SITE Santa Fe presents Your General Store

Jason Middlebrook (b. Jackson, MI; lives in Hudson, NY) creates sculptural installations, paintings, and drawings that explore the collision between nature and culture. Often using reclaimed, salvaged, or recycled materials, he creates works that reference the natural world—including trees, plants, and birds—bringing forward elements of beauty and that are often hidden, discarded, or overlooked. In a recent sculpture Underlife (2012-13), for example, Middlebrook created a large-scale incarnation of an uprooted tree from his property in upstate New York. In this work, the large root system of an old tree sits atop the ground and is the focus of the sculpture’s form that beckons viewers to walk under and around what is normally hidden deep under ground. The root system, the anchor and life force of the tree, is made from fiberglass and covered in a dazzling mosaic of tiny recycled mirrored tiles.  Shimmering and catching the light from every angle Underlife pays homage to the tree, inviting visitors to marvel at its majestic form.

On the occasion of Unsettled Landscapes, Middlebrook brings together Underlife’s sensitivity to materials and engagement with the public to a totally interactive and immersive work titled Your General Store (2014).  Within an old shipping container, Middlebrook has created a replica of an 1800s general store. With salvaged old windows and wood planks, Middlebrook transformed the container’s cold steel interior into a scene out of a Western movie. Stepping in to the store, Middelebrook transports us to another era, a time when early towns in the west like Santa Fe, relied on the general store to carry supplies of all kinds from shoes to brooms to reading glasses.  But Your General Store is no ordinary place of commerce. All the objects in the store, hand made or salvaged by the artist, are available only through barter. Within Your General Store an alternative economy exists, one that is defined by both the clerk and the visitor/shopper. Everyday consumer habits and dependency are upended as barter is introduced, inviting visitors to propose a trade of equal value--a hand made bird house, for example could be had in exchange for another hand made bird house. In a gesture that is intended to engage a community, Your General Store’s structure of barter invites visitors to assign value to objects they desire and bring in their own objects to negotiate with the clerk.  As Middlebrook explains, “Your General Store is able to transform our shopping experience, and suggests an analog experience over a digital one.”[1] 

 Throughout the course of the presentation of Your General Store, the clerk serves the important role of engaging the audience and negotiating the exchanges of objects. The inventory changes over time as transactions take place and new objects enter the store.  Over time, Your General Store become a portrait of the community in which it resides, filled with the stories and objects of visitors who have transformed it, one transaction at a time.

[1] Your General Store project statement by the artist September 2013.