Jason Middlebrook 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 SITE Santa Fe's 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. 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.
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 becomes 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.
written by Irene Hoffman
The following letter
was sent out to invite artists' collaboration
and contribution to
Your General Store:
I'm asking 30 of my friends to make a small work of art for a project I'm working on. The piece is called Your General Store and it will open this summer in Santa Fe as part of the SITE Santa Fe biennial. I have transformed a 40-foot shipping container into a general store. It is a barter only store; all the objects in the store can only be traded for other things of equal value. The person manning the store will determine this value for each given trade.
Inside there are many things that would be found in a general store--tools, rope, nuts and bolts to name a few. There is also a swamp bulletin board for traded services, which will also include family recipes, which can be traded for other recipes. There will be an art component and this is where I need your help if you have time and are inspired to do so.
I'm asking you to make a small painting or build a birdhouse to include in Your General Store. The painting or birdhouse you make can be traded for equal value, however you can also indicate what could be traded for your piece. At the end of the project you will either end up with your piece back or a piece that has been traded for your piece. Here are some themes for the painting part: moths, insects, birds, or shipping containers that have been transformed. Your piece and your name will be hung on the walls in the container for the six months the project is up. If you choose to make a birdhouse any scale and any materials are welcome.
Your contribution will enhance the project and inspire people to make things and trade; this functions as the foundation for the whole piece.
Thank you for your consideration!
To read more about the artist and view past projects, visit his website: www.jasonmiddlebrook.com
"Your General Store is able to transform our shopping experience, and suggests an analog experience over a digital one."