Worldshaving, 2011


Worldshaving utilizes industrialist King Camp Gillette’s 1894 plan to create a ‘sustainable’ single world city powered by Niagara Falls, alongside his lasting contributions to the business world as the principal progenitor of marketed planned obsolescence in the form of disposable razor blades, as a lens through which diverse concerns toward collectivity, urbanism, ecology, sustainability, technology, ethos and pathos may be addressed in the development of an all encompassing gesamtkunstwerk.



Worldshaving: Outro (featuring Chris Skinner), installation at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Buffalo, NY, 2011.









Exhibition Text:


For his solo exhibition at Hallwalls, Alex Young presents an “outro” to a series of ideas and projects he has been exploring during the past four years, all thematically connected to the region of Western New York and the ideas of King Camp Gillette. Exemplifying the seeming contradictions inherent in the historical figure of Gillette, Young is exploring what he refers to as a “hyperbolic ultimatum,” the choice—and the sometimes ambiguous space—between unfettered capitalism and, to use Gillette’s words, “united intelligence, material equality.”


King Camp Gillette was an American businessman of the late 19th and early 20th centuries whose savvy eye recognized the commercial value of planned obsolescence and led him to invent the disposable safety razor, an enormously successful product that, within a decade, was selling upwards of 70 million units. The disposable razor brought Gillette not only wealth but enormous fame throughout the popular culture of his time, as his image was reproduced on each product package distributed throughout North America and Europe.


Paradoxically, Gillette was also a Utopian Socialist who, in 1894, wrote The Human Drift in which he proposed, among other things, that all corporations be publicly owned and that everyone in the United States live in a single city named Metropolis, stretching across the expanse of Western New York and powered by Niagara Falls. The population of Metropolis would live in gigantic, luxury hive-like structures and while Gillette’s vision was never manifest, his ideas are reflected in the works of architects like Le Corbusier, some thirty years later. In the ultimate historical come-uppance, the industrialist/visionary lost most of the value of his razor blade shares in the Great Depression and died virtually bankrupt in 1932.


The early 21st century has thus far seemed eerily similar to the Gilded Age of the early 20th century with its radical disparity of wealth, its often transitory sense of value, and its explosive commercialism and obsolescence. Propelled by desire and convenience, there seems an increasingly small zone for compassion, shared sacrifice, or even shared meaning. Within Young’s investigation into the ideas of King Gillette, is the depressing realization that plus ca change plus c’est mème chose. A world that changes so dramatically over the course of a century, but also changes so little, is an egregiously acute example of history repeating, ad nauseum.


At the center of the exhibition is Worldshaving: Outro, a multichannel video installation collaboration with media and performance artist Chris Skinner featuring Skinner as the long-deceased industrialist and razor blade magnate and takes the form of a series of dramatic monologues cinematically fractured into discrete conversations with place and time. Melancholic musings, inauspicious thunderings, vexation, and disgust. Gillette appears as a figure in the waste landscape, a chimera of hopeful pontificate and snarling discontent—an Alceste, Don Quixote, Ghost of Christmas Present, none of the above. A discontented idealist who lays his admonitions upon the present.



Worldshaving, installation at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Buffalo, NY, 2011.















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