conspicuous consumption

          Conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentleman of leisure. (T. Veblen, The Theory Of The Leisure Class, p. 57)

No other natural phenomenon as a result of manmade global warming is more clearly visible in Switzerland than the melting down of our glaciers. The artist has therefore decided to use glacial stones as a kind of contemporary witness to show the impact of wasteful consumption. Never before has conspicuous consumption been more present than today.

Nikolai Winter’s close link to nature is the source of inspiration for his newest works of art. Inspired by the beauty of the Swiss alps, he is putting sculptural rocks, which were recently exposed by melting Swiss glaciers, in the centre of his newest pieces. Witnessing this glacier melting himself, the artist went to two very important glaciers in Switzerland, which are significant for their melting: he collected rocks at the foot of the Aletsch glacier and at the mudflow of the Bondo glacier – the to date biggest catastrophe in Swiss history caused by a melting glacier. He chose only a few rocks that seemed to have a long history behind them, showing a layered surface. In a next step he digitalized these rocks to use them as image carriers. The stones that appeared at the glacier melting serve as solid basis his newest art series. Not only in a sensual way, but as text support of the pieces.

Linking global warming and wasteful consumption build Nikolai Winters latest consumer critical pieces of art, which are strongly influenced by Thorstein Veblen’s socio-economic analysis of the leisure class in the late 19th century. Veblen is identifying and criticising conspicuous consumption, as a function of social class and of consumerism. The thesis about conspicuous or wasteful consumption can be used as well in our contemporary society of the 21st century as for his originally addressed society of the late 19th century.

The leisure class has employed itself in the economically unproductive practices of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure, which are ‘useless activities’ that contribute neither to the economy nor to the material production of the useful goods and services required for the functioning of society.
As a consequence, Nikolai Winter has decided to use excerpts of Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class and put them in the context of his sculptural stones being a contemporary witness of our wasteful society.

Following his sculptural series ‘luxury goods’ Nikolai Winter picks up the theme of the current (material) consume and questions it by Thorstein Veblen’s text, which reflects on how consume differentiate itself at the end of the 19th century from functionality and purpose from prestige and richness. Veblen explains how this demonstrative, conspicuous consumption, especially for rich people - the upper class, enforces class building.

The sculptures are made of aluminium and each of them has been milled from a single block. According to Nikolai Winter, the process of milling “is a picking up of the uncovering of the original stones”. The original stone is eroded from a block (or a layer of rock formation) and a unique shape emerges. That shape has been created by years of storage and removal – or, like in the sculptures, by the precision of a machine that can execute every detail with pinpoint accuracy. Exhibited with its own chips, the erosion seems as if the process of loosening had taken place only recently, here on the spot.

The format was deliberately chosen to show the massiveness of a stone. Aluminium and stone have approximately the same density and weight, so that a regress on the stone takes place once more. The silvery colour and the origin of the aluminium from the earth's crust also refer to the material of the stone.

Nikolai Winter, 2019