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Rebekah Modrak

Rebekah Modrak

Professor, School of Art & Design

Contact

Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Office: 2072 AA
Phone: (734) 936-1853
Personal Website

Curriculum Vitae

M.F.A. (Art Media Studies), Syracuse University, 1996 B.F.A., New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, 1992

Biography

My practice is at the intersections of art, activism, writing, and creative resistance to consumer culture, combining observation, analysis, and action. As a contemporary artist, I take on multiple critical roles in the commercial marketplace to challenge the oft-unconscious consumption in our daily lives and issues around representation and ethics, and to take advantage of the opportunities of using consumer venues as a nexus of democracy.

My work Re Made Co. (http://remadeco.org/) is a recreation and parody of actual company Best Made Co.’s website and social media. Re Made Co. replaces Best Made’s $350 artisanal designer axe with a $350 plunger, using Best Made’s own words to humorously but critically call attention to a complex range of issues including: the nostalgia for a idealized pioneer life that has surfaced in modern life; the sanitization of traditional male roles of power and aggression through trendy graphic design; the consumption of symbolic tools by an upper-class for cultural tourism; and the complex nature of authenticity. A legal contention from Best Made Co., whose lawyers sent a cease and desist document, empowered a deepening understanding of first amendment rights and the protections of Fair Use, and I frequently write about and present the legal and philosophical perspectives of the work such as decisions not to disclose ownership on the actual site.

I’ve written and published a series of articles about the relationship between brand strategies, class displacement, and identity. “Learning to Talk Like an Urban Woodsman” (Consumption Markets & Culture, 2015) analyzes the Best Made brand’s cultural references to masculinity, outdoorsmen and the frontier, their photographic language of snapshot images, and their design, reveals the consequences of these expressions, and proposes strategies for reassigning value. “Bougie Crap” (Infinite Mile, 2015) considers the “partnership” between Shinola and the College for Creative Studies, and the ethics and effects of this collaboration on design, education, and gentrification. This essay questions the complicity of artists and designers in the consumption, production, and exhibition of “bougie crap” and emphasizes the need for artists to attend to cultural critique. Other published writing can be found at: https://umich.academia.edu/RebekahModrak

In 2017, I launched RETHINK SHINOLA (http://rethinkshinola.com), an artwork expanding on “Bougie Crap.” The work uses video and web interface to present and critique Shinola’s brand messages and representations of patriarchal whiteness to enforce perceptions of their “leadership.” In Shinola’s narratives, the Wild Detroit environment needs a civilized savior who can first identify with and then tame and civilize the savage.

Other projects use eBay.com as a site for the creation and distribution of work. The curatorial projects eBayADay (http://exstrange.com/relatives/ebayaday/ ) and #exstrange invited artists and curators to use the entire auction listing (image, text, category, pricing, etc.) as material for an artwork. The international #exstrange (http://exstrange.com/ ), a collaboration with curator Marialaura Ghidini, widely publicized the hashtag in order to invite open, unrestricted participation. #exstrange grew into the largest artistic intervention ever on eBay, spanning four months of daily auction launches, with over eighty artists from South America, the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Studying consumption habits in farming communities and in the increasingly affluent city of Ann Arbor led to questions about the role of humility. I put together a collaborative team including faculty from Marketing, Philosophy, and the Library at the University of Michigan to create and host a colloquium on the nature of humility, its benefits and costs and its role “in the age of self-promotion.” In October 2017, twenty-six participants — including artists, philosophers, a farmer, spiritual leaders, psychologists, a journalist, a lawyer, … — convened in Ann Arbor to discuss the implications of humility in our practices, and these conversations are developing into a book. (https://www.facebook.com/humilitycolloquium/)

I am the lead author of Reframing Photography (Routledge, 2011) (http://www.reframingphotography.com/) a major book redefining photographic practice as actions — of vision, of light and shadow, and of reproduction — that can be understood through media-centric practices as well as through other fields, disciplines, and exploits. Here, photography is explored through other practices; for example, mechanical reproduction is considered in connection with genetic cloning in order to shed light on the complexities of duplication and reveal larger cultural concerns about authenticity and originality. Other essays explore such topics as the ethics of copying and capturing, and reenactment as a photographic act.

I earned my BFA from the School of Art at Alfred University and my MFA from the Department of TransMedia at Syracuse University. I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Gallery

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