Mercury, March 14, 2002
New York artist Heidi Cody dials into a fascination with good, old-fashioned consumerism in the exhibit, "No Purchase Necessary." It is a well-crafted selection of work that provides a graphically stunning glimpse into aspects of advertising like branding, packaging, etc. At its most successful moments, the exhibit goes beyond formal loveliness and teases out critical commentary on American consumer culture. Cody pokes fun at out society's affinity for such delicacies as Oreo Cookies and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups – by focussing on the logos and packaging that enclose the tasty treats.
In the series entitled "American Alphabet," Cody displays 26 square light boxes, each of which illuminates letter from a sort of corporate alphabet. The viewer is hooked into deciphering what brand and product is connected to each stylized letter. One ultimately recognized the "C" is appropriated from Campbell's Soup, the "L" is derived from Lysol packaging, the "S" comes from Starburst Fruit Chews, and so on. It is a twisted game that Cody has constructed here, and it's one that the viewer doesn't necessarily want to win. For with each solved puzzle, for each recognized corporate source, a sickening feeling invades.
Cody continues this sly confrontation with the viewer in the work "Fast Pitch." The grid of Plexiglas panes borrow graphic fragments from corporate logos, forming a geometric, color-rich composition. In this instance, Cody has removed text, furthering the complexity of the viewer's test. She reveals only part of a blue domino, which we realize is part of the packaging for Domino's Pizza. Yellow rectangles set against a red background are recognized as the McDonald's french fries. Again, as the viewer works to solve this visual puzzle, Cody effectively kicks us in the gut.
Upon first run through, "No Purchase Necessary" has a slick immediacy, offering a sort of candy satisfaction that tastes good, but leaves the viewer seeking a full meal. What is strange is that after a day or two of consideration, the power of Cody's work comes to light, and the dinner we are looking for is served. For she essentially plants a seed (much like advertising agencies work to establish in 30-second commercials) and leaves the rest to us. Cody simply pronounces the viewer as consumer and works to illuminate, in all its ugliness, the unhealthy attachment that one forms with brand and logo. This entreats us to consider our place in the corporate food chain, to realize and question the ultimate relationship that creates dupes of us all. For with the American propensity for status, each consumer becomes an unpaid advertiser. Example: Where would Nike be if millions of people did not advertise the swoosh on T-shirts, duffel bags, baseball caps, jogging suits, underwear, socks, uniforms, tennis shoes, etc., etc., etc.?