If you’ve ever made stacks of packaged berries into towers while picking through the fruit bin at a grocery store, (nope? Just me?) you need to check out Carson Davis Brown. Known for his illicit installations and sculptures set up inside big-box stores, Brown is taking his fascination with mass-produced foods and household objects to a new level with a project called New American Quilts. To create the series, Brown reassembles shelved items at big-box stores, typically food containers like cereal boxes and oatmeal canisters, to make quilts. Without the stores’ permission, the artist stacks the bottles and boxes into enthralling sequences of color and shape in a style that echoes classic American quilting. Brown snaps a photo, then has the photos woven into blankets by a certain big-box store’s personalized gift department, leaving the physical “quilt” to be discovered by shoppers.
Brown’s work is intended to highlight the contrast between the quilt’s place in American history as a simple, utilitarian object, often created in community or religious settings, against what he calls the “branded edifice and the promise of abundance,” of the 21st Century American big-box store. By stacking mass-marketed containers of cereals, pastas, milks, and sodas, Brown hopes to question how American society portrays itself in an image-filled world, what Brown deems as “when the line between human and brand appears non-existent.”
It is clear, however, that his nostalgia for the breakfast foods of his youth have a great impact on the items he chooses to photograph. In one of his VSCO Journal documentations of the project, Brown waxes poetic on his childhood kitchen table. He describes walking down the cereal section of Walmart and spotting a box of Coco Wheats. “All at once, I surge with warm memories of my childhood,” Brown writes. “Cinnamon toast, eggs and C*C* Whe@ts, a highlight meal for a six-year-old… I can even smell the toast warming and hear the eggs sizzle and spatter.”
Snapping out of his memory, Brown creates a new arrangement of the colorful cartoon-stamped cereal boxes, takes a picture. He leaves the boxes in their altered setup for others to disassemble, essentially and likely unknowingly performing the final level of his installation. Commodity fetishism aside, one can’t help but look at these blankets and want to make a cereal quilt of their own.