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Point of Sale (detail), 2007

Text for Our Present Knowledge of the Universe

by Alexandra MacGilp

Adrian Lee has created a contemplative environment with an ambiguous aura of reverence. These shops furnishings feel strangely familiar, but we initially misrecognise them. We are confronted with a ubiquitous background format, a debased aesthetic hangover from modernism; clean lines, hygienic white walls, transparent plastic. This forms a neutral stage for consumption. There are no design details to distract from the shopping experience. These display objects are so mundane that, in everyday life, they slip under our radar, we edit them out automatically. These articles, designed to be invisible, are at the bottom of the object hierarchy, their only function is a secondary one, to display commodities to their best advantage. Here, negative spaces are framed, and umbrellas and shoes are invoked by their absence. Decontextualised, however, these devices become to-be-looked-at. In a gallery context we read them as elegant post-Minimalist sculptures. Bought off the peg, they demonstrate the instability of signs. Lee is interested in how people attempt to define themselves through the things they purchase and the way products designers and advertising executives manipulate them. Has the vacuum left by religious faith been filled with the idolatry of mindless consumerism? Stripped of their function, these display units become self-reflexive objects, reflecting on the nature of selling.