Constellation – Stuff: Objects and Materiality in Society; Use-value, Exchange-value, Sign-value

Choose an object from within your practise and apply the theories of Use-value, Exchange-Value and Sign-Value.

Baudrillard explains that ‘functional logic’ (or Marx’s Use-Value) refers to the ability of and object to perform a functional need. ‘Exchange value’ refers to the value of an object in relation to other objects, or the manual labour involved in creating the object. ‘Sign value’ is the logic of status; how some object have a higher status when in relation to other, e.g. A Rolex watch has a high sigh value than a Casio. (Woodward 2007).

I am going to explore these three theories, in relation to the printing press.

The very first printing press was created in 1440 by Johannes Gutenberg in the Holy Roman Empire, which subsequently led to the first typographic printed book, the Gutenberg bible. Used now for the same thing as it was back when it was created, the printing press has evolved from a type-only printing machine, but into mass scale intaglio printers.

Gutenberg Printing Press

Gutenberg Printing Press

The printing press has great use-value; used all over the world, whether it’s a table top press or industrial presses, to achieve the same goal, printed paper goods. The object or machine itself, has and will always be used for the original value for which it was made.

A huge undertaken would have been involved in creating the Gutenberg printing press, the amount of labour involved in creating this world changing masterpiece would give it a significant exchange value, both then and now. Smaller table top hand presses are lesser in value that industrial scale models, but all have an exchange output as well.


Table Top Printing Press

Industrial Scale Printing Presses

Industrial Scale Printing Presses

The status of having a printing press would have shown create wealth at the time of its creation and up until the industrial revolution. However the printing press is not an every household object. Today, symbol and status can still be wrapped up in printing presses, larger printing presses have more sign-value than table top presses, and so on for industrial presses compared to large scale hand printers. But above all else, the museum that now houses the Gutenberg printing press, would by far, be the most prestigious.


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