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Before Us Is The Salesman’s House: Exploring the Contingent Aesthetic of eBay

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David Rudrum


In 2012, data artist Jer Thorp and statistician Mark Hansen collaborated on an installation called Before Us Is The Salesman’s House. Commissioned by theeBay/PayPal corporation, and inspired by Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, thisdata art project has been described variously as “an investigation of eBay as a cultural artefact,” “a kind of fly-over of [eBay’s] rich data landscape,” and “a portrait ofhumanity in the purchases we make.” Based on big data from eBay and ProjectGutenberg, it uses sheer random contingency to show the interweavings of literary texts with everyday commodities. This essay seeks to read the challenging project that is Before Us Is The Salesman’s House variously as literary text, a piece of corporate art,an opening for social critique, and an example of Nicolas Bourriaud’s relationalaesthetics.


Relational aesthetics; Jer Thorp; Office for Creative Research; Data Art; Distant Reading; Arthur Miller; Death of a Salesman; Before Us Is The Salesman's House; Ebay

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