BETTER LIVING CATALOG by Pippa Garner
135 x 205mm, 100 pages, colour printing, perfect bound, softcover, 2023
Pippa Garner’s Better Living Catalog, originally published in 1982, takes the form of a mail order catalog featuring clever and whimsical inventions that parody consumer goods while simultaneously critiquing America’s obsession with ingenuity, efficiency, leisure, and comfort. These works, which were made as prototypes and photographed for the publication, take the form of improbable accessories, clothing, footwear, home appliances, and office gadgets.
For example, the “Reactiononometer,” a portable wristband, instantly measures social success, while the “Digital Diet Loafers” display the wearer’s weight with every step. If the “Munch-o-Matic” reduces deskwork interruptions by flinging a snack right into the user’s mouth, other items promise financial solvency (the controlled cash flow “Autowallet”), sustainable waste management, or mess-free companionship (the “Pet-a-Vision” TV console). The artist asserts that all of the products in the book are “absolute necessities for contemporary survival.”
The Better Living Catalog was a pop hit when it was published, earning Garner spots on nighttime TV talk shows and attention from magazines like Vogue and Rolling Stone. In a meme-filled culture, the works still resonate today, finding their analog in widely-circulating consumer products, and—in the case of the “High Heel Skates”—even appearing unattributed in the runway collection of a major luxury fashion brand.
A few years after the Better Living Catalog was published, Garner began her gender transition, which she has characterized as an artistic project that draws conceptual parallels to the altered consumer goods she has continued to create since the 1970s. The artist’s practice has always been about hacking—gender hacking, she stated, was “an excellent premise for maverick conceptual art and diametrically opposed to anything I’d ever done.”