Priscilla Briggs, from the project "Seamless." All images courtesy of the artist.
Priscilla Briggs is in an ongoing ethical debate with Martha Stewart, where she was formerly employed on the production side in New York.
“It was dreadfully boring, except for the cake in the kitchen at lunch time,” says the Minneapolis-based artist. “The thing about corporate design is that you’re trying to make everything look the same.”
This interest in understanding how goods are bought and sold under capitalism is a theme that has followed Briggs into her artwork.
Originally from Maryland, Briggs received her undergrad from Carnegie Mellon College in Pittsburgh and her graduate degree from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore before moving to New York, where she worked for Martha Stewart, whose empire is based around selling the domestic. After leaving Martha’s and teaching art at a magnet high school for the arts in Baltimore, she realized it was time to search for jobs teaching college-level art. After doing a nationwide search, she discovered an opening at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, about an hour south of Minneapolis.
“I wasn’t planning to stay here, but I met my husband and he’s from Minneapolis,” she explained. “It’s really hard to pry a Minnesotan out of Minnesota.”
Briggs’ interest in the ways that consumption shapes aspects of identity stayed with her. She’d started doing work at the Mall of America, considering the mall as both a “tourist destination but also almost like a museum – if you were an alien visitor, you could go to the mall and find out a lot about what we value and the value we place on things," she explained.
Her Mall of America work led her to a fascination with China. At the time, around 2008, there was a huge boom in the production of shopping malls in China. So she headed to China to investigate further. While there, she began documenting malls. She visited Golden Resources Mall in Beijing, malls in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and other cities in mainland China.
Priscilla Briggs, from the series "Fortune"
“The first time I went was in 2008, when the Chinese economy – the middle class was just starting to form,” she says. “There were all these malls where people would go to look, but no one bought anything.” These malls were seven times the Mall of America. She sensed a disparity between the projected sales and what was actually consumed, suggesting a space of consumer fantasy. She documented these wide open spaces mall spaces, and also looked at the spaces where wedding photographs were shot. In China, she explained, wedding photos were shot at photo sites before the actual wedding. Elaborate backdrops created fantastical landscapes.
Priscilla Briggs, from the series "Impossible is Nothing"
In another series of her work in China -- she visited the country on several separate occasions -- she worked with the commercial artists who mass produced iconic paintings like the Mona Lisa. In an attempt to personalize that which is depersonalized, she took photos of the painters, and then asked them to either paint their own self-portraits based on those photos – if they had apt skills to do so – or had someone else paint them. In terms of production cost, she noted that actually hiring the commercial artists to paint cost only a little more than it would to print in America the photos that she shot. In this way, the paintings become somewhat intimate meta self-portraits of the Chinese commercial artist, whose production work is entirely impersonal.
More recently, the artist and her husband traveled to India. Their driver was obsessed with taking selfies, constantly photographing himself with a camera – but all of the images appeared to be the same. It seems to be a new theme that she’ll follow on her next investigation, something that she’ll be working on since this year, she’s on sabbatical from work.