward material deemed useless. The artist’s presentation of pollution adds another level of pessimism to the collection, as Verburg shows the destruction of a once beautiful landmark fueled by society’s hedonistic tendencies.