consumption, korea

why consumption?

What is so interesting about invoices and receipts? The money is gone and the product or service has been consumed. Except for occasion when they can be used for compiling an expense report to claim the money back.

These pieces of paper, corresponding to entries in the seller’s database, are an evidence of our daily consumer transactions. Same as breathing or thinking, we consume. Our thoughts are preoccupied with what to consume and how to pay for it. It has become natural to us.

In the distant past artists painted mountains, flowers, and animals. These were common things that surrounded them in their everyday life. Still, they found it worthy to take a second look at them, a careful look, representing what they see with a new freshness and amount of detail. But those days are gone. Today we live in a world build by men for men. We spend our days in windowless rooms under artificial lighting and commute in air conditioned cars and busses. Our reality is a reality of concrete, steel, glass and LCD displays. Within this world, we breathe and think, and consume. We have always been consuming, in some way or another. But now, the action takes on a new significance. It is not only a process of feeding and sheltering oneself, but it has become a complex system of justifications that drive the decisions of our lives. Consumption is not anymore an activity, but it is a complex of activities, assumptions, attitudes and beliefs. While urban space has become our second nature, transaction records have become equivalents of the reflection of one’s face in a lake or well. When we look at the supermarket receipt or credit card statement, we can see ourselves. A constructed version of ourselves, not dissimilar to the constructed version of the surrounding environment. In the same way we live in an environment which we did not construct by our own hands, the mirror image we see when we look at our consumption is also not an image constructed by ourselves. What we see is a data set, which comes together as our consumer profile, the alter ego of us living in the marketing database of the supermarket loyalty program, banking corporation or government agency.

From the big data perspective, a receipt is a portrait, it is a decision profile – one between billions of others. I decided to observe this portrait in detail. What will I see? What will others see? I reproduce and draw the content of the receipts in order to portray a piece of our world, which is here, but which often just slips through our hands. It is a part of our new nature now as much as mountains and rivers are.


Consumption, Korea has been created during my stay in Korea and therefore uses Korean language as on the original receipts. The handwriting executed with an ink brush in a language I don’t understand (which thus actually means it is hand drawing) adds additional significance to the act of writing itself. Same as one learns to draw natural phenomena by reproducing what one thinks s/he sees, I learn to draw the script by copying of the similar yet not same succession of consumption records. The recording of records thus reaches beyond a reflection one’s self as it is here and now (a kind of self-portrait) and actually transforms the self into something else, relating the alienated self to its surroundings.