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Words, Photos, and the Capitalist Aesthetic

Artist Rohan Schwartz's latest endeavour is a low-fi, consciously underwhelming, ongoing Instagram project attempting to de-contextualised language.

Melbourne mixed media artist Rohan Schwartz has dabbled in pretty much everything. In the process, he's had his work celebrated and exhibited in far-reaching parts of the globe where there are toilets I don't even understand how to use.

His latest endeavour is a low-fi, consciously underwhelming, ongoing Instagram project attempting to de-contextualise language. He photographs random stanches of the language we're inadvertently bombarded with everyday. By removing words from any familiar context—artistically or linguistically—he reveals their strange role in a world flooded with advertising.


The result is brash, confusing, and it stands apart awkwardly on Instagram— juxtaposed against the #poolside #minimal #summer #breakfast #festival shots that make up 95 percent of most people's feeds.

VICE: You come from a mixed media background, how did that influence your photography?
Rohan Schwartz: I often find different mediums have different functions and different limitations. I think it's more about adapting to the medium and finding a new way to articulate myself.

I think with photography, I really like the immediacy, and the way mistakes get made.

Do you publish your mistakes, or do you feel like there are just less consequences with photography compared to other mediums?
Everything I publish is fallible in nature. Instagram can be so limited and problematic, data falls apart really quickly when you're doing post on anything shot on a phone, but it's something I enjoy, kind of just rolling with.

There's so little consequence and cost to mobile photography. Having nothing to be lose can be quite freeing.
I think definitely being part of that platform your image just becomes part of this even plateau of images. It's so inconsequential and meaningless in a beautiful way, that you're just adding more to this infinite ocean of material.

If you step away for just the tiniest bit and think about all the content that people are feeding into Instagram and the motivations of the people that are making it, it's absurdity becomes quickly apparent.


People are really weird and it's nice to be part of that.

Your photography definitely has an absurdist nature, are aesthetics something you consciously avoid?
I don't think it's possible to avoid an aesthetic, even if you're not willingly participating.

Maybe passive is a better word. You're taking what your camera is giving you and not forcing it.
I love limitations, I kind of miss the cameras that came on the really old Nokias. But even on those, there's so much information on so many levels. And it's up to you to arrange that and pull some kind of meaning out of it.

I guess, the main narrative in your photographs is information. Your work reminds me how much we're being constantly being bombarded with language. Is it something you think about a lot?
There's definitely times I dream about what life would be like without language.

It must influence us in ways we can't even comprehend, it's not even second nature, it's first nature to read something put in front of you.
There's just infinite layers, and infinite ways to interpret everything we see, depending on every experience you've had in your life up to that point.

And underneath all those layers, you can see the gleam of the capitalist aesthetic which is a happy unintended consequence.

I like to meditate on this sub-conscious awareness that you're only alive for a short amount of time. Without being too perverse about it, our life on this planet is just absurd, which makes the constant documentation of it on Instagram even more absurd.


And in the same way that everything on Instagram is on this level playing-field. Everything is on the same playing-field from an absurdist perspective. Like, why is life considered so precious when death is inevitable etc…
I think the internet can give us an illusion of infinity as well, when the mark we've left on the internet could conceivably last forever.

So I guess your work is like a mild disruption.
I'm just happy to be contributing to this giant primordial soup of constant documentation. And best-case scenario, hopefully I can cause people to have a reflective thought, if they're able to.

Words by Ben Thomson. Follow him on Instagram: @Benjamin_Thomson