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Wheat is Wheat is Wheat

Design Museum Holon

The term “ostentatious consumption” was coined by the American sociologist and economist Thorstein Vebeln in 1899. Vebeln pointed to consumer society’s irrational desire to purchase commodities whose cost exceeds their worth, in order to showcase to one’s high economic status and quality of life.

Products and commodities have changed significantly since Vebeln’s time, as their role has shifted increasingly from the satisfaction of concrete needs to the satisfaction of desires. Whereas products or services can fulfill needs, desire produces desire, and needs are invented alongside a thirst for more and more objects. As the contemporary philosopher Slavoj Žižek argues, “desire does not exist in order to be satisfied, but rather in order to reproduce itself as desire.”

The art of the 20th century introduced everyday objects into the museum. Urinals, tinned food cans, and cardboard boxes have come to be presented as artworks, thus undermining conventional art-world codes. Such decontextualized objects invite the viewers to engage in a new and critical reading of the consumption of commodities and culture.

In the exhibition Wheat Is Wheat Is Wheat, the designer Peddy Mergui exhibits basic everyday products such as flour, sugar and salt in the museum, presenting them as glorified commodities branded by luxury brands such as Gucci, Prada, Nike and more. Mergui uses the skills, talents and tools of a branding and advertising expert; like a seductive magician, he disrupts the appearance and function of familiar, everyday products and lends them a sublime and desirable aura. On the one hand, Mergui chooses the most basic food products – ones that satisfy elementary human needs, and which are usually subsidized by the state so that even the lowest socioeconomic classes can purchase them. At the same time, Mergui uses craft skills and a scrutinizing gaze in order to camouflage these products as luxury brands. Their packaging, which lures us with promises of wealth, quality of life, beauty, youth, and success, could equally be filled with air, straw, or sand. The physical and material value of the product has nothing to do with its symbolic value, which appeals to unconscious desires.

Gertrude Stein’s famous phrase “A rose is a rose is a rose” reveals things to be nothing more than what they are. Similarly, in Wheat Is Wheat Is Wheat, Mergui exposes us to the big lie of ostentatious consumption: flour branded by Prada is nothing more than flour. In doing so, he confronts us with our participation in the culture of ostentatious consumption.

Peddy Mergui is an Israeli designer and the owner of the branding agency Talking Brands. He has worked as an art director in a number of Israel’s leading advertising agencies, served as head of the department of Visual Communications Design at the Holon Institute of Technology, where he serves as s a lecturer and senior faculty member.