The Columbia to Colombia Coffee Cart is a trojan horse for dialogue. Fully-functional and fully-branded, the coffee cart appears quite average at first glance. When customers order however, they will select one of a number of performative actions from the menu. Each action is crafted to engage the participant with specific aspects of coffee culture, reconnecting the consumer with the producer to discuss critical issues of social and economic justice surrounding the coffee industry.
Empire Coffee Roasters
Empire Coffee Roasters was my thesis project for the MFA Interdisciplinary Book and Paper Arts program at Columbia College Chicago.
Empire Coffee Roasters is a tactical media project that demonstrates how media distorts the economic and social realities of coffee production. The project comprises a functional roasting company that sells coffee and branded merchandise, advertises online and in print, and operates a certification program to acknowledge real world coffee companies who share Empire's values. These values are a pointedly exaggerated version of the specialty coffee industry's fixation on transparency, and Empire's absurd and offensive media shows how far from transparency these practices truly are.
Yet, as a carefully studied exaggeration of everyday advertising practices, Empire's media reveals to viewers how the specialty coffee industry is rife with commodity racism and questionable advertising practices. Empire Coffee Roasters demonstrates how today's coffee trade is indelibly marked by colonialism and slavery, and likewise that advertising practices and media representation have advanced little since the days of European imperialism.
The project offers viewers multiple opportunities for participation, from buying coffee to nominating companies for a certification. These mundane tasks are manipulated so that any participation prompts critical thinking: the coffee blends reflect which empire colonized and introduced coffee to each origin, and the certification praises companies whose media betray imperialist attitudes. These twists not only further the project's message of social and economic inequity, but promote healthy skepticism in viewers' future interactions with real companies and their media.
How to Read Colombian Literature to a Coffee Plant
Participants were invited to read to a young coffee plant from a selection of Colombian novels, short stories, and poems in both Spanish and English. As readers encouraged the plant’s growth and reconnected it with its origins, they also shared important cultural contributions from a country whose narrative in the U.S. usually emphasizes coffee and cocaine. Though many of the texts that were read are under-appreciated in the English-speaking world (some long out of print), I also included many selections from the incomparable Gabriel García Márquez, who had passed away days before the GASP! Fair.
Colombian coffee was, of course, provided.
(Photos by Emily Madigan)
The Ikea Pieces feature phrases from the Ikea website and those of similar home goods retailers. Rather than focus on advertising, as I do in much of my work, I wanted to explore the more subtle language that readers are exposed to merely navigating a website. Generic phrases, like “continue shopping” are a staple of user interface - they seem innocuous and go mostly unnoticed. By removing them from their context and reconfiguring them graphically, the Ikea Pieces betray the propagandistic undertones of these little phrases. Detached from a particular product or company, these blunt imperatives become propaganda for the whole system of consumer capitalism.
The material’s shiny veneer is iconic Ikea, but also has precedent in Finish Fetish and other minimalist art movements of the 1960s and ‘70s. Working subtractively heightens the sense of revelation and, of course, challenges the promises held in the flawless surface.
Literature Emitting Diodes
Literature Emitting Diodes presents poetry and prose by talented writers in commercial venues throughout Chicago. Every month, a piece is uploaded onto a scrolling LED display sign for about three weeks. The sign is placed in the window of a local business chosen to coordinate with the piece.
The chosen works are also be published online and, after 12 installations, in an annual printed anthology.
Playing House is a non-linear narrative told through prose poetry and collage. The project comprises fifty-two cards, which can be shuffled or read in their original sequence. Each card features a poem on its face and a collage on its back. The text chronicles the life of a man and his relationships as he performs his identity against the domestic backdrop of middle America. Each collage serves as a non-representational meditation on the content of its respective verse, and is created from wallpaper fragments to further reference the facade of domesticity. Playing House is a collection of moments from the life of the protagonist as he struggles to reconcile his past – a failed marriage, a complicated childhood, and the necessity of keeping up appearances – with his new life as an openly gay man in a tumultuous relationship. Through its indeterminate structure, Playing House explores the workings of memory, the influence of the past on the present, and the inadequacy of language as a means of communication. The text, the imagery, the structure, and the reading experience are all connected by a number of motifs. Among these are surface, simulacra, and fragmentation.
As an installation, this iteration of the project further contextualizes the poetry and reenforces the fragmentation and tension from the text in a form that moves beyond the intimate viewer relation of the deck of cards. The precarious sculpture references 1950s suburbia and sits upon a mid-century-style writing desk, providing clues to unravelling the narrative. On the wall behind, the entire text is displayed and the collages return to their original function as wallpaper.
This project is a collaboration with Carley Gomez, who wrote the text and executed many of the collages.
Room 302: Men Only
“Room 302: Men Only” is a site-specific, guerrilla exhibition executed at the University of Arizona School of Art building. The happening occurred in the men’s bathroom, a metonym for the historically exclusionary art institution as a whole. From April 15th to April 22nd 2010, the show exhibited drawings of the female nude to explore the role of women in art institutions.
The exhibition was executed with the help of Josh Meehan who functioned as juror and co-curator. Both male and female artists were featured.
Beyond an exhibition, the show became an artwork in and of itself. The act of hanging pieces in this room completely transformed the space and the bathroom became a place of discussion, critique and learning for both men and women.