School of the Art Institute (SAIC) photography instructor Matt Siber has been working on his most recent exhibition “Idol Structures” since 2010. In this project, Siber explores the symbols of late capitalism — stripping its masks, revealing its skeletal remains. In this show, he combines large-scale photographic prints with imposing metal and wooden sculptures. By turning, flattening, and collapsing the recognizable symbols of commercialism, he transforms them into signs without signification. He invites audiences to consider how we consume shoddy workmanship, or products that put our lives and health at risk. It asks us to consider who we’re paying alms to.
Siber says, ”We’ve been spoon-fed this for a long time, that this is the way things are, and that this is American. We connect democracy and capitalism. That was very carefully orchestrated by a guy named Edward Bernays.”
Bernays was an early 20th century American propagandist whose books “Crystallizing Public Opinion” and “Propaganda” laid the foundations for the advertising industry. Bernays also coined the term “public relations” after World War I, once the word “propaganda” had become a negatively associated with German propaganda.Bernays promoted the belief that democracy and capitalism must exist together, but Siber disagrees.
“I’m not sure that’s entirely true. I think that’s just what they wanted people to think at the time. There’s got to be a more compassionate way to use capitalism within the system and balance it with other things,” Siber says.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Siber says he’s not opposed to capitalism generally, only to what writer Robert Reich calls extreme capitalism. “Capitalism really doesn’t take into account humanity very well. It has to be tempered, I think, with other isms. The isms tend to cloud our judgement. We end up having an emotional connection with that ism, and more importantly the opposite of that ism.” He says that we are left with very few choices, and extreme ones at that. The result is systems that don’t work very well and treat people poorly.
Siber says, “Capitalism is not the solution to every problem, but we like to treat it that way. I think the sooner we get past that, the better. We should stop being afraid of socialism, too, while we’re at it. We’ve already got it. There are plenty of socialist programs in this country, so get over it, people.”
Matt Siber’s “Idol Structures” is at the DePaul Art Museum, located next to the Fullerton Red Line station, until December 20, 2015.