Go back to article: Technologies of Romance: looking for ‘object love’ in three works of video art

Rosie Carr’s The Photocopier Who Fell In Love With Me

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Video still from the Photocopier Who Fell in Love with Me

Rosie Carr’s The Photocopier Who Fell In Love With Me

The title of Rosie Carr’s The Photocopier Who Fell In Love With Me (2018)[2] promises amusement, but the piece is only superficially comic. While its audience is bound to grin at certain points as well as at the general conceit, the piece might also remind us that a joke once applied to or deployed within art, is not necessarily as funny as the same joke deployed in life.

In the work, a voiceover reads an intimate confessional monologue relaying a young woman’s barely repressed passion for an efficient and (literally) warm photocopier working away in the corner of the office where the woman is employed. There, the workers (whom, we might assume include the artist herself carrying out the kind of ‘day job’ familiar to many recent arts graduates) are forced to execute dull, repetitive, far-from romantic routines and duties that might seem trivial and ‘beneath them’. If this is a love story, however, its narrative remains unfulfilled as something born on one side of the imagination of a bored human being, and on the other by a machine unable to express itself despite its apparently ‘skilled’ or ‘intelligent’ attributes and actions. While there is something absurd and incongruous about the barely repressed eroticism suggested here by Carr this is surely not dissimilar to the commonplace fetishisation of commodities on which much of modern, capitalist, consumerism depends (and this issue of fetishism will return, towards the end of this article with respect to the work of Elizabeth Price).

As ‘consumers’ we know all too well how cars, shoes, clothes, electronic devices, etc. may all be fetishised along with the status they supposedly signify and impart to their owners, and if this fetishisation does not erupt unprovoked within us then it is artfully cultivated and encouraged by strategic advertising. Thus consumers do build quasi-romantic, quasi-erotic relationships or even ‘love affairs’ of a kind, with objects and devices, pursuing narratives that can involve desire, sycophancy, unattainability, prohibition, attainment, dependency, obsession, loss, grief, and regret. For many, our mobile phones are said to be the first things we touch each day and the last thing we touch before retiring at night. This kind of sociological awareness of the impact of new technologies is well demonstrated in the work of Sherry Turkle (2011).

With the dawn of the industrial revolution Romanticism sought, in various ways, to alleviate, articulate and compensate for human traits and passions detained and diverted by modern, unnatural, unseasonal and exploitative mechanisms, found first in mills and mines but arguably also evident today amid our proliferation of computers, keyboards, and spreadsheets. In the same spirit, Carr’s video subtly implicates a  twenty-first century office worker who, in repressing more disruptive responses to her condition, finds her most sensuous and affective nature diverted by the possibilities of a machinic office romance, one that is less likely to disrupt the efficient schedule binding the worker to her task, and also less likely to be seen as incongruous to her official role and position.

Carr thus uses the relatively immaterial medium of video art to proliferate a simultaneously tragi-comic, profound and political scenario, involving pathos and empathy while portraying dehumanisation and making an appeal for sensuality and sensitivity within a harsh and unfeeling environment. Despite being intimate and personal, Carr’s video alludes to a more or less brutal and banal incarceration experienced by billions of low-skilled, office workers worldwide, caught in the nexus of ‘9 to 5’ jobs, bound to high-rent or restrictive mortgage regimes. These incarcerated lifestyles tend to be relieved only by the prescribed, Orwellian provision of ‘happy hours’, ‘package holidays’ and ‘weekends’, as well as by fast food, online dating, and ‘couch-potato’-style streamed TV entertainment. Thus, inescapably tied-in to their suburban commuter community, the ubiquitous standing commuter or ‘strap-hanger’ becomes a quasi-automaton who might eventually come to approximate the office machines that they have come to serve just as dutifully as their landlady, boss, and the overarching regime of modern, technologised capitalist consumerism.

As we watch Carr’s video we might well come to award ourselves (along with the photocopier and the office worker) the status of an ‘object’ in need of ‘love’, or ‘self-love’  because it reminds us that our deep emotional need for care and companionship is all too often diverted, deferred, mediated, commodified and manipulated by external demands and inhuman technologies. Such technologies promise to help us by extending our abilities and thus challenging human limitations only to turn us away from admiration for ourselves, our fellow humans and from humanity and direct us instead towards admiration, affection and even ‘love’ for the technologies themselves as they monopolise our attention, enslave our gaze, occupy both our time and our hands, and apparently exceed us in their prescribed ability to speedily fulfil our particular needs.

The Photocopier Who Fell In Love With Me uses the particular propensity of video, and video art to record, edit, construct and transmit a moving and sonic image of an everyday scenario within which intimacy and affection unfold in surprising ways. A crossfire of emotions results from a closely explored dialogue between the technology of video art, the technology of office machinery, the surreptitiously engaged persona of the office worker, and ourselves, the audience, as we are drawn-in to feel the barely suppressed sensuality latent within these human and post-human exchanges.

In Carr’s scenario, surprising relationships strike-up between humans and objects, but these are perhaps not distinct from the ‘object love’ experienced by the visitor to, or curator of a museum, as referred to by Geoghegan and Hess in the introduction above.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/191209/003