In Broken Sets / eBay Penelope Umbrico makes new photographic works from cropped images of broken LCD TV screens that the artist found for sale on eBay. Because the broken monitors are sold for parts, eBay sellers turn on the TVs when photographing them so that potential buyers can see that they are still functioning. Printed at large scale, these images become highly-saturated grids, color fields made from pixels that are aesthetically reminiscent of Modernist Abstract Formalism. Beyond Umbrico’s framing of the abstract beauty of the screens, is the added significance of their provenance. The works’ incidental compositions are derived from the breakdown and failure of their own promising technology.
By presenting these inadvertent abstractions as formal artworks in their own right, she creates an analogy between the inevitable breakdown of new technology and the obsolescence of Modernist utopianism. Furthermore, Umbrico’s examination of the ongoing process of technological change brings to mind McLuhan’s dictum: “the content of one medium is always another medium.” (Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man).
Also in the exhibition are images from Universal Sunsets (2009), works related to the public installation of the same name at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport; and the video Sun Burn (2009), an animation of cropped sunset images sourced from Flickr. See the Talks section for the artist talk with Umbrico.