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KNEW RELIGION

This body of work centers on my obsession with questioning and studying the grandeur of consumerism and its many components within American culture in the United States. I explore what it means to not only live in this culture, but what it means to be an active participant within it as both a woman and an artist.

My paintings of ‘mallscapes’ use imagery taken from various shopping malls I have gone to such as the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota and the Coral Ridge Mall in Coralville, Iowa. When I visit these locations, I take photographs using my phone of the various store fronts that capture my attention as I walk by. The majority of these mallscapes include images of the female body within advertisements in window displays. Each window is paired with graphics, such as written slogans, and other items, such as mannequins. These window displays become the problematic altars of consumption.

In A little lift goes a long way! 20-year-old Victoria’s Secret modelTaylor Hill wears a plum colored, lacy, push up bra. The text superimposed over theimage of her torso reads, ‘A little lift goes a long way!’ implying that not even this youngwoman, a symbol of idealized beauty in American culture, is ‘good enough’ the way sheis without the lingerie. However, Christmas foliage wraps her up like a present to be opened by the implied male viewer gazing at her body. In #ThisBody actress and model Danielle Brooks becomes the face of Lane Bryant’s take on the rising body positivity movement, which encourages self-love and acceptance at any size despite any attributes that society might perceive as a flaw. While I, as a viewer, am attracted to this representation of inclusivity of diverse female body types, I question what it means to reduce something so intricate and personal, such as self-acceptance, to a social media hashtag. I further question each brand and company’s actual commitment to the ideas and ideals they are trying to sell me in their ads.

How inclusive are their work environments and how diverse are the people who sit in their board rooms? Do they exploit workers in other countries to manufacture clothing in the cheapest way possible? Are their products actually as ‘sustainable,’ ‘organic,’ or ‘cruelty-free’ as they claim? And how do I find the answers to all of these questions and will I ever know for certain if I’m being fed a lie?

These window displays are not designed to be questioned by the viewer. They are designed to be glanced at briefly, to be walked by, and to be half-read. Through the process of obsessively painting the details of these spaces I analyze their underlying formulas and principles and in turn demand that the audience of my work slowdown their read and do the same. Like walking through a shopping mall, I am drawn to other experiences within American consumer culture done at a mindless, rapid speed. Things that we do without a second thought such as scrolling past an ad on our phones or swiping our credit cards at a store intrigue me.

IMACONSUMER explores the latter instantaneous exchange. This project is made up of mirrored panels with 50 different life size credit card paintings sponsored by major retailers. They are not gift cards or cards that can only be used in that particular store. Rather, each one of the credit cards allows customers to open a separate line of credit sponsored by one of three major credit card networks: Visa, MasterCard or American Express. This means that card holders can use their cards anyplace that accepts that major credit card company. Each retailer’s card has a design that reflects their brand name, logo, and product. Gymboree, a moderately priced children’s apparel store, has acredit card with a bright orange background with a whimsical white font. Brooks Brothers, a historically male luxury clothing brand, has a credit card with a navy pin striped background with a calligraphic gold font. Based on credit card design alone, Gymboree and Brooks Brothers have drastically different target demographics. I am interested in how each brand appeals to their desired audience based on design choices such as color and font. I am even more drawn to the history of credit card access, how women were not able to apply for a line of credit in their own name and needed permission from a husband or father to use one, for example, to today where the average woman holds just about as much credit card debt as the average man does.

Though aspects have changed over time, American consumer culture has been and will continue to be omnipresent for the foreseeable future. Brands will come and go, one product will be replaced with another, and trends will take on different looks, but the average American has no choice but to participate in the rituals. Our holy text speaks to us in the form of slogans, songs, and scripts; our icons stand before us in the form of models, mannequins, and photo-shopped products; and our places of worship take the form of shopping malls, outlets, and big box stores. We tithe each time we swipe our credit cards and are ‘redeemed’ as good citizens with every purchase we make.