A Year of Receipts in a Lotus Fold - An unfinished unfolding of the grid and modern consumerism
For a year I collected all of my receipts. A story of the food I ate, the medication I took, the places I went, and how much I spent. I then cut, folded, and glued my cost of living together to create a book no bigger than the card that paid for it. The book is playful, the receipts personal, my data intimate but also banal. My vibrator receipt squished between the snacks I bought. The rise in the cost of eggs serialized between the insurance rebate and the dosage of my medication. The physical density of the book, the space it takes, and the infinite room for growth is synchronized with my desire to purchase and my financial limits. Some of the receipts are in perfect condition, others I had to fish from between the layers of my bag, tangled between my fresh pack of cigarettes and chapstick.
Today consumption is an act separated from the human. 5000 years ago humans invented money, and money, of course, shaped the world. Consumption is inherently political and personal and the receipts we collect are largely invisible. The Oxford Dictionary defines a ‘receipt’ as “ Something received; the amount, sum, or quantity of something received,” Urban Dictionary defines it as “Evidence or proof. Often in the form of screenshots or saved snaps.” Receipts are evidence of consumption, behavior, where and how we interact with the world around us. Modern receipts oscillate between visible and invisible, we hide our ‘guilty pleasures’, ‘flex’ the fruits of our hustle, and collage patterns of consumption into aesthetics and personality types. The intertwining of my own consumption habits and self-identity subconsciously took over the narrative of my book. It was not enough to chronicle and make visible my purchases, I also began to edit my own story by excluding the receipts, or evidence, that I was not the person I self-identified as. Like any book, it was edited for its audience, one already fluent in consumerist symbolism.
The book is made from a ‘lotus fold,’ a simple technique involving three folds in identical paper squares that are then glued together on opposite sides. The book binding I chose stimulates action by compelling the reader to unravel its pages, encouraging playfulness through its bouncy and flexible nature. Receipts are a perfect medium because they are a consistent size and material and, most importantly, they are free (after purchase of course).
Over time, I began to collect some receipts, and discard others—the question “Would you like a receipt?”’ required deep introspection. Did this purchase of grapes exude some part of my identity? Other times I would ask for a receipt, excited to add this to the story I was crafting. When I traveled I made sure to hoard my receipts, they became souvenirs of homesickness, experiences, and evidence of my presence. They were proof of not only what I bought with my money but where I spent my time. It was a story of my year, one I could edit to align with my own internal monologue. While I have no control over the invisible grid of data that trails us all, with this book I could build my own grid, tell my own story using my own data.
->Address of the store
->Phone number of the store
->Cashier's name or identification number
->Website link/ QR code
->Day/Month/Year of purchase
-> First / Last Name
-> Transaction ID
-> Item name
-> Cost of item
-> Quantity of item
-> Sum of costs
-> Type of payment
-> First digits on my Card
-> Liability/ protection legal information
‘Off the grid’ is typically defined as a lifestyle that does not depend on public utilities, especially electricity, but culturally the term connotes ideas of isolation and rejection of modernity and capitalism. To be truly ‘off the grid’ would be to reject innovation, it would be a resistance to our hyper-consumerist culture that pushes us not only to buy more but to build our identities off of the products we consume. I too participated in this action by editing my receipts. For a physical audience, I had the power to edit their viewing into my consumer habits simply by discarding a paper, but for a virtual audience privacy is a luxury received only through consistent and meticulous effort.
Consumption and its aestheticization have peaked at a high with “-core” trends acting like star-sign charts, or 2014 Buzzfeed personality quizzes shared in an attempt to shape our perceived identities by a virtual audience. Just as advertising through data capture began at the dawn of the internet's creation, so too did the evolution of virtual identities with the birth of social media. Today the two converge. Users purposefully engage with algorithmic patterns by sharing their consumers' habits in order to align with similar virtual communities. This hybridization ranges broadly, from niche collectors forums, to clean-girl aesthetic YouTube tutorials, to wellness influencers. The same points of data that advertisers collect anonymously are now shared voluntarily by the consumer in attempts to create and monetize community likeness. And perhaps the most eager and captivated audiences are still the data collectors and advertisers who are ready to help in your transition away from cottage-core and into goblin-core.
So in this on-or-off-the-grid dialogue, where exactly do paper receipts lie? A receipt is a physical piece of data, but in its physical form, your in-store purchases are separated from your digital consumer identity, if only by relaying your information directly to your bank rather than an advertiser. Of course, when you use a card to pay, there are digital records, but your bank doesn't share that with Google—and Google doesn't know why you chose the vibrator with the suction bit and not the other one with bunny ears. In other words, a physical purchase negates the most valuable information for data collectors, why you bought this and not that. In place of this ‘why’ question, advertisers now tell you, you buy this because you ARE this.
So receipts are, dare I say,+ gridlocked+. Physical receipts do not negate your participation in society, nor create an exit from the ~ grid~, rather they make your consumption tangible. How and what we purchase is as political as how we choose to share our habits.
My book is a snapshot of my relationship with consumption. I can play with it, make a 3D model of it,, and I can also put it away. I don't have to look at it, I don’t have to share it—but I want it to be unfolded, I want to be unfolded. In the process of creating a physical object, I engaged with an internal virtual audience and made explicit to myself a relationship I had with my own self-identification. I am someone who wants others to know I buy balloons, go to museums, and travel to Spain. I highlight my purchase of a vibrator because I love sex (and I want you to know that)! I don’t include the off-brand Bluetooth headphones I bought three times in the last year because I keep losing them, or the protein bars I eat in place of a meal some days.
Would I have learned more about myself from the receipts I discarded than the ones I folded? I never attempted to be off the grid, I just attempted to control the story it told. In the mundane and momentary action of accepting or declining a receipt, I was forced to contemplate the very core of my being. This pause before I responded is one I have nurtured as a moment of reflection. And while I no longer collect physical receipts, they are also no longer invisible.