A Portrait of Capitalism
“Money is fetish. Growth of economy is fetish. Business is fetish. It is not about usefulness or even sense, it is about doing it for itself.” Building upon Karl Marx’s theory, Mario Brand explores how actual it is today.
Mario Brand’s latest series, The Vile Maxim, is inspired by a quote from 18th century Scottish economist, Adam Smith, who wrote, “all for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.”
With a cold, futuristic language, Brand portrays our present capitalistic society in which, as he puts it, “the growth of economy has become a value for itself”. Strolling around mega trade fairs in various cities of his native Germany, he compiled an inventory of waste. “Everything there is built within one or two weeks and quickly thrown away, which is a symbol to me - these fairs are some kind of equivalent for consumption by themselves”, he explains.
Symbols function as a red threat for the series - a train station column covered with sparkling silver tiles; a ceiling covered with dangling cables; half-3D globes representing how much Earth isn’t made available equally to 100% of its population; or the mechanic arm of a robot seen on a screen. These are metaphors for the distance between the making of a product and the place where it’s sold and consumed. “We don’t know about the circumstances in which things are produced anymore - the producer is not visible”, Brand explains.
In addition to shots from the commercial fairs, Brand took a few photographs in a studio, playing around the expression “born with a silver spoon in one's mouth”, whose equivalent in German replaces silver with gold. “I wanted to create this kind of spoon, but one that would be painful if you imagine putting it in your mouth”, he describes.
Not surprisingly, the main theme that shines through his series, beyond immoderation, is artificiality. As an introduction, one faces a pristine fake white wall of strictly geometrical patterns. Inside, inviting as it can be, one gets a glimpse of a heavenly countryside landscape at sunrise - that is, if it were not made of synthetic grass and wallpaper. “This plastic grass and wallpaper have nothing to do with real values”, Brand comments. “It goes back to what Karl Marx explained. The value of society is put into goods, which can easily be taken away, as we saw during the financial crisis in 2007-08.”
Mario Brand is a German documentary photographer. To learn more about Brand's work, visit his PHmuseum profile.
Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.