Carson Davis Brown’s “Mass” is an ongoing series of visual disruptions to big box department stores and supermarkets across the United States. Combining elements of sculpture, performance art, and “straight” photography, Brown builds guerrilla structures out of un-purchased materials, quickly assembles them without permission into meticulous, colorful, totem-like sculptures, and photographs them before abandoning them for the public to perplexingly discover. In most cases, these bright, monochromatic structures exist in full form only momentarily before being dismantled by staff.
“As a visual artist working with film and photography,” writes Brown, “Mass was a response to over-stimulation I felt in a retail environment as I was concepting for a commercial project. It became a chance to explore the colors and forms we interact with every day.” For Brown, this response was a means of playfully drawing attention to the superficiality of mass-produced objects and environments by intervening, dismantling and reconfiguring them for public view.
While his photographs are immaculately composed, Brown, like Robert Smithson, Andy Goldsworthy and other site-specific artists who have integrated photography into their sculptural practice over the past fifty years, uses his photography primarily as tool to document each short-lived performance. For Brown, Mass presents a synthetic parallel to the interventions of his predecessors, using merchandise as his ‘raw materials,’ and chain stores as his landscapes.
Brown’s chain store interventions extend beyond their initial spectacle and documentation to a third layer of performance as one-night exhibitions in some of the stores where they were initially built and photographed. He prints his images using one-hour photo facilities at each location, frames them in various pre-fab frames for sale at each store, and installs them on the shelves before hosting gallery receptions and inviting his friends, family, and the public to bear witness to his spectacle. For Brown, this breaks down the inaccessibility of the traditional white-cube gallery space, encouraging dialogue with a wider and more diverse audience. In some cases customers have unknowingly purchased his framed work off the shelves.
While the general response to Brown's work has been relatively tame, it's caused stir and curiosity among staff and management in many locations. "The most memorable was at a store in my home town," Brown tells us. "I'd built there a couple times before, this time for some reason I could tell something wasn't right. I was also installing right in the middle of a main aisle, which is a challenge. Right when I got passed the work a manager bolted around the corner on a walky talky, then a second one came by. In the check out line you could hear someone on a walky-talky say 'We got him! The guy that builds the colorful things!' Then a bunch of employees left the front and headed to where I'd installed the work."
Bio: Carson Davis Brown is an artist working largely in film and photography. His personal work ranges from introspection to our interaction with larger social structures. Brown also currently serves as the Documentarian and Media Director for Cabin-Time, a roaming artist residency. When he's not traveling with friends you can find him working from home in Grand Rapids, Mi. His work was recently featured in the exhibition"Radical Color" curated by Humble Arts Foundation's Curatorial Director Jon Feinstein at Newspace Center for Photography in Portland, Oregon.