Peeling Back the Product

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The world is full of philosophical discussions that examine marketing strategy, branding and all points in between, but rarely is a literal dissection of products involved.

New York-based artist Erik Boker harks back to high school biology in his most recent series of photos appropriately called "Product Dissections." The work is a collection of toothpaste brands split open and pinned on wax in a way familiar to many an unfortunate frog. The result is a somewhat unexpectedly, visually stunning project that forces us to look at a (hopefully) everyday item in a completely different way.

We spoke with Boker about the work, where the idea came from and what it represents to him.

Where did the idea for "Product Dissections"come from and why use toothpaste as the product?
The idea has been rattling around for a while now, stemming from interests in taxonomy and facade and consumer culture. Toothpaste lent itself to be a perfect starting point, because the extremity of its marketing these days has gone into bizarre realms of colors and flavors to attract the new consumer with the bright and shiny and the new and improved. The tubes are also quite anatomical.

Aquafresh Extra Fresh
Aquafresh Extra Fresh
How did you choose which brands to use?
I began choosing brands or products with the most outrageous innards, so to speak, and also sometimes with the silliest names. But I will complete this stage of the project as an index or catalog of the entire genus of toothpastes, employing my best appropriated scientific method, so there won't be any discrimination or criteria for choosing brands. I find the tube to be an interesting form and family of objects, and I plan to expand the idea into other areas and products, bodily and otherwise. And I hope this will continue well beyond tubes.

Crest Whitening with Scope, Citrus Splash.
Crest Whitening with Scope, Citrus Splash.
What sort of a reaction are you hoping to get from viewers?
They were not created necessarily for shock and horror, nor to look like sushi (I've gotten that a few times). I find them quite beautiful as little paintings almost, but many (people) have reacted with disgust. Hopefully there is nice convergence of both, with smiles, and with some fresh perspective and reflection on what it is we consume and why.

Colgate Total Mint Stripe
Colgate Total Mint Stripe
What tools and technique did you use to peel open the tubes?
Trusty x-acto blade. No toothpaste was harmed in the making of this work.

Colgate Maxfresh, Kiss Me Mint
Colgate Maxfresh, Kiss Me Mint
What does placing these objects in this context say about them as products and our relationship with them as consumers?
Peeling back the skins of products (and consumer society if you will) is a loaded action on its own, and of course that is an important part of revealing the goo behind the curtain. But it goes well beyond that, and in truth the project probes at several different ideas threaded through much of my work, including taxonomy and the nature of science, artifact, exploitative marketing, beauty and hygiene, the authority of the museum, among others. Re-contextualizing these toothpastes and reducing them to their naked base material plays in the blurred line between art, science and design. And on one basic level, rejects and erases the distraction of the strategies of branding in our marketed environment and presents them as simple color and form and a beautiful, horrifying mess - which is inherently itself reflective of a cultural process of distortion and repackaging. You might never look at toothpaste the same way again.

Aquafresh, Extreme Clean Empowermint
Aquafresh, Extreme Clean Empowermint
See more of the project and Boker's other work at ErikBoker.com.
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