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Vandana Jain
The Shorthand for Luxury
Station Independent Projects
164 Suffolk Street, New York, NY
January 9–February 10, 2013

The global financial system—including banking and insurance, petroleum and energy, the pharmaceutical and automotive industries, and communications and computer technology—is so enormous and complex that it nearly defies description, let alone representation. In her ongoing practice Vandana Jain dissects and rearranges corporate logos and wordmarks, making institutional graphic design collide with traditional visual forms of Eastern cultures, such as mandalas, tangrams, and prayer flags. Jain’s video The 100 Highest Grossing Corporations of the World for the Fiscal Year Ending in March 2011, 2012, transforms a recent Fortune ranking into a colorful mandala. Starting with a central image, the sunny Walmart asterisk, the configuration expands slowly, with the familiar logos of Chevron, Toyota, PetroChina, and General Electric—as well as dozens of unfamiliar ones—added one by one in radial symmetry, before disappearing in reverse order. Running in a three-and-a-half-minute loop, the video envisions global finance not only as a recurring boom and bust but also, disturbingly, as a living, breathing entity.

Highest Grossing Corporations reveals that major corporations favor abstracted forms or stylized words to animal representations. Jain sources smaller businesses that employ panthers, snakes, and spiders—creatures revered in mythology but now simply considered fearsome—for three sumi-ink drawings: Spider Totem, 2009, collects arachnid imagery selling ski apparel, radio antennae, and data connections; and Snake Totem, 2009, gathers cobras from security companies, G.I. Joe toys, and sports cars. The artist fashions each precisely hand-drawn, symmetrical composition into a human form, underscoring an anthropocentric worldview and naturalizing corporate personhood. The ink drawings hang shoulder to shoulder on the gallery’s longest wall, which is also covered by The Shorthand of Luxury, 2012, an expanse of wallpaper depicting black-and-white silhouettes of fleurs-de-lis, swarms of bees (an Italian apiarist group’s logo), the Wellcome Trust’s unicorn, and a dragon that Jain found on a Thai restaurant sign. If Jain’s meditative video promotes a dubious path to self-enlightenment through earthly fortunes, the discordant mix of branding symbols in the totems and wallpaper expresses the confusion of a world littered with consumption.

Originally published at Artforum.com on January 26, 2013.