Emptying the Digital Junk Drawer

Sara Cwynar: Gilded Age II at The Polygon Gallery draws from the visual languages of advertising and social media to examine a modern visual culture of consumption.  

Tom Balog // Contributor  

We carry around and archive an extensive amount of information on our phones. Pictures, notes and sound bites collect in our devices and are then uploaded to the cloud, which functions as a digital junk drawer for our memories.  

What would it look like if we were to empty out this massive amount of data, memories, and forgotten moments into a visual space? Sara Cwynar’s exhibition at The Polygon Gallery, Gilded Age II, explores this very question. Cwynar scans archives of forgotten photos and advertisements, resurrecting them in her work through a collage-like process of deconstruction and rearrangement. The exhibition, a compilation of both her early and recent works, is an overwhelming yet sedative glimpse into a visual culture that arises from a history of advertising, social media, technology and photography. 

Tracy (Rupt, Meaning Break Burst), 2017, pigment print, courtesy the artist, Cooper Cole Gallery, Toronto, and Foxy Production, New York

While standing with Justin Ramsey, the assistant curator of the Polygon Art Gallery, we fixate on Cwynar’s work titled “A Rococo Base.” Items in the piece span from different ages of human history. “By confronting us with so much visual clutter, Sara Cwynar is challenging her audience to grapple with the physical limitations of Cloud computing, and the material nature of all that data we pretend is purely virtual,” Ramsey noted. Accumulation is a prominent theme in Gilded age II.  Cwynar wants you to question the role of items that once held purpose and esteem, items that have now been discarded and tossed away. Her work repurposes these forgotten items to be rediscovered and seen once again.  

In her piece “432 Photographs of Nefertiti,” Cwynar layers an image of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, renowned for her beauty, so that the original image is fragmented and lost within the collage. Your eyes skim the surface of her piece and try and understand where it starts and finishes, leaving you unfulfilled. Cwynar’s pieces feel familiar, but in actuality, the whole of what you’re seeing can’t exist outside of the medium that it’s being displayed in. 


432 Photographs of Nefertiti, 2015 pigment print, courtesy the artist, Cooper Cole Gallery, Toronto, and Foxy Production, New York 

“Rose Gold,” one of two videos featured in the exhibition, is a digital representation of technological fads, cultural trends, and human impermanence. Shot on 35mm film and running 8 minutes long, the film’s narrator continually brings up ideas that are then cut off, constantly changing the direction of thought. Watching it, it’s evident it alludes to the short attention span people have due to the digital world’s nagging tendencies. The film satisfies a craving for intellectual content, while also making you question why we consume so much content.  

Cwynar’s work unveils the web of interconnectedness that results from our ability to go on our phones and access an infinite amount of information. People have an addiction to content, which is satisfied through the medium of social media. We store valuable memories in our minds and our digital devices, and then we forget about them. Cwynar draws on these moments and items that at one point were important, but have now been left to clutter storage units, junk drawers, and invisible digital clouds.  

Sara Cwynar: Gilded Age II runs until September 22nd at the Polygon Gallery.  

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