GSI Seminar - Still Life, Vanitas, the fetishes of commodity culture

28 September 2017, 13:00 - 14:00
Cambridge campus

Global Sustainability Institute ident

As part of our lunchtime seminar series, visual artist and Senior Lecturer in Photography at ARU, Dawn Woolley, is coming to talk to us about the link between sustainability and commodity culture through the exploration of the art forms 'Still Life' and 'Vanitas'.

The event is open to all, and free to attend, with a light lunch provided.


The function of vanitas is to bring to our attention the finite nature of life, to remind us that our time is short, and our actions have consequences. In allegorical still life paintings the food objects express symbolic messages of immoral pleasures; they warn us that a judgment is coming. The table is often in a state of disarray, connoting a struggle and inferring the aftermath should we succumb to temptation.

We have a very different conception of vanitas today. Commodities are presented to us as objects that can save time and slow the affects of ageing. At the same time the things we consume are transitory and likely to be discarded. We are trained to have an expectation of short-lived pleasure.

I will present some of my recent photographic works and talk about the paradoxical role of commodities in relation to time and value. Using theories of commodity and anthropological fetishism I will consider adverts and packaging to be spells that promise to provide the consumer with happiness, social success, and love. I will explore vanitas in relation to waste, prestige and in-built obsolescence.

Event Details

28 September 2017, 13:00 - 14:00
Cambridge campus
LAB307, Lord Ashcroft Building, Cambridge campus
Free to attend

No booking is required