Daniel Szalai visualizes a story about technology, man’s relation to nature and how human existence might not be too far away from that of a mass-produced chicken
With recent reports of a Swedish company micro-chipping its employees, concerns have rightly been raised about the use of technology to control and micromanage. As well as less privacy, more pressure, and the huge possibility for exploitation, the moral implications surrounding this practice are endless. Our labor has long been bought and sold with wages, but when it comes to tracking, and inevitably controlling behaviors under the guise of "security," are we witnessing the slow de-humanization of white-collar workers?
This act of micro-chipping could well distort our understanding of what is natural, especially if every move we make is scrutinized. In his series ‘Novogen,’ Hungarian photographer Daniel Szalai visualizes a story about technology and man’s relation to nature. On the one hand, accepting that technology is now an inseparable part of us, his concerns about this extend to where the relationship might lead us.
“I am deeply skeptical regarding the promise that technology will really make our lives better or, more exactly, happier, because the dogmatic belief in technology can lead to an extreme utilitarian thinking about our environment, both in terms of the physical resources of the planet, including other living things and people."
His investigation began after a friend who had been working on a large chicken farm enlightened him with the story of Novogen.
As well as the name of a company, Novogen is also the name of a breed of chicken. A breed of chicken produced by the company in its development of pharmaceutical products such as medicines and vaccines. Like it's ancestors and relations such as the Derbyshire Redcap or Iowa Blue, the breed has been named according to its birthplace. However, unlike its relations, this breed sounds like a toothpaste brand or reduced calorie loaf of bread, not a chicken.
According to the company website, "NOVOgen WHITE LIGHT has been designed to perform in various environments. Easy to manage without specific techniques of management, with the NOVOgen WHITE LIGHT you will get satisfaction thanks to its performance potential, its excellent internal and external egg quality traits."
Exclude the egg reference and you could be forgiven for thinking this description was trying to sell you a vanity product for your hair or teeth. The chicken has almost lost its status as a living creature, instead, it's sold as something to boost performance. Having been broken down into percentages, Szalai remarks on how its life is no longer that of a chicken, as we know it.
"They are treated and conceptualized as being mass-produced, identical products, each functioning as a small, individual factory unit, producing the final product, the egg."
Drawing parallels between how the chickens are treated and how we think of people in certain situations, such as in the job market, or the political sphere, the project comprises of three main parts.
At its core is an installation of 168 portraits of individual chickens. The installation is supplemented by a series of photographs documenting the environment of the production facilities as well as the process of the vaccine production. The last part is a selection of extracts from the management guide of the NOVOgen WHITE LIGHT and the marketing material of the company which produces them.
When it came to photographing the chickens, it was important for Szalai to pay individual attention to each of them, but also to take a large number of portraits at the same time. "This not only reflects the scale of mass production but also brings up the question of individuality. The fact that people may believe or, at first glance, suspect that all the portraits were taken using one chicken is telling about thoughts concerning these animals."
Elaborating further on his parallels between the NOVOgen WHITE LIGHT chickens and the economic view of the human life cycle, he goes on to explain the bottom line of his metaphor quite simply. “As I see, extreme capitalism conditions individuals to behave like the chickens I photographed, as continuously consuming, persistently productive factory units."
Of course, there's a huge difference between the current micro-chipping debate and a breed of chickens being clinically marketed as a technological product. But, by bringing Novogen chickens into the public sphere, Szalai has produced a thought-provoking and visually arresting project that addresses many themes and topics relatable with our current relationship to technology.
Daniel Szalai is currently studying at the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design. View more of his work via www.danielszalai.com