Satire makes junk mail a keeper

Satire makes junk mail a keeper

Wait, hasty Canberrans! Don't toss out that so-called ''junk mail'' without giving it a forensic stickybeak. You may be about to toss away a work of art, albeit a mischievous, ephemeral one.

Canberra visual artist Bernie Slater is taking a satirical look at the world of our insatiable consumer appetite for ''stuff'' using a fake (but very realistic-looking, until you really examine it) junk mail catalogue.

An illustration from Bernie Slater's spoof catalogue, which he describes as a ''wolf in sheep's clothing''.

An illustration from Bernie Slater's spoof catalogue, which he describes as a ''wolf in sheep's clothing''.Credit:Graham Tidy

He has produced 20,000 of them and they are being hand delivered throughout this month, just as genuine junk mail catalogues are delivered. It is a part of what is, really, a kind of performance art. He hand delivered one to me here at The Canberra Times in Fyshwick.

He told me yesterday that perhaps only 2000 have gone out so far but that the main deliveries were about to get under way using 50 or more volunteers.


At the moment, the ''Chifley to Chisholm'' bailiwick is looking well-covered but ''we're a bit thin in Gungahlin and have only little bits of Tuggeranong'' covered.

What is Slater, a teacher of visual art at the Canberra Institute of Technology (where he grafts a session on mischief and creativity onto a creative thinking course), up to with this blizzard of 20,000 paper flakes?

He said yesterday that each catalogue is meant to be a kind of ''wolf in sheep's clothing''.

''My strategy was to make the front page look a lot like a real catalogue'', but then, he hopes, as householders innocently read on, the catalogue will turn out to be a kind of wolf.

The wolf will then spur you to think about how and why you consume and about how artful advertisers are at making mundane '''stuff'' sound so very ''titillating'' that consumers feel they have to have it.

His ''stuff'' catalogues are really rather clever. Other than the fact that they're not quite as glossy as the real thing (he's used ''sustainable, carbon-neutral'' paper) lots of the 20,000 who receive them and give them the usual token glance will do just that and then throw them away, thus becoming, unwittingly, performers in this performance art extravaganza.

But those who look closely will see some quirky things. For example, up in the corner of a page of ''specials'' (all of them $6.99), there's professorial old Dr Ivan Pavlov, the scientist who taught dogs to salivate when they heard a bell.

He is tinkling his ''specials'' bell and watching us all, shoppers who buy stuff, salivate at the promise contained in that magic word.

Elsewhere, there are figures of shoppers made entirely of brightly coloured brand names and advertising buzzwords.

There is also a guy and a girl made up of the buzzwords that are aimed at the respective sexes.

Then, on the back of the catalogue (where, Slater says, all doubt that these are spoof catalogues will be dispelled), there is a colouring-in competition for children.

It asks them to colour in a picture of just the kind of pigtailed brat you see and hear when you are out shopping.

Her fists are clenched in fury and she is shrilling: ''I want stuff!''

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