Cwynar’s collections of objects and images are just as mobile as digital images. Evident in her work is a profound appreciation for the long life-cycle of objects and images. Sorted by colour or subject, among other metadata, their fate is not unlike the images on our phones: sorted, searched, organized, collected, but often forgotten. And yet, these images take up space, on our phones, in our minds, on servers. Our collections take on weighty forms, drawing us into a constellation of extractive industries in inescapable ways. This extraction is material (not least in the minerals and exploitative labour practices which form the matter of analogue and digital photography alike) but also psychological. Participation in systems designed to circulate, store, and collect images also ensures that we are never forgotten by any device or service ever encountered. This too, Cwynar reminds us, is true of objects and images; we can’t quit their material forms. The plastic and celluloid detritus of the twentieth century is a kind of data, exchanged for convenience and forevermore with us.
At this point, you may have noticed that I have not provided much description of the visual content of the objects that Cwynar uses in her work. This is because the mechanisms and apparatuses of image circulation are the real subjects here. Perhaps, as she suggests, we have “lost the plot on the image,” mesmerized by movement. In a 1963 speech entitled “Authoritarian and Democratic Technics,” Lewis Mumford described the relationship between the public and technological systems under capitalism (what Mumford calls “authoritarian technics”) as a kind of “magnificent bribe.” Mumford’s concept of the “bribe” describes the process by which individuals abdicate autonomy in exchange for convenience—forgoing personal data privacy in order to use corporate social media platforms, to use a contemporary example.