Clifton Meador’s Control Mechanism
A non-denominational spiritualist’s workers’ manifesto.
The first page of Clifton Meador’s recent release Control Mechanism tells of an abandoned former factory with “a haunting of mechanical controls by specters in a ghost story,” amidst the brightly-colored multi-layered printed geometric renderings of factory imagery. Presumably, these are the same specters Marx detected haunting Europe in 1848. Control Mechanism, which is printed and published by the artist, is something of an ideological proof-of-concept-piece unto itself, with one man controlling the means of production.
This slim paperback volume is cleverly encased in a blue wraparound cover that opens to reveal the orange-hued brilliant pink cover like a well-packaged gift. The following pages feature scenes of factory labor and materials: stairs, doors, equipment, and tools printed in primary colors on a sparse white background. Several pages of ominous empty rooms with shining beams in bright yellow and blue transition into up-close depictions of numerous electrical boxes, a rotary telephone, several old-fashioned industrial sinks, and eventually an iPhone—notably, there’s no visual depiction of humans, until a glimpse of a hand clutching this phone. The “work uses coarse line screens to print photographic images,” Meador notes in the artist statement on his website. It was printed on an offset press, “one color at a time—a process something like factory labor.” This heavy-handedness pervades the book. The somewhat disjointed poetic refrains playfully share the pages with the prints, making borders and shapes of their own. These words seem to draw inspiration from theory and artworks relating to labor and discipline: Foucault, Marx, Deleuze, and David Lowery’s trippy 2017 film A Ghost Story. Work is not simply work. Indeed, a specter has found its way into all aspects of the processes at hand. As one line in the book reads, “repetitious labor conjured its own demon and required higher pay for worse work.” In another quote from the book, Meador invokes Henry Ford and his suggested communion with the dark spirits: “[F]ord’s bargain with the devil of monotony ensured that efficiency of assembly line labor meant that ordinary people could own cars, toasters, washing machines, refrigerator, radios and televisions.”
Meador was inspired to create this work while photographing a factory that was being repurposed for cultural use. What speaks to him, it seems, are the “ghosts of the labor still haunting the venue,” as “the factory floor is full of typography worker-ghosts.” The smells and sounds of the former factory pervade whatever occupies the space today. Literally, as Meador tells us on one page: “The building is a ouija board.” I once accidentally attended a warehouse party in the same industrial complex formerly home to a leather-treatment facility where my immigrant grandfather labored on the line. Meador gives words to my own memory; that building was a ouija board.
Meador’s book is a non-denominational spiritualist’s workers’ manifesto. The spare, geometric compositions of factory dressings are strangely moving. It’s all an illusion, Meador suggests, both the thrilling advances of the factory floor and the new, liberatory freedom of the gig economy era. Illusions are the ghosts and spirits supposedly lurking just beyond the gradient prints splashed across the pages here. “The shift is part of the factory’s control mechanism for labor,” Meador writes while conjuring the book’s title, yet “the panopticon has been reinvented by social media.”
Meador’s colors and compositions evoke Pop art, which connected mass production and culture, high art, and the successes of capitalism. It seems that the artist both reveres and rejects the lessons of Pop, as he goes beyond the products of mass culture and straight to the source. Why bother with the Campbell’s can when the iconography of the Campbell manufacturer has yet to be addressed? Meador is unafraid to belabor a point—almost exhaustingly so—but finds a way to offer a rhythm to the abstract. Control Mechanism is an object of meaningful labor. But more importantly, it’s distinct and convincingly spooky, an experience of time-bending, intelligent pleasure for the reader.