… He will not perform. That is his performance.
[ … ]
Els Barents: Your view of society is not really a pleasant or happy one, it seems. Your figures are always under some kind of pressure or restraint, no one seems to be doing what they want to be doing in his life. Your world appears to be ruled by an iron hand. There are a lot of laws in it. But you talk about how society contains opposites always. How do you think this ‘opposite’ manifests itself in your pictures?
Jeff Wall: I’m aware that my pictures have a feeling of unfreedom about them. Their subject matter is unfreedom, too. The form and the technique tend to have a hyperorganized, rigid character; everything is strictly positioned. I want to express the existing unfreedom in the most realistic way. Take for example Bad Goods. This picture is constructed as a kind of triangle, one point of which is outside the image.
[line break added] The heap of rotting lettuces is the apex, and the two other corners are made up of the British Columbia Indian in the picture, and the spectator in front of it. But the spectator and the Indian are looking at the lettuces and at each other. [ … ] But this Indian, in my view, will never move toward the lettuce as long as the spectator is also there, as long as the triangle exists.
[line break added] The triangle separates two people from each other, and in doing that it is a kind of diagram of the consequences of the economy. In the economy, natural products separate people from each other because they are also always forms capital takes. Lettuce, like any commodity, is just capital in a kind of natural disguise. Ideally, humans are united over food. But I suppose that presumes there’s food for everyone.
[line break added] The Indian will not move toward the lettuce, he will not be seen as just a victim, as a “beggar” or whatever category you want to set up. He will not perform. That is his performance. His unfreedom is more important to him than food. He is not just a victim, he is also a fighter. In Bad Goods the whole structure of the picture is based on this figure’s necessary unfreedom, and his expression of it.
Jeff Wall, Bad Goods, 1984