By Paul Gessell
When big ships are decommissioned, they are often sent to some developing country to be stripped of all salvageable materials. Many outdated computers are likewise dismantled in China, with certain parts recycled. But what about small, cheap, obsolete objects? Where do they go, besides your personal garbage can?
Consider the lowly cassette tape. They started squeezing vinyl LPs out of the market in the 1970s. Then, a decade later, the tapes were muscled out by CDs. So, what ever happened to all those cassette tapes loaded with your favourite tunes? Thousands of them landed on the doorstep of Karen Jordon, the Ottawa artist who has never found any object too lowly to recycle. She even managed to turn human hair found in her shower drain into delicate sculptures.
You would be amazed at the number of parts found in each cassette: strips of tape, the plastic cover, little wheels, screws, and other dainty bits. Individually, they are ho-hum. But when amassed by the thousands, you have the building blocks of intriguing art.
In the case of her most recent exhibit — Slow Dance, currently on view at Karsh-Masson Gallery — there are sculptures, mosaics, jewellery-like creations, and even a fragile-looking wall of the empty cassette tape plastic containers.
“Jordon’s accumulation of tapes in the gallery forms only a minute amount of the massive waste created by technological obsolescence,” Petra Halkes, an Ottawa artist, writer, and curator, says in an essay found in the catalogue for Jordon’s exhibition. “Edward Burtynsky’s photographs that show the ecological and human impact of mass-production spring to mind. The repetitive process of Jordon’s work mimics the scrap worker’s dismantling method and the factory worker’s job performing the same actions over and over, day in, day out. Jordon’s work, too, is tedious: she takes out and sorts each component of the cassette tapes; storage box, plastic casing, minute screws and bolts, two reels, two (smaller) guide reels, a slip sheet and a magnetic shield. In a way, her process signifies compassion, like sympathy pains, for the workers of the world.”
There is no music playing in Karsh-Masson for this exhibition. Jordon has, after all, silenced the music previously recorded on these cassette tapes. However, the muted music does live on, on CDs. Even vinyl is making a comeback. Maybe Jordon should have kept these cassette tapes intact. When the next wave of nostalgia springs up for the 1970s, cassette tapes may once more be in vogue.
Slow Dance. Until April 8 at Karsh-Masson Gallery, 136 St. Patrick St.